To blend more than 26 million bottles of one of the world’s best-known wine brands each year is a daunting responsibility. To take on the job at age 35 was a sure sign of the confidence and ability of Benoît Gouez.
Benoît Gouez (pronounced ben-WAH goo-AY) became cellar master at Moët et Chandon Champagne in 2005. He has made big changes that reinvigorated this classic wine with the same instinct and flair that drive the parent LVMH Group’s other beverages, perfumes, jewelry and leather goods.
Gouez was not born into a family of château owners or wine producers. Rather, his family comes from Saint-Lô in Normandy, the region known for D-Day, seafood, cattle, carrots and Calvados.
His path to wine was through agronomy studies at the École Nationale Supérior d’Agronomie Montpellier, 600 miles south, on the Mediterranean coast. A renowned researcher and enology professor, Denis Boubals, led Gouez to viticulture and enology.
Gouez’s grandfather, a lobsterman in Brittany, sparked his love of food. Memories of eating grilled blue lobster fresh from the ocean remain an inspiration when he cooks at home.
His most important innovation as cellar master has been with the brand known to Americans for 40 years as White Star, and as White Seal for another 35 years before that.
“About four years ago, we decided we wanted to have our flagship brand Impérial Brut to be available throughout the world,” says Gouez. “So we played with different blends and came up with one that pleased the American palate for slightly sweeter wine and still kept the Moët style of bright fruitiness.”
America’s White Star brand was retired and replaced by Impérial Brut, Moët et Chandon’s global Champagne brand.
Creating a blend, Gouez is always conscious of his role as guardian of the spirit of Moët.
“The nonvintage concept means you need a constant style,” he says. “Because we make so much Champagne, we create a new blend every three months while keeping constancy. Brut Impérial is the most difficult wine I make.”
Champagne is not a simple recipe. Gouez gets grapes from the Moët estate, Champagne’s largest, and from 200 other vineyards. Staying with the Moët style, he decides whether to declare a vintage and experiments with ideas that may not be fashionable, but work.
“Why not?” he says.
Such was Gouez’s inspiration for Moët’s Ice Impérial, launched in 2011, a world-first sparkler designed to be drunk over ice. The blend is sweeter, more intense and less fizzy, while still refreshing—a Saint-Tropez-inspired alternative to Impérial Brut. It’s freer, fresher and less formal, says Gouez.
This sense of freedom that Gouez brings to his role as cellar master at Moët et Chandon is a new image for Champagne. Unlike cellar masters of the past, he travels the world, promoting, pairing and pouring his cherished brands.
For his skill in maintaining the tradition and style of Moët while breaking boundaries, we are delighted to name him Wine Enthusiast’s 2013 Winemaker of the Year.