An American who has spent much of his career in promoting Champagne has been tempted by one of England’s foremost vineyards to cross the Channel to promote its wines here and abroad. ukvine caught up with him as he settled into his new role.
Christian Holthausen has become a marketing and communications executive for West Sussex-based Nyetimber vineyard, with a remit to promote the vineyard’s output in the UK and abroad. He says: “I will work to promote and develop the brand by below-the-line and above-the-line activity. I am based in the company’s cool offices just off Piccadilly Circus but will spend a lot of time down at the West Sussex vineyard near Pulborough.”
Holthausen worked in Champagne since 1999, looking after global marketing for Veuve Clicquot then Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck. He is a naturalised French citizen.
He is certainly relishing his removal to London from Paris to follow his career in bubbly. He says: “London and Paris are great for different reasons. Here the wine business is so open. The British wine merchant has driven much historic development in the wine business – from Champagne to sherry to Bordeaux.
“In London, I can taste Ukrainian, New Zealand and Lebanese wine. Try going into a shop in Paris and ask for a Barolo, never mind Ortega!”
Selling coals to Newcastle
Holyhausen has told the UK drinks media that an ambition is to sell Nyetimber to the French. Is flogging English Sparkling Wine to the French the wine world’s equivalent of trying to get water to run up hill? Not so, according to Holthausen.
He says: “Traditionally, the French have not been exposed to non-French wine. That is changing. The current generation is much more open to other wines, they are much more experimental. For instance, cocktails have become very much more popular over the last decade, there is much more of a cocktail culture now. Not so long ago, if you asked for a Martini, you were asked if it you wanted red or white?”
The French have become more open to foreign wines, including UK wines, as a result of greater travel, including low-cost air travel, leading to a cultural shift that may work in Nyetimber’s favour.
He says: “I have tasted Nyetimber with French wine consumers. They are receptive. As for future demand, we’ll see!”
Auld Reekie on the itinery
Holthausen is no stranger to the UK as he settles into his new role. He recalls: “When I worked at Heidsieck I was visiting the UK twice a month on average.” As a Connecticut native (he explains the French only know of New York, not his native state), he appreciates the beauty and landscpae of his adoptive homeland. He has exchanged a pad in Paris for a Marylebone address in the capital.
He says: “I love Edinburgh, I visited Scotland a lot for Heidsieck and love its romance and beauty. In England, I love the New Forest, which is so easy get to from London.”
As he settles into his office, Holthausen is under no illusion that his task lies as much on this side of the Channel as it does overseas. He says: “We drink some 35 million bottles of Champagne a year.” No doubt, Holthausen is already plotting how to convert some of this consumption to English Sparkling Wine.
Star-spangled banner over an English vineyard
Holthausen is not the first American to come over here to create wine in the British Isles, a link that is particularly strong with Nyetimber.
While some may see Nyetimber as the quintessential English vineyard – HM Queen serves Nyetimber at Buck House – , it was the decision in 1988 of Stuart and Sandy Moss, from faraway Chicago, to acquire a medieval house in West Sussex and produce wine that led directly to the creation of Nyetimber.
Stuart was a prominent and wealthy manufacturer of medical and dental equipment and Sandy was a successful antiques dealer and archaeologist. Fast forward 18 years and Dutch businessman and millionaire Eric Heerema acquired the estate in 2006, continuing foreign ownership of one of England’s landmark vineyards.