Makers of Melbourne

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Interview: Benoit Gouez, Moët & Chandon Chef de Cave

“When it comes to sparkling wine and Champagne I think we speak of different categories and, honestly, I think the sparkling wine producers of the world should better define and assert their own style.”

 -       Benoit Gouez

 Benoit Gouez 

Benoit Gouez 

So maybe you always knew that even a great sparkling would not match up to a classic Champagne. Just in case you had any doubts, the head winemaker at historic French Champagne house Moët & Chandon, Benoit Gouez, is happy to relieve you of the notion.

In Melbourne for a one-night only stop to bring attention to the latest release Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006, Benoit was the main attraction at an extravagant Champagne dinner hosted at No. 8 by John Lawson. But as interesting as the tastes of vintage Moët were (dating as far back as a rich and golden glass of 1985), more arresting was a pre-dinner chat with one of the world’s most influential tastemakers.

Unapologetic about Champagne’s superiority in the battle of the bubbles, Benoit had some stern advice for both national and international producers of sparkling wine.

Benoit: “I think that, for sparkling wine producers in the world, they should better define and assert their own style rather than trying to copy something that is already established. I have always found that a more interesting approach.”

The elegant Frenchman points to the success of Australian shiraz as an example of a French grape – syrah – that has been rebranded by wine makers in terms of its taste profile. By doing so, explains Benoit, the Australian market has distinguished itself from the classic Rhone style and successfully established its own lucrative market.

Opinions on sparkling aside, a conversation with Moët’s Chef de Cave was interesting for the insights provided as to his own role at the head of one of the world’s most recognisable maisons. When the international Champagne drinking community knows well the classic Moët style, how much allowance does he have as a winemaker when it comes time to create vintage?

 Chef John Lawson with  Benoit Gouez

Chef John Lawson with Benoit Gouez

Benoit: “The Moët Imperial is what I describe as the concept of non-vintage, it’s that concept of constancy – we know what we have to achieve and we do it every year, therefore it involves a more technical process. The Grand Vintage, for me, is the opposite of the non-vintage approach. It’s total freestyle and there is room to explore the different facets of the style according to what I think of the harvest. It’s a much more personal approach, with no obligation to the grapes other than to make the best representation. And if I’m not satisfied, there is no obligation to produce it.”

His minder calls time and Makers descends the stairs to dinner as Benoit conducts a final brief while the flutes are poured. We spend the evening drinking his genius and come to much the same conclusion as he had earlier decreed – when it comes to truly great Champagne, there really is no award for second best.