When champagne house Ruinart gave São Paulo-born artist Vik Muniz carte blanche to conjure his own creative vision of the venerable maison of bubbles, Muniz went straight to its foundations: the earth, the vineyards and the roots of the vines themselves – from which Frédéric Panaïotis, Ruinart’s cellar master, also takes inspiration for his craft. “I take it as a great positive that you can find this project a little bit edgy,” says Ruinart’s president, Frédéric Dufour. “One of the objects was to bring some modernity to the brand.”
Ruinart is the dark horse of the champagne world – and yet a leading light. For a start, it’s the first established champagne house in the world. Forget what you thought you knew about Dom Pérignon divining bubbles in a cellar; Ruinart is 290 years old this year. “We are nearly 300 years old,” says Dufour. “So you need to shake the brand a little sometimes, but only insofar as it tells something that is important to the ongoing evolution of the story to us.”
The brand has also been pioneering in its close relationship with the art world, too. In 1896, for the first time in the history of champagne, Ruinart commissioned a talented young artist, Alphonse Mucha, to create an advert. “Art is in the house’s very nature,” says Dufour. “We are continuing our commitment to art by supporting major contemporary art fairs.”
And that art, like the roots at Ruinart and in Muniz’s project, run very deep. Ruinart partners with around 30 major art fairs around the world, and is now in its eighth year of partnership with Art Basel in Hong Kong as its Global Champagne Partner. The high-level inventory includes Art Basel (in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong), Frieze (New York and London), Paris Photo, Kyotographie, FIAC and many more.
But as with all matters Ruinart, it’s already doing something way cooler than all of its immediate competitors, yet you probably wouldn’t know it. “On top of the art fairs, we also support a programme for young artists and established artists,” explains Dufour. “Almost all of our Instagram posts, for example, show the work of young photographers that are part of our programme.” Who knew? Start following a three-century-old champagne company on Instagram and lo and behold, you’ll discover a variety of progressive young fashion photographers such as Nastasia Dusapin and Antoine Henault.
Meantime, self-described “low-tech illusionist” Muniz spent the harvest of 2018 in residence at Ruinart in Reims, initiating the “creative tension” that exists between man and nature in matters of champagne. He was surprised to discover the region has a harsh climate and a journey from hardship and adversity to wonder, so he created through his works “an ode to the power of nature and its creative flow”, much of it personified through the hands of Panaïotis.
Back at the cellars in Reims, Muniz also created the permanent installation Flow Bottles. It comprises 1,400 bottles of Dom Ruinart, each filled with an advanced LED system. Stacked by hand, the bottles form a five-metre wall that displays moving images of spectators, taken by a device hidden within. “It’s almost like a form of temporary graffiti,” explains Muniz.
Get with the roots, the plot and the maison. Go with the bubbles, the fun and the flow. And jump way ahead of culture’s curves with the 290-year-old French champagne house.