Hubert de Billy
Grace M.W. Wong
What was it like coming of age in a champagne house? 'I am the fifth generation owner of Pol Roger and I have been surrounded by champagne since the age of 16. My career started as a salesman liaising with our English and French distributors and I was later sent to the wineries of California to gain work experience. After that I attended university before taking over the business side of the operation. The champagne business can be very nice, very glamorous. But there are two distinct aspects to my job: the production side and the glitzy events we stage to promote the product. I might spend one day with a thousand people, including royalty, and the next will be a cosy media lunch. I also spend a lot of time at the vineyard talking to our growers. It is a duty but I enjoy it very much. My children - two sons and a daughter - are being given the freedom to choose their own career paths. My eldest son is studying acting in Paris. My daughter wants to be a journalist. They can always come back to the family business if they want. My second son is the only one who has shown an interest in becoming a winemaker. Being the only son in my generation, it was difficult to turn my back on the business.'
How do you keep your business on trend with the well-educated, younger wine drinker? 'They are the future connoisseurs. They need to realise the quality and value of Pol Roger. Education comes with understanding of wine prices - why they are expensive or cheap. We do lots of tastings in Europe. I travel extensively every year to conduct tastings and to educate future drinkers to appreciate our champagne.'
Why have you named one of your vintages in honour of former British prime minister Winston Churchill?'Our champagne has always been well received in Britain. In fact, Pol Roger was selected as the exclusive champagne to be served at last year's royal wedding banquets. Winston Churchill enjoyed a great friendship with my ancestors - he was just 30 years old when he became friends with our family. He was very fond of Pol Roger but at that time he was still largely unknown to the public. There was never any business contract between Churchill and our family, but he continued to help us promote our product after the second world war, and accepted the fact that we traded on his good name. So our signature champagne - Cuv?e Sir Winston Churchill - was launched in 1984 to honour him. My father still meets with his daughter in London for lunch once or twice a year. It is a pure friendship, and we remain great family friends.'
Is champagne more popular with women than with men? 'That is certainly the case in Japan, where women can't get enough of it. Japan is the only place where I conduct consumer lunches and the majority of attendees are female. Asian women enjoy drinking champagne more than Asian men. However, it is less obvious in the United States and Europe, where rose is the recognised 'female wine'. In France, sales of rose have increased many fold as more and more women develop a taste for it.'
Do you have plans to enter the Chinese market? 'Pol Roger is not sold in supermarkets, so it will take a long time for our champagne business to gain a share. In most big cities of the world, champagne by the glass is readily available in restaurants, but in Asia, this practice is not as popular and all those small cities are very hard to reach. We are connecting with female wine lovers to let them learn more about Pol Roger and when this happens, business will definitely grow. Hong Kong and Japan are our most mature markets. We are developing the brand in Taipei and South Korea, because, at the moment, they are more important to us than the mainland.'