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BW Businessworld

Cognac: The One And Only

Rémy Martin is the only major house founded by a winegrower of the same name, specializing in cognac fine champagne. It has been a family business since 1724; a unique House in many ways, deeply rooted in exception. As they make inroads into India, expanding their presence, Eric Vallat, CEO of the House of Rémy Martin tells us about the brand's activities and India trajectory

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Rémy Martin is the only major house founded by a winegrower of the same name, specializing in cognac fine champagne. It has been a family business since 1724; a unique House in many ways, deeply rooted in exception. As they make inroads into India, expanding their presence, Eric Vallat, CEO of the House of Rémy Martin tells about the brand's recent activities and India trajectory

Any new variants/launches? What is your plan, going ahead?
It takes years to craft cognac. It is all about the unique relationship with time. We respect time, it is not about speed. I come from the fashion background and fashion is about renewing quickly but for us, the question is more how do we build sustainable success on our products? So for me, the real success will be, if XO, Louis XIII are still very attractive products in hundred years. The strategy is to work on our existing products with limited editions rather than coming up with new products. We have a wide portfolio, including the Remy Martin 1738, this cognac will particularly please whisky drinkers, so it could appeal in India but we wouldn't like to rush. For me, we need to set clear priorities, our priority today is to build a sustainable success on Louis XIII, VSOP and XO.

What new trends do you observe in the cognac market in India and across the globe?
We are in the spirits market but we are in the niche luxury spirits market. My views are biased and more on the luxury sector, so I do not tend to limit it to spirits. If you take Louis XIII, for me it's a brand that resonates way beyond cognacs. It is a true luxury product so I do not look at trends in spirits only. If you look at spirits industry only, then we are going to look at things we are doing, while we want to change the rules of the game.

I think one big trend is that people are moving from status logo driven purchase to a more authentic products, which is why there is a demand for craft products whether it is in fashion, in Jewellery or in spirits. I think this is a long lasting and enriching trend. Clients are now looking for an experience and going beyond the fact the product is authentic. They don't buy products but they buy an experience we can offer. So this takes us way further, which is a good thing for luxury spirits market because we are all about sharing experience and sharing moments. That's one big trend and that's why we see the branded spirits are coming back because they are crafted spirits. This trend is very good for high- end cognac. Our values are people, terroir, time, what better values could we offer to our client?

Would you call it a round-the-year drink? Why so?
Yes I would call it a round-the-year drink. For me it's a non-seasonal drink and I would think of it more in terms of occasions than seasons. Our products are very versatile so it fits very well, a drink at night on my own, back from a tough business day, a drink with friends and as well as a drink at the night club. Why should there be seasons when there are so many occasions to enjoy the drink.

What makes a good cognac? Which make does best in India?
It starts with the raw material. Cognac is made of grapes grown in the cognac region of France and selectivity of the grapes is very important. The use of the name cognac is protected under French law. It is AOC, Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, and there are three main requirements to satisfy: First, it must be made from specific grape varieties, such as Ugni Blanc. Second, it must be twice distilled in copper pot stills. And third, it must be aged in oak barrels for at least two years. Thanks to these requirements, cognac captures the original aromatic and fruity aromas of grapes to create a dense and rich spirit of the highest quality.

Other important aspect is the know-how and people. How do we ferment it into wine. As AOC, the Cognac region is divided into six growing regions, called crus. At Rémy Martin, our eaux-de-vie (the distillate of the still wines) come exclusively from the Premier Cru, Grande Champagne, and from the Petite Champagne cru, terroirs that yield eaux-de-vie with exceptional aging potential.

And the people, the cellar master are instrumental, their responsibilities include, demanding in-depth knowledge of winemaking and distillation, a superhuman nose, a chemist's gift for alchemy, and a vision and passion for preserving and protecting the brand's legacy. The cellar master oversees the world's largest stock of fine Champagne eaux-de-vie in the world, as well as the cellars, which house 140,000 casks. Infact he is all set to visit India for the first time in August.

The cellar master and a specially appointed tasting committee annually select hundreds of eaux-de vie that possess the qualities and characteristics to yield consistent Rémy blends for each of the house's labels.

And lastly, its about time, as they are aged in wooden oak barrels. So all of the above plays a key role in making a good cognac and that's why it is important to be family driven as time plays a vital role.

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

We do reinvent classic drinks, cocktails is an ongoing experimentation. We have new cocktails every year, some of them are successful and some of them are not. If you take cognac for instance we have invented, Summit cocktail which is made with ginger, cucumber which look fabulous and naturally, taste amazing. We keep on reinventing ourselves, we also twist classic cocktails like the oldest cocktail worldwide, the Old Fashioned with XO. Also what matters is also reinventing the occasions, it's a .mix of products and occasions.

Any new tie-ups of significance?
Louis XIII, L'Odyssee D'Un Roi is a bespoke tribute to the Louis XIII mythical journeys through the ages, in a collective act of creation uniting Louis XIII with three prestigious French luxury houses: Hermes who made the trunk, Saint-Louis made the decanter and Puiforcat made pipette forged from white gold. This has been a unique collaboration of four brands together producing three unique pieces each of the luxury trunks which was auctioned in Sotheby's - one in New York, one in Hong Kong, and one in London.

But we tie-up with brands sharing the same clientele but are not competing with each other, with brands like high-end luxury watches, high-end luxury cars and artists. This year, we are going to collaborate with an artist for one of our products for which we will make a formal announcement.

Which are the growing markets regarding Cognac?
Cognac is enjoying a good trend. So it's growing in many countries, I would say that Europe is a challenging market but regions like Africa, Middle East and India are growing quickly. Just to give you an example, in India last year we grew double, or even triple digits depending on the products. We are also growing in the US which is our number one market in volume and value and there is growth back in China.

Which is the most expensive offering and what makes it so valuable?

The most expensive offering is Louis XIII rare cask. What makes it valuable is, the extreme selectivity of the casks called tierçons which makes it prestigious and selectivity in ageing because it takes hundred years to craft.

The story about rare cask started in the autumn of 2009, Cellar Master Pierrette Trichet was walking among the vast Rémy Martin cellars when she sampled a smaller cask and noticed its surprisingly unique characteristics. The next day, as she was walking in the fields along the Charente River, she realized what made the cask so unique - it was the bountiful aromas of fresh fruits, plums and dates. She marked this cask with chalk and carefully monitored it over the next several years, until in 2012, Trichet and her Deputy Cellar Master Baptiste Loiseau decided the cask - Louis XIII Rare Cask 42,6 - had reached its peak, and for only the second time in Rémy Martin's 140-year history, an individual cask of aging Louis XIII was selected to be bottled on its own.

Louis XIII Rare Cask 42,6 has a crisp autumn aroma, with dried fruits, dates and nuts on the nose leading to red plums, wet stones and gingerbread on the palate. The finish is dry and seemingly everlasting, with notes of raisins, cedar and tobacco leaf. Due to the small size of the cask, only 738 bottles of Louis XIII Rare Cask exist, all presented in beautiful Baccarat black-crystal decanters.

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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Shveta Bhagat

The author is a Delhi-based freelance writer

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