Kristofer Ruscon, founder of Hatt et Söner, on the champagne house's remarkable history – and unique product
Hatt Et Söner is known for offering personal vintages and hosts the first members' club in Champagne
Hatt et Söner champagne has an interesting origin. It was during the 1940s, in the French Alpine town of Annecy, that Joseph Ruscon made his vow to never pass a day of his life without drinking a bottle of wine. A seemingly strange pledge from a former beermaker, it was inspired by the three years he spent hiding in a wine cellar during the Nazi occupation of France, alongside the Jewish people he was sheltering from discovery.
Years after the war, Joseph kept this promise, discovering his favourite vintages in a niche champagne created by the Vallois family. He would order 1,000 bottles a year to share with his family, and forge such a close connection that his grandson, Kristofer Ruscon, would grow up knowing winemaker François Vallois like a “second father”. In 2006, feeling mounting pressure from the competition of the big champagne houses, Vallois decided to sell the vineyard and Kristofer, then aged just 21, stepped up.
“I’ve been naïve my whole life, but it’s actually been very good for me. I hope I never lose that quality, actually,” Kristofer says, explaining how he presented Vallois with a handwritten contract to buy the champagne house. “I actually talked to my grandfather about it, and he told me I was young and stupid – and he was so right. He said, ‘You have no idea how difficult it’s going to be’ It has been a struggle, but we have survived and I’m so happy, especially as a small champagne house. I’m fighting hard to show how small champagne houses can survive – especially since, today, the biggest group controls more than 30 per cent of the region.”
Kristofer named his newly acquired winery Hatt et Söner – blending his French father’s family legacy of hat-making with his Swedish mother’s language – and set about taking it from a small house to one of the most unique and sought-after champagne concepts in the world.
“What we have created is the world’s first ever champagne for private clients,” Kristofer says. “I remember when I first explained the idea to François, asked if he thought we could do it and he said ‘never’.
“Our clients create a personal vintage, starting with choosing between the top four of the winery’s 55 vineyards, which is over 4.2 hectares (11.4 acres) of vine, which vinification method they prefer, if they want steel tank or oak barrel. We give our clients their own space in our cellar and then let them choose the maturation level, the sugar level, everything. It has become something far more than just choosing a vintage – it’s about creating individual wines for unique clients, but always to the highest quality. >>
“For me, one of the true joys of winemaking is following the wine’s maturity – every vintage is so different – but that’s only been something that winemakers themselves have had access to before. I wanted to give that opportunity to people, let them see what champagne is really about.”
Such is the rarity of Hatt et Söner’s publicly available wine that London’s connoisseurs can only find it in private members’ club 67 Pall Mall. And while the brand does supply certain events to introduce new prospective clients, its main focus is on supporting charities. Hatt et Söner has collaborated with charitable organisations such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Unicef and amfAR.
“We work with individuals to create a champagne that is totally bespoke to them. We really connect with our clients on a very human level, and so it seemed like a natural move for who we are as a brand – as well as an act of rebellion against our investors,” he laughs. “We defined what our personal vintage is about, and it’s about being a part of this world, being part of something bigger. We decided to give 10% of our revenue to charity, and it’s been amazing.”
Now, Kristofer has launched the Hatt et Söner members’ club in Champagne – the first ever private members club in the illustrious region. “We’re a genuine members’ club, with a clubhouse and everything. But of course it’s all about connecting to the wine. We invite our clients down for the harvest, where they can enjoy learning about the process and connect with each other – but in creating the right ambiance, with the right people, we also help our clients make connections with each other as well.” >>
While Hatt et Söner’s expansion plans are being kept firmly under the hat, Kristofer is excited to share the brand’s move into the art world, particularly his collaboration with Stockholm-based German artist Carsten Höller. Best known for his quirky Tate Modern project Test Site (which saw him install slides in the London gallery’s Turbine Hall), Höller and Kristofer plan to test how touch and light affect wine.
“The project we’re doing in the Art Field is very, very cool. It’s not like some artist collaborating on a bottle label – this is a true art project that will tell us more about our wine in an intriguing, edgy way,” he says.
Kristofer’s passion for champagne goes far beyond just the smell and taste of the wine itself. In fact, just days after his grandfather Joseph died, Kristofer opened a bottle of Hatt et Söner’s Le Grand-Père Dignitas – originally created as an homage to Joseph.
“What you taste is just as much about how connected you are to yourself as it is the ingredients, and that’s what I really love about champagne. It is so diverse. And where you are, how you feel, can create totally different experiences,” he says. “My grandfather was such an important part of this house, he made everything possible. Without him we wouldn’t have our personality.
“He was a very strong character, very trusted but imposing. Everyone loved him, but people were often afraid of him. He was the head of the family, always bringing everyone together and driving us in the right direction. He was a great man,” Kristofer says. “And, you know, just before he passed away, he asked for wine. It is our greatest passion.”