‘Working with family can be a nightmare’

But this 13-generation champagne house wouldn’t give it up for the world.

‘Working with family can be a nightmare’

If you thought working with your extended family was tough, imagine doing it for over 13 generations — and having to grow the business from strength to strength over the centuries while you’re at it.  But that’s exactly what the Cattier family have done since 1625. 

Today, Champagne Cattier remains entirely owned by the Cattier clan, overseen by 13th generation scion and CEO Alexandre. His cousins Agathe and Marie serve as deputy general manager and ambassador for the house, respectively. And they all operate under the benevolent gaze of Alexandre’s father, Jean-Jacques Cattier, whom he succeeded in 2011. 

The Cattier cellars are one of the deepest in the Champagne region

Their unbroken lineage isn’t the only unusual thing about the Cattiers. They’ve also got one of the deepest cellars in the Champagne region, with 119 steps that descend almost 30-metres underground. That translates to a storage capacity of around 2 million bottles at any given time. Their main vineyard is located in the Premier Cru village of Chigny-les-Roses, which allows them to produce exceptional champagne in all its varieties. 

On top of that, the Cattiers’ vineyards also boast a list of environmental certifications—they possess highest level of the French Haute Valeur Environnementale certification, as well as the Viticulture Durable en Champagne, both of which certify their vineries as sustainable.

What makes their achievements truly impressive is the fact that they’ve done it all over 13 generations as a family, sans politics, subterfuge or Dynasty-esque manoeuvring. 

For the last 25 years, their vineyards have attained numerous sustainability certifications

But getting to this point wasn’t easy. Just ask CEO Alexandre. 

“Sometimes, working with family can be a nightmare,” he jokes, with his father chuckling knowingly beside him. The father-son pair were in town recently to launch their champagne, adding Singapore to its list of 45 international markets.

Alexandre adds: “But we always keep in mind that we are working together for the next generation. And that’s also how we have lasted so long, because we work together as a family.”

It also helps that both father and son have a phlegmatic temperament and exude a serene, genteel aura: Patriarch Jean-Jacques, now 75, had an Armand de Brignac cover custom-made for his phone (rapper Jay-Z purchased the brand some years ago, though the family still produces the champagne). But it’s not for bragging rights. “It’s so I won’t make a mistake and take someone else’s phone,” he quips.

The family vines, located in the Premier Cru village of Chigny-les-Roses, date back to the 1600s

Jean-Jacques and Alexandre run a tight ship, along with Agathe, Marie, and an assortment of family members that help out on the vines every now and then.

Still, the Cattiers are not an island. New blood is welcomed into the business, and family members must first prove their mettle to earn a spot in the business: Alexandre himself worked the family vines as a boy, eventually growing up to study oenology at the University of Sciences in Reims. Only later would Alexandre—and his National Diploma of Oenology—be allowed to join the family business proper.

Welcoming outsiders into the family business is just one of the ways the Cattiers have managed to stay fresh over the years. And given that they’ve been in business since the 1600s, the Cattiers have certainly seen their fair share of obstacles to overcome through the centuries.

The Cattiers’ strategic location allows them to offer exceptional champagnes in all their varieties

“Each generation faces their own challenges when it comes to growing the business,” says Alexandre. For example, it was his great-grandparents who first made the move from vinegrower to winemaker in 1916, a decision made during the heat of the first World War, so as not to lose their already paltry harvest. 

Later, Alexandre’s grandparents—Jean-Jacques’ parents—would restore the vineyards destroyed in the war, expanding their fields and growing their presence in the French market. And it was Jean-Jacques himself that made the foray onto the international stage. 

As for Alexandre, he has to contend with the possibility that robots might soon be trawling through the family’s centuries-old vines.

Their strong familial bonds keep the Cattiers from fighting. Clockwise from top left: Alexandre, Marie, Jean-Jacques, Agathe Cattier

“There will be new technology coming in the near future, and we have to adapt,” he says. “Things like social media, e-commerce—it is easy for big brands to navigate these things, but not so for us.”

“Maybe in ten years we might have robots helping us to tend to our vines. Who knows?”

Still, the Cattiers have an ace up their sleeves: each other. 

“We work together as a team, for the sake of both our business and our family,” says Alexandre, whose father nods wisely in agreement beside him. “Keeping this in mind is how we avoid fighting with each other.”