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A Legendary Cognac

Christophe Valtaud, Cellar Master of the house of Martell is a native of the Cognac region, with a doctorate in biochemistry, molecular biology and plant physiology

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Christophe Valtaud, a native of the Cognac region, holds a doctorate in biochemistry, molecular biology and plant physiology. Last year this 38-year old former vineyard manager was appointed the Cellar Master of the house of Martell. He is proud to uphold the 300 years old heritage that was started by Jean Martell in 1715. In an exclusive interview he tells Shveta Bhagat about Martell’s ongoing journey and the India connect

Describe your relation with Cognac?

I am native of the Cognac region, from a beautiful village close to Cognac. My father and grand-father were winegrowers, so I’m not only particularly attached to the Cognac region but also to the wine growing and the cognac making savoir-faire.

I think Cognac is the most precious treasure from the vine. Thanks to hundreds years of passion and unique savoir-faire, men succeeded in producing this liquid gold from the vine. It’s a fascinating process.

Any new variants?  What new trends do you observe in the cognac market in India and across the globe?
The days of the cliché cognac drinkers being reserved to cigar smokers curling up next to a roaring fire while casually swirling a snifter of the amber-colored liquor are long gone. With changing times, trends in social drinking patterns too have made a considerable shift across the world.

In India, while the south sees a lot of attraction for Cognac, there is in general a growing market for premium goods and with changing lifestyles there is an evolving niche market in other parts of country wherein younger consumers want to experiment with this spirit. The Indian consumer now savors this premium tipple, however niche, in summers too!

Indians are willing to experiment with interesting cocktails and are keen on knowing their drinks and trying new drinks beyond the regular whiskies and beers. As more and more Indians are embracing the woody taste of Cognac, India also holds great potential as a market for complex drinks.

Any experimentation going on regarding the classic drink? How so?

Traditionally, the classic cognac drink has been savored neat with a cube of ice. However, today, with evolved consumer tastes and preferences, this mature liquid has become a choice for the experimenting consumer as well. Pairing with cigars, fine food and desserts are some of the novel ways in which the consumers are enjoying the drink. Furthermore, with onset of summer and the growing popularity of Cognac as a drink in India, Cognac drinkers are experimenting with some interesting cocktails from the house of Martell like ‘Martell Sidecar’.

Cognac and food pairing works really well, that’s why it is so popular in markets such as Asia. Martell cognacs offer an outstanding finesse and delicacy for perfect pairing with Asian food. For seafood, a young cognac like Martell Noblige is perfect for its freshness and lightness. Black Pepper Crab goes very well with Martell XO as the strength of the “eaux-de-vie” from Grande-Champagne (the main growth area for XO) matches perfectly well with the power of fresh black pepper.

Tandoori turkey is also a spicy, but not too powerful dish and is often paired with our iconic Martell Cordon Bleu.

What are the new launches? Also specific to India?
India is an extremely important market for us and we are always bringing in new makes. At present we have our blends VS, VSOP & XO.

We just launched the new VS of the House: Martel VS Single Distillery, available in the US for the moment and will be launched in other parts in a phased manner. Martell's unique and historic method of double distillation of exclusively clear wines allows it to produce exceptionally fine and luscious cognacs. For VS Single Distillery, we have taken this approach a step further by selecting eaux-de-vie from a single distillation source. VS Single Distillery is an even more authentic expression of our House style and savoir-faire - a fine, luscious cognac overflowing with Martell's signature fruity aromas.

Which are the growing markets regarding Cognac?
The market for Cognac has seen significant growth not just specific to India but for Asia as a whole. Martell experienced a significant growth worldwide and in all segments of the category. Globally the evolving consumption pattern is driven by brands with substance and authenticity and products with heritage. Martell, as the oldest of the great Cognac houses with 300 years of heritage, continues to strengthen its prestige leadership through craft and excellence with super-premium and ultra-premium products such as Cordon Bleu Extra or Single Estate Collection.

India is a complex market for Cognac, however, it has great potential for growth. With the increase in urban population and the rising middle class which has a great sense of luxury, India is gradually becoming a large Cognac drinking market. Moreover, Southern India too is coming up as a huge Cognac market especially with young consumers.

What makes it a round the year drink?
Cognac remains a symbol of refinement, craftsmanship and authenticity, more and more consumers are keen to discover it through various consumption occasions. Cognac can be consumed anywhere and in a variety of ways, this French spirit is no longer reserved only for winter sipping and is consumed through various occasions.  Of course the classic way of having cognac neat, over ice or diluted with a little water with the aromas of a cigar has not been forgotten but summer experimentation amongst consumers has made it a popular drink for consumption all-round the year. Interesting cocktails using pomegranate, lime, grapefruit juice with lemon peel or blackberries or preparing a punch with mint leaves makes it a refreshing drink for summers as well.

Which is the most expensive offering and what makes it so valuable?
L’OR de Jean Martell is the most complex blend to come out of the House of Martell. This precious elixir is the result of a series of “rare encounters”.

The first of these encounters was between Jean Martell and Cognac, the region he chose to make his home and in which he saw so much untapped possibility. The decision to marry Grandes Champagnes and Borderies, the smallest, most exclusive cru in the area, was another. The master distillers and their knowledge of the double distillation to make the finest eaux-de-vie is also unique. The discerning talent of nine cellar masters and their team to raise the eaux-de-vie in the cellars for the ageing and to blend of over 600 precious eaux-de-vie, the rarest of them dating back over 100 years, provides the final touch to look for the excellence. Each of these pairings plays a part in the rare perfection of L’OR de Jean Martell.

Finally, we cannot ignore the ultimate rare encounter: that between the creator and the receiver of L’OR de Jean Martell, for this exceptional spirit.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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interview Christope Valtaud

Shveta Bhagat

The author is a Delhi-based freelance writer

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