By Herve Rousseau
I believe that it is the pleasure that counts, not the price tag, and so I personally taste every wine that is added to our list.
I grew up in Paris and was introduced to champagne by my father when I was about 10 years old. His favorite brand at that time was Veuve Clicquot, and I remember liking the anchor on the bottle and the vivid color of the yellow label; it had an exotic appeal. Champagne is a wine that has always made me dream because it has everything: history, luxury, mystery, aesthetics, and very consistent quality.
I moved to the U.S. when I was 25 to work for the prestigious Rémy-Cointreau group, selling their champagnes, which at the time were Krug, Piper, and Charles Heidsieck. It was a wonderful adventure, and quite a change from my previous job as a sales manager for Danone yogurts. My territory was Manhattan and the Hamptons, where New Yorkers party during the summer, and my mission was to place the champagnes in all the prestigious restaurants, clubs, and bars-not a bad circuit for a young bachelor. Plus, I had a great company car, a Krug-branded Rolls Royce station wagon that I used to make my sales calls. Although the Rolls Royce was hard to maneuver and harder to stop, it was quite a hit on Sunday morning when I went to buy my croissants.
I quickly came to wonder why Americans see champagne so differently from the French. In Paris, champagne is everywhere. You will find it in your local bakery and the tiniest neighborhood store. Even some butchers have champagne, although it is true that they are the fancy kind, with filet mignon at thirty Euros a pound. You might open a bottle before dinner with friends, or order a flute in a café at the end of the day. It is not reserved for special occasions. This difference inspired me to combine the French attitude toward champagne with New York cocktail culture in a new bar-lounge concept called Flüte.
In 1997, we opened our first location in midtown Manhattan, where the infamous speakeasy “Club Intime” operated from 1928 to 1929. It was a place where the champagne flowed and New York society hung out during the height of Prohibition. I like to think that we have recaptured that glamor in our intimate candle-lit lounges. A location near Gramercy Park followed, and in 2008 we will open a location in Paris. Our goal has been to offer the best quality in everything – from caviar to service to, of course, champagne. But our menu will always be very personal for me. I believe that it is the pleasure that counts, not the price tag, and so I personally taste every wine that is added to our list.
The next challenge is to bring what I love about New York to the new location in Paris. Paris is very dear to my heart, although Americans seem to think that Parisians do not like them. I tell them, “It is not that they do not like you; it is that they do not like anybody.” I am kidding (a bit) but if at first they seem distant, once you win their heart, it is for life. If New Yorkers see Flüte as very French, it might not be so bad for Parisians to see their location as a sassy New York transplant. Perhaps it will have some exotic appeal.