For his first two years as Maison Mumm‘s Cellar Master, Laurent Fresnet connected with much of his audience from a distance. Fresnet assumed the role in January 2020. Just weeks later, worldwide lockdowns restricted travel and put a pause in his goal to meet face-to-face with consumers in the Champagne house’s international markets.
That didn’t stop Fresnet from finding inspiration in unlikely places. He dove headfirst into designing new tasting experiences for visitors to Mumm’s Reims-based vineyards and cellars, which could then be adapted for international tours and audiences. For Fresnet and his team, this meant expanding well-beyond the traditional winemaking space.
One collaboration he’s personally proud of involved neuroscientist Gabriel Lepousez, and together they developed custom glassware for a tasting experience that examines how color, texture, and temperature dramatically impact one’s sense of taste — even when sampling the same cuvée.
Now, with lockdowns lifted, Fresnet has been on a whirlwind international tour. On his first visit to the United States as Cellar Master, Fresnet led groups of journalists and aficionados through one such tasting; sampled cuvées included G.H. Mumm’s Grand Cordon Rosé, Millésimé 2013, RSRV Blanc de Noirs 2012, RSRV Cuvée Lalou 2006, and RSRV Rosé Foujita. And for the first time ever on American soil, audiences sampled rare Mumm vintage cuvée on special release: Cordon Rouge Vinothéque 1961.
Days before the tastings, Drinkhacker sat down with Fresnet to discuss why he’s so insistent on connecting with Champagne drinkers in person, along with the more unexpected challenges of building — and maintaining — one of the world’s largest Champagne brands.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for readability.
Drinkhacker: What are you hoping to learn about American Champagne consumers?
Laurent Fresnet: I came to the U.S. to meet the customer, to have an exchange with them, to help them understand that I don’t make Champagne for me. I need to have an exchange with them, I need to grab feedback to understand how consumption is changing. That includes before and after Covid lockdowns. Everything’s moving. We need to have the feedback that include two years of lockdowns, where relaying emotions has become difficult. And it’s much better to do that in person with consumers here, one by one.
Drinkhacker: What are some things that you’ve heard from American consumers and customers that maybe surprised you?
Fresnet: I’m very open about that. I don’t expect anything in particular. I want only to exchange with people, and what I’m looking for is to have a conversation about what they want and feel. If you expect something already, it’s difficult to get close to people to learn about what they really want. I need to keep my mind open and free heading into these conversations, so I tried not to have expectations!
Drinkhacker: Do you think there are any misconceptions that American consumers have about your product or about the Champagne category in general?
Fresnet: A big misconception is that Champagne is only for events, and many people don’t understand that you can pair food with Champagne. Champagne can age as a wine, and a lot of people don’t think that Champagne really is a wine, anyway. But it is a wine! We have a lot of misconceptions, but we say it’s the King of the Wine, or King of the Drinks, one of the Kings.
Drinkhacker: What are some questions that you get from first time Champagne drinkers?
Fresnet: The first question I get is, “What are you going to change about Mumm? Why are you going to change?” That’s always the first sentence. And in my mind, the much more difficult thing isn’t to change, it’s to reproduce a style. That represents 90 percent of your job, to be consistent with the style and to be regular. To create a very great balance between the style and the non-vintage wine. It’s so difficult to reproduce a style. My first job is to guarantee the style around Mumm.
Drinkhacker: What about Mumm’s vineyards and the physical presence of being there stands out for people who are lucky enough to visit?
Fresnet: When I arrived at Mumm, I was surprised by the huge plots they have in the vineyards. You’ve got 218 hectares, mostly planting Grand Cru. In the region, a lot of producers are only growing 10% of their own supply. Mumm is 20 percent, it’s double. So it’s a huge plot of their own to help guarantee the style and consistency of Mumm.
Drinkhacker: Where do you look for inspiration in designing, tasting, and pairing experiences?
Fresnet: We’ve worked with a lot of chefs and built a lot of experiences around food pairing before. What we try to do now is to work much more with chefs in different countries, because each country has different flavors, different varieties of vegetables, it’s all different. And we need to have a different approach in each country, with different chefs and with different food. When we move into a country, it’s very important for us — for everybody — to meet the consumer and meet the fashion of how they consume wine and pair with foods from that country.
For example, in Europe you don’t have the same flavors as you may get in parts of Asia. So we need to go into these markets and countries, and work with those chefs to design our special pairings. It’s a new exercise in preparing each time.
Drinkhacker: What are some of your personal goals for the next 5 to 10 years?
Fresnet: Haha, I can’t tell you everything. But for me, the first thing is to be secure and ensure the style of Mumm stays consistent. That is far and away my first goal. After that, it’s to innovate, to work across years with a team. And in the vineyard, with the new viticulture process, we made a sustainable viticulture guarantee since 2016. We haven’t used any chemical product in our viticulture since 2019. That includes reducing the use of added product for fertilizer, for example. We need to focus on the impact of the grapes, and of course of the wine. So that requires a lot of testing!