CNY x Gen Y Cognac
Kicking off our season preview is Baptiste Loiseau, 30+ cellar master of 300+ year-old Rémy Martin
He’s the youngest-ever in Cognac history, succeeding Pierrette Trichet (Cognac’s first woman cellar master) at the prodigious age of 34. As only its fifth cellar master, Baptiste Loiseau is keeper of an at least 293-year-old DNA. He selects eaux-de-vie of the greatest potential from the vaults, blending them into the style that is Remy Martin.
Loiseau is two years into his fabulous job, doing work that might be profoundly meaningful in a world growing disenchanted with the smoke and mirrors of the so-called gig economy. But being the tastemaker of an elixir created in the patient, classical ways comes with its own hazards in the age of instant gratification: he must mediate between cognac lovers old and new.
“We are in a generation where we want things to evolve quickly,” Loiseau says. “The young generation now are aware of what people before them have done; what they’ve put aside for us and the future generation. My role is the same, and that is to respect that tradition but also evolve with the crazy and fast world we live in now.”
Loiseau is not unfamiliar with the words that the new, prospective cognac market expects to hear, so that they know they're being taken seriously. What’s his plan for the brand?
“As cellar master of Remy Martin, what I want to do is to make something that deserves to be aged; to respect the styles of the House since 1724; to be fair to the roots of this magnificent name; and tell the truth of the House by engaging with my audience. I believe in total transparency and I want people to see what Remy Martin does, what it will continue to do, and how we will continue to uphold this 300-year-old institution married with the science of preserving it in the fast-changing world.”
It’s a world still mad for Silicon Valley venture capital, where innovation is the thing. Demographically speaking, the cognac buyer can only get younger (unless you're in Japan) and the cellar master must reckon with youthful expectations of something different from what the oldies drink. Loiseau presents his ambassador’s credentials:
“There are no rules in making cognac. I’m merely following what time and nature give to me; that’s why I call cognac, the fragrance of time. It is the concentration of an aroma, kept and sealed in decanters by my predecessors, exposed and revealed by each cellar master of the time.”
For Loiseau, cognac is revealed truth; innovation is in aid of revelation.
The #LOUISXIIISALMANAZAR, probably the first-ever 9-liter crystal decanter, a one-and-only edition crafted by Baccarat's finest artisans. Exclusively at the Remy Martin Beijing Boutique, where it landed on Jan 15 this year.
The most exceptional eaux-de-vie are aged in rare casks; the expression of Louis XIII (pronounced louie treize) depends on a trinity, as described in scriptures of many cultures and is also known as terroir: heaven, earth, man; a unique alliance of climate, soil and the skills of the winegrowers and distillers of the Grande Champagne area in the Cognac region.
Louis XIII first appeared as a glint in the eye of Paul-Emile Remy Martin in 1874. It is a blend of up to 1,200 eaux-de-vie made from the wine of grapes sourced entirely from Grande Champagne. All of which the cellar master must taste.
“Today’s Louis XIII must offer a similar drinking experience to the one available a century ago, and what will be on offer in another 100 years. When you taste the Louis XIII, there is no set way to experience it. It is a sharing of that very moment and allowing your words and feelings to flow,” says Loiseau, waxing lyrical and bullish even as he looks up to see challenges from above.
“My task is to maintain the consistency of this hundreds-years-old drink but the climate is changing. The grapes are changing and every year, and even right now, we are constantly experimenting to adapt to this change. But we will figure it out and we will not lose because a hundred years ago, the climate was also different and yet my predecessors were able to do what they do; so I know I can also do what I need to do.”
Remy Martin cognac is white wine twice-distilled in small, copper pot stills. The first round of distillation removes the “fluff” and leaves the liquid 30% alcohol; the second round extracts the aromatic release of the liquid, known as the bonne chauffe or heart, turning the end-product into the water of life, or as the French calls it, the eaux-de-vie. Cognac is aged a minimum of two years and is only recognised as cognac if it is distilled from wines of grapes grown in the Cognac region. But don't mentalise it, says Loiseau.
“It’s not something you read in books. It’s an experience, and the best way to experience cognac is to let yourself go with no expectation and only intuition.
“Explore and open yourself up to the fruitiness of the VSOP (four years old) first. It’s simple and it’s the perfect first drink for someone new to cognac.
“Next, move on to the XO, a 10-year-old bottle, for a more concentrated palate. The XO is a concentration of candied fruits, figs, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and the iris and jasmine flowers. It is rich, but not so rich you won’t be able to fully grasp its complexity. If you want to go further, try of course the Louis XIII, the ultimate tribute to drinking time.
“Cognac is not wine. I say to people not to ever swirl the glass because in itself, the Cognac is already so perfect and well-aged that you do not need to further open it up, or even want it to blend with the air. If you do that, all you get is a heavy hit of alcohol, losing the extravagance and richness of the layers of the Cognac – which is what you’re supposed to drink!
"So I say to people, do not swirl but first, hold it at maybe here (your waist level), inhale it, nose and savour it, and then slowly bring it up to nose level to draw in, or draw out, the layers of its richness. Coat your lips first, and then drink slowly, in several sips, to fully experience every layer of the cognac.
“It is never the same, and it should never be the same. Each layer and the length of time you drink changes the notes and fullness, and that is the magic of cognac.”