Charles-Armand de Belenet brings a lot to his new role as general manager of Bollinger – a sense of responsibility and continuity. And a deep knowledge of fermented cabbage.
Belenet joined Bollinger in September 2017 and underwent a six month transition period before being appointed as Bollinger’s Directeur Générale on 4 March 2018. He replaced Jérôme Philippon, who is now behind the wheel of Bollinger’s holding company Société Jacques Bollinger (SJB), which includes the Champagne house Ayala and Maison Chanson in Burgundy among its assets.
Originally from Burgundy – he says “nobody is perfect” – Belenet is no stranger to wine. His grandfather was a wine producer and the owner of Château de Meursault, which gave Benelet an early desire to work with wine. After graduating from the ICN Business School in Nancy, he gained experience with Bacardi-Martini. For a period he worked with the Swiss chocolate company Lindt, and later went on to work with Wineandco.com, a startup working in tandem with La Revue du vin de France. “It was a young company chasing the cash,” says Belenet. After two years when the company ran out of money, he joined Allied Domecq; as luck would have it, Allied Domecq acquired G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouët and were looking for a “wine expert” to help them with sales and marketing. Belenet spent 12 years with Allied Domecq/Pernod Ricard, four of which saw him stationed in South Korea. Despite the country’s ‘ppali ppali’ (fast fast) work culture, it was a good place for some self-reflection. “I had time to think about what I would like to do. You see, I’m 47, almost in the middle of my career,” says Belenet.
South Korea was also a good place to explore new tastes, particularly the local fermented cabbage dish, kimchi. “My absolute favorite dish was Korean barbecue and kimchi.” he says. “It takes time to get used to, but after a while, you start to become addicted to it because of its complex taste.”
During that period, he came to a decision.
“Firstly, my objective was to have an impact on the entire value chain,” he says. “Usually, in international companies your impact is limited, so I was looking for a small-sized company where I could have a more comprehensive impact.”
Second, he says, he was “looking for a family-owned company because I’m fully convinced that in the wine industry you need to have this long-term vision.” After meeting with the Bollinger family, and realizing there were many similarities between Burgundy and Champagne, it was clear the Bollinger job was a good fit and Belenet moved with his family from Paris to Reims. (He did, however, make time to visit South Korea for the Winter Olympics.)
Now, Benelet has a new taste to get excited about – the Bollinger R.D. Champagne, whose 2004 vintage is about to be launched. “It’s exciting, but it's also a big responsibility,” he says of the launch. “The champagne was produced many years ago. Our current cellar master was not there, I was not there, so there is this notion of transmission. What we do today, we do it for the next generation.”
He says that his first priority is to immerse himself in the company’s culture. “What is extremely important, and this is the most important part, is to take time, learn and avoid going too fast. I need to learn the history, knowhow and culture of this company. My biggest challenge is trying not to jump too fast on the operational side of decision making.”
As Benelet says, it’s all about maintaining continuity. “The key factor of Bollinger’s success is that it’s consistent across time. Bollinger has never followed short-term trends but instead looks for consistency, and this is exactly what we need to do. “