Amid the verdant beauty of Chandon Winery in Nashik alongside a group of connoisseurs, the energy is one of pure bubbly delight! And with the President of Chandon India Arnaud De Saignes, making a special visit, it’s double the celebration—especially considering his remarkable palette for flavourful Indian wine (his favourite being the Chandon sparkling rose!).
Following a winery tour, guests revel in a delightful sit-down dinner, expertly paired with the exquisite wine, fostering engaging discussions. Arnaud, amiable and gracious, shares insights with HELLO! about the brand and offers us a glimpse into his personal plans. The ambiance at the winery encapsulates the allure of Aurva in a sparkling rendezvous of taste and conversation.
HELLO!: Arnaud, you’re quite the globetrotter. Have you visited India before?
Arnaud De Saignes: “When I was a student back in 1994, I spent some time travelling to India and visited Mumbai, New Delhi and Rajasthan and have beautiful memories of that stay. In 2019, two years after I joined Chandon, I visited Mumbai and Nashik. This is my third trip to India.”
H!: Tell us about Aurva, the brand that Chandon has recently launched…
ADS: “Aurva is a collaboration between India and Australia, involving Kaushal [Khairnar, head winemaker at Chandon India] and our head winemaker Dan Buckle in Australia, who have collated their knowledge and skills and created this new sparkling wine. It is a still wine crafted from Shiraz, born out of an experimental endeavour, essentially a celebration of Chandon’s global craft. Few people are aware that we have shared our knowledge of making sparkling wine from our parent company in Champagne. The goal was to discover the world and create all these beautiful wineries based on the experience we have accumulated from places like Argentina, Brazil, California and Australia. Nine years ago, in 2013, we brought our wine to India. The first time I tasted Chandon sparkling rose in India, I fell in love after the first sip. I thought it was a flavourful wine.”
H!: As you step into the world of luxury bubbles in India, what sparked your interest in bringing this experience to a country with a growing yet smaller wine culture?
ADS: “It’s where the future lies and we are at the beginning of our journey. We are creating a market of luxury bubbles in India. In a rapidly growing wine culture that is still relatively small, especially in the sparkling wines sector, we are confident about the future. Given the size of the country and the fact that its citizens are global travellers who are inspired by everything around the world, India is an important market for us, so we want to give it time to grow.”
H!: How do you plan to make haute sparkling wine a personal and inviting experience for everyone at your table?
ADS: “Our adage is simple: Everyone is welcome at our table. There is a great sense of hospitality in India, I was hosted with so much warmth. And that is our aim too—to welcome people with open arms. We want to create haute sparkling wine, we want to relate to it in a personal way. After all, drinking wine is a personal experience and we want people to enjoy our sophisticated wines with their meals.”
H!: How did a master’s degree in innovation, design and luxury enhance your career?
ADS: “After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing from the Institut Supérieur du Commerce in France, I did an internship with a perfume company. That is where I got exposed to culture, to sensory flavours and fragrances. I was born in Lyon, France, and my grandmother was an incredible cook, so sensory flavours were always a part of my life. That is when I decided to enroll at University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, right before coming to India in ’95. The course helped me understand what makes luxury a unique industry, excellence in product making and a lot about innovation. Soon after, I applied for a job at LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and I was lucky to get recruited to work for Hennessy. I had not even thought about spirits at that time.”
H!: How developed is the wine appreciation culture in India compared to other parts of the world?
ADS: “I don’t have a lot of knowledge about Indian drinking habits but my understanding from the outside is that there is a big appreciation for high quality products like whisky and beautifully crafted cocktails. A sophisticated bar scene with high-end bartending has become the norm in India. I have seen appreciation for craft and quality. When it comes to wine, it is growing fast. But the Indian bar scene has not totally embraced sparkling wine as a fabulous cocktail ingredient and there is more that we can do in that space.”
H!: The best three meals in recent times?
ADS: “Well, it’s at the top of my mind—the dinner we had at the winery by Sage and Saffron, I thought that was incredible—in delicacy, in sophistication, in flavour. And what I thought was remarkable was how five dishes were paired with Aurva! Another one was when I had a chance to have dinner at El Bulli before it closed; it was extremely memorable because of the creativity, innovation and the overall experience. And my third would be a bouchon (bistro) in Lyon, which is where I come from. They make the most beautiful Andouillette [pork tripe sausage dish], a speciality of the city I was born in.”
H!: What does a normal day for the president of Chandon look like?
ADS: “We are a domain where the sun never sets. We begin our day with conversations in Australia, then we move to India, China and then Europe. Later we move to Argentina and Brazil. For me it’s about being on the go, thinking about the future, strategising and ensuring that our execution is right. Making sure that the brand is presented and explained well by teams. We have to work collectively from the inside to make the consumer understand and appreciate our product.”
H!: What keeps you motivated?
ADS: “I think wine is about spirits, food, culture and bringing people together. I love being with people, learning about cultures. This industry enables you to travel to the furthest agricultural places in the world. One minute you are looking at vineyards in Nashik and the next minute, you are socialising somewhere else. There is always something to learn.”
H!: Tell us a little about your personal life.
ADS: “I’m a happily married man with three kids aged 24, 22 and 19. We were lucky to live in London, US and Paris and to have travelled to different parts of the world as a family.”
H!: How do you unwind?
ADS: “When I travel, I love indulging in a hammam experience. I also enjoy the trip back home from work. I ride the subway part way and then walk to clear my mind so I can be present at home. Getting fresh air helps me unwind.”