Sitting at Cin Cin bar at the Norfolk, Fairmont across from Damien Souchet is always a pleasure. Damien is the bubbly, friendly, knowledgeable, French brand ambassador for G.H. Mumm and Martell at Pernod Ricard Kenya. We sat down with him to learn a bit about champagne, G.H. Mumm in Kenya and what it means to ‘Dare, Win and Celebrate’.
Where did you grow up?
I’m fresh from France. I was raised in Western France, a small city, you probably wouldn’t know the name — Angers. My father is a winemaker there, we have 55 hectares and we sell our wines in France and a bit in the UK.
What’s the name of the wine?
Domaine Souchet, like my last name. My father is the fifth generation of the business, it’s rooted in a lot of tradition.
How did you get into the Brand Ambassador business?
Pernod Ricard is a flagship in France, it’s a really, really big company that everyone knows. I applied to work on Martell and Martell and Mumm work together. It made so much sense: my father is a winemaker, we make sparkling wines although they’re different to champagnes and through my ex manager I learned a lot about the cognac industry so it was an obvious choice for me.
What does G.H. Mumm stand for? Is it someone’s name?
Yes! The real name is Georges Hermann Mumm but ‘Georges Hermann’ is not sexy at all so we decided to make it ‘GH’. In France we pronounce it GH Mum.
How long have you been in Kenya? What’s your most memorable experience so far?
I’ve been in Kenya for nine months. My most memorable experience was going to the Mara with my family. It was the first time my parents travelled outside France, the first time they took a plane. I’ve lived in many other countries before, Russia, Peru and when I said Kenya they said “We’ll go!”. We went to the Fairmont Mara and did a game drive and saw the Big Five in one game drive! I was so lucky, we had a good driver, Jeremiah who knew exactly where all the animals were.
Can you describe the three most distinctive qualities of G.H. Mumm champagne?
First the quality of the champagne, we can’t be shy, it’s a very good champagne. In France, Mumm is the best selling champagne brand. It’s a beautiful drink. We are the leaders in the leading market of champagne in the world. Why? Because the quality-price ratio of Mumm is probably the best.
Second, I love the brand identity, I find it very sexy. It’s a champagne for champions, a champagne for Golden Boys, a champagne for success. I find this brand identity very motivating.
The last quality I guess isn’t linked to Mumm, it’s linked to the market itself; we are the challengers [in Kenya] and I love it. I’m a businessman and I love when you have challenges because it pushes you to be even more creative and innovative. Mumm is a smaller brand in Kenya and in the last six or eight months we’ve become number two in the market and I really love this situation. I love to challenge the leader. In the next two years I want to be the market leader, that’s our strategy. The partnership we have with EatOut will definitely help us maximize the visibility of the brand in Nairobi.
What’s the champagne drinking culture in France?
In France we sell around 140 million bottles of champagne every year and there are 65 million inhabitants, probably half of them are over the age of 18. It’s something very rooted in our culture, we drink champagne everyday. Here in Kenya [champagne] is probably more for special occasions like birthdays or weddings, in France it’s a classic drink.
What would you like to see happen to the champagne drinking culture here in Kenya?
The tax and duties in Kenya on alcohol make champagne a bit more expensive than what you would get in France. We need to understand that champagne is a champagne, but first it’s a wine. When you go out you’ll see bottles of wine on the table. In France, we link food and wine or champagne together and we want to do that here. That way, champagne will become a bit more of an everyday drink but still a luxury, a drink that you deserve because you worked hard.
What’s your biggest challenge with selling champagne in this market?
For Mumm brand awareness is our biggest challenge. We’ve been activating this brand for about six to eight months. When people order champagne they think of a specific brand so I want people to think of Mumm.
David Guetta is the Global Brand Ambassador for G.H. Mumm champagne, why?
The idea is to have a French success story. David Guetta is French and he’s known around the world for DJing. The music industry leaders are Americans and ten years ago in France we had big French singers but David Guetta was one of the first French artists to get this famous on a global stage. As I said, our brand identity is a champagne for champions, a champagne for victory and we think David Guetta embodies these qualities. Soon we’ll have a new Global Brand Ambassador, I can’t give you the name but you’ll love him.
If G.H. Mumm was a person, what would he/she be like?
He would be a young guy, not too into politics, someone who is a good sport who loves to party. He would be very dynamic, very social, not shy, loves sports, live a healthy lifestyle.
What are your top three places to pop champagne in Kenya?
Here, at the Fairmont, I love this place. There’s a smell to it that I love and I love the atmosphere of history and tradition. I come almost every week to the G.H. Mumm bar. I like the Fairmont because it’s nice to have food and champagne together, it’s like the French lifestyle. The second place is B Club, it’s very high energy and for me B Club is very West African and extravagant. It’s different and I like when things are different and original. Lastly I’d pick Brew Bistro. It’s trendy, it’s easy going, people are happy and you’ve got a mix of people all together partying and dancing and I love the environment.
What’s the secret to sabering champagne successfully?
I have a few tips but you’ll have to come to one of my events to experience the sabre. Globally, Mumm is always sabering champagne. If I give you the secrets then you’ll be applying for this awesome job and I’ll lose it.
Where did the sabering tradition come from?
I’m not too sure, people have different theories, but I think it was Napoleon. Napoleon and his crew were champagne drinkers and it was easier for them to cut the bottle of champagne and drink it straight from the bottle instead of popping it. We still want people to play and interact with our brand today, sabre it, spray it, do whatever you want, it’s a cool brand.
Why do we drink champagne with brunch?
Actually it’s for you to tell me! In France we don’t brunch, it’s a very English way of having food. The first brunch I had in Kenya was here at the Norfolk and Nelson Aseka, my manager in Kenya said we were invited to a free brunch at the Norfolk. I woke up at 8AM and I texted him asking “what time are we going for brunch?”, he was still sleeping, of course. I was worried, we would miss it. At some point Nelson called me and said “Damien brunch is at lunch time, noon not 8!”. See how French I am? I noticed when I came here the first thing people were asking for was mimosas, a champagne cocktail. I thought to myself, maybe this is something we should do!
What’s G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge best paired with? What about Rosé?
Cordon Rouge can be paired with fish or white meat. For me, Cordon Rouge is a very powerful champagne in terms of the grapes. If you open a bottle of Mumm compared to other champagnes, it’s super bubbly, very fresh and very powerful so you can even pair it with red meat which is unusual. We don’t do it usually, but Cordon Rouge is so specific that it can play with red meat. I call it the “daring pairing”.
Rosé can be paired with seafood, spicy dishes or a cous cous and then, of course, dessert. Desserts with red berries or red fruits. We’re working on a project with strawberry tarts and rosé here at the Norfolk.
What are the grapes that make champagne?
There’s pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. Every champagne is famous for one specific grape and we are famous for the pinot noir. We have much more pinot noir in our champagnes than the two other grapes. Pinot noir is a powerful grape and you can find the link between the power of the grape to the brand identity for champions and success stories.
Is champagne like wine? Does it get better with age?
Champagne expires so after three years the taste profile will be different. This is true for non-vintage champagnes. Here in Kenya we don’t have a vintage Mumm champagne.
What’s the difference between a sparkling wine and champagne?
It’s a bit technical but basically a champagne comes from Champagne, a region in France. A sparkling wine is everywhere else, you can produce sparkling wines in France, South Africa, Chile and China now. The demand for champagne is growing everywhere and when you have a limited offer on the grapes (you can’t expand the champagne region), the growing demand makes the price of the grapes much more expensive. There are characteristics of the Champagne area that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Dare Win Celebrate is your tagline. How do you Dare Win and Celebrate?
Good question. I celebrate by trying to be at every event that is key like partnering with a lot of weddings at different hotels and lodges. Of course there’s parties, I really want people to play with my champagne brand and interact with it.
Daring. Am I daring? I bought a Renault 16 from 1967 just past Karen. Oh my goodness, if you saw it today… I’m in love with this car but everyone else is like “Seriously?!”. It’s rusted everywhere but the idea is to redo it and have a Martell car. I’m the biggest Renault fan. We [at Pernod Ricard Kenya] also try to be innovative and creative, we don’t want to copy a concept and bring it to another place. [Innovation is] our key guideline and I guess it’s daring. We have fun, our clients have fun and our partners have fun.
Then the win… We are the champagne challengers [in this market] and I want to win. I love competition.