Think of the coolest teacher you’ve ever had. Then picture that teacher not talking about chemistry or history or whatever, but talking about wine, whiskey, and other bar industry topics. That’s Seth Box. He’s the Director of Education for Moet Hennessy USA, which means that he literally educates people about wine, Champagne, and spirits here in the U.S. for the global luxury conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy). And he does so as you’d hope he would — with nary a drop of pretense and a full semesters’ worth of information packed into a 30-minute conversation.
Mr. Box made a stop in Phoenix earlier this month to talk bubbly with a number of key accounts because, well, Champagne-drinking season is right around the corner. Even though folks tend to pop corks a little more around the holidays, Box is a bit personally saddened by this. He’d love to see Champagne, as a category, expand from holiday table onto the Tuesday night dinner table.
Based in New York, Box’s visit to the Valley included stops by top resort accounts like the Four Seasons and fantastic Champagne drinkin’ places like Mastro’s, and meetings with his local distributor—Alliance Beverage Distributing Company. Even though, we kindasorta understand what Mr. Box does, we had to ask:
What’s a Director of Education do?
The title covers a huge umbrella. On one hand, it’s educating people internally, at the company; or giving information to our distributors, which are essentially our sales force; and then people like you, the consumer or media. Although I need to educate all three groups, they require different pieces of information.
Could I have taken Champagne Class in college?!
Well, you’re not too far off. There’s already an oenology degree at Cornell University, and wine classes are offered as an elective at many universities. More and more, it’s becoming accepted as an actual field of study.
How can I taste the difference between good and bad Champagne? What’s the gist?
Well, that price difference between, say a $50 bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and a $250 bottle of La Grande Dame basically represents different degrees of craftsmanship. I always compare it to material products. Let’s say you have a Chevy next to a Mercedes-Benz. Looking at the Mercedes, you inherently know that it took more time to make that car, that there’s a higher degree of craftsmanship, that it just feels better. The same is true for Champagne. And then there’s vintage. Ninety percent of Champagne is non-vintage, so when you drink something of a specific year, you are having a very special experience.
So besides an ability to taste the difference, there’s an emotional response?
Exactly. I always compare that to art. You might respond to a Warhol painting, but that painting will always be there. Wine gets drank, so you respond ‘in the moment’ when you’re drinking something special.
We hear you popped the cork of a ’82 Krug at Tarbell’s earlier in this trip. That must have been a special moment. Why the ’82?
It was a fabulous fluke, really. That bottle was here in Arizona and was in the possession of our distributor (Alliance Beverage) and we just decided to enjoy it … That bottle would go for about $900.
Where is home?
Home is an aisle seat.
Where’s your Champagne and do you keep a lot stocked?
I have a cellar in New York, but have to move it soon. Moving older Champagne is tricky — it’s more sensitive than, say, red wine. There are five components to wine: alcohol, acid, tannin, fruit, and intensity. When shipping, tannins are what holds a wine together — since red wine has more tannins, it’s better suited for the journey. You know, ‘bottle shock’ is a real thing, so you have to be careful with some of the older Champagnes.
Holidays are around the corner. What kind of Champagne do you bring to a friend’s house?
Well, it depends on the kind of friend (laughs). Seriously, I usually bring NV Moet Rose, but if it’s a smaller group and people who will appreciate something really good, then I’ll bring something older. It’s always fun to see people discover the struggle between youth and maturity in Champagnes. Or, I’ll just bring a nice red wine.
What is your goal for Champagne as a category?
We need to get into drinking it any time of the week, and get away from it being a celebratory beverage.