The theme for Louis XIII, one of the world’s finest cognacs, is that of legacy.
The spirit has been made since 1874, and it retains its original style and stays true to the original crafted by Paul-Emile-Rémy Martin. There are more than 1,200 different eau-de-vies used in blending it, so there really is no textbook or secret formula written down anywhere that instructs anyone on how to make it.
The components have to be selected, matured in Rémy Martin’s cellars for decades- fifty years or more in some cases. Then, the sleeping spirits have to be combined to form a harmonious whole- which must taste exactly like the original.
The people who do this are the cellar masters. And we met the youngest and latest member in that line, Baptiste Loiseau.
Yet, before we delve into Baptiste and his thoughts on the future, we thought that there could be no discussion of legacy without first looking at both the past, and the present. And so, in brief…
I would say tradition is very important to me as it is only learning from tradition and the past can we look toward the future. – Baptiste Loiseau, Cellar Master
The Past- Humble Beginnings
Rémy Martin, unlike many of the other houses bearing foreign names,was founded by a Frenchman. Rémy Martin was a winegrower in the Charente region (where Cognac lies), and is said to have started his eponymous business as early as 1724.
Despite its long legacy, things have not always been smooth sailing for the house. Despite enduring the Great War, the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution before that, the firm had a brush with doom in 1924. Under the same Paul-Emile Rémy Martin who created Louis XIII, the firm had hit hard times as debts started to mount as business declined. It was insolvent and in danger of going extinct, as had countless other houses before. Luckily, it was rescued by André Renaud, who bought out and injected fresh capital into the ailing house.
Renaud was the husband of Pierre Frapin’s only daughter Marie. Frapin was head of his own fine cognac house, and through close links with his father-in-law, Renaud had access to extensive stocks of old eau-de-vie. A fortunate thing, for at this time, Rémy was a firm of thirty, even smaller than Frapin. This relationship enabled Rémy to sell cognac blends exclusively from Grande and Petite Champagne. It grew quickly in the forty years that Renaud was at the helm.
Yet, even Renaud was not immortal, and passed away in 1965, survived by two daughters, Anne-Marie, who was married to André Hériard-Dubreuil, and Geneviève, who was married to Max Cointreau. Anne-Marie and by extension Hériard-Dubreuil, inherited control of Rémy Martin. Hériard-Dubreuil was a business visionary who reduced the costs and expanded rapidly. With the rising popularity of its cognac, particularly its excellent VSOP, the rise in Rémy Martin’s fortunes was nothing short of meteoric. Yet, seeds of bitterness had been sown earlier, and would now bear fruit in dramatic fashion.
…the ultimate mission of the cellar lies in preparing for the next generation. – Baptiste Loiseau, Cellar Master
The Past- Bitter Fruit
Geneviève, and by extension, Max Cointreau, had also inherited substantial holdings and rights in Rémy Martin. Hériard-Dubreuil blocked his in-laws from major decisions in the company, and in retaliation, the Cointreaus resisted attempts to raise capital. This forced Rémy to take on extensive debt. The plot thickened after the death of Madame Frapin, Anne-Marie and Geneviève’s aunt, in 1978. She had willed Frapin to Geneviève, which prompted Hériard-Dubreuil to cripple Frapin by stopping purchases of its stock. A decade-long lawsuit ensued that ended up with the Cointreaus being bought out of Rémy.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending for all involved. A few years later, Hériard-Dubreuil reunifed the houses by buying Cointreau, now run by another branch of the Cointreau family. His daughter Dominque took over the business, and under her leadership, the debts incurred in Hériard-Dubreuil’s expansion were largely paid down. Following his death in 2002, Anne-Marie and Geneviève were finally reconciled. Frapin, under Max’s daughter Béatrice, not only recovered, but grew to new heights.
And so, today, nearly three centuries later, we can continue to drink Rémy Martin cognac. Oh, and it is now the second largest cognac house in the world.
Rémy Martin’s trademark is its careful balance of intense fruity flavor and rich texture. All the firm’s spirit still comes from either the Grande or Petite Champagnes, including the younger VS expressions. Their VSOP continues to be the gold standard, and there are even new expressions like the intense Club, which appeals to a new generation of Asian drinkers, who desire strong flavours.
Still, the jewel in the crown has been, and remains, the Louis XIII. Now, as it was in centuries past, it is made from the finest of Rémy’s extensive stock, a blend of 1,200 Grande Champagne cognacs between forty and one hundred years in age. To the cellar master, who does both the selection of casks for the current and future blends, this is a heavy responsibility. He or she has to envision what the product set aside will be like in a hundred years’ time- no mean feat for the non-prophetic among us. A mistake could be very costly and burden your successors- or perhaps even their successors.
The first cellar master in modern times was André Renaud himself, who also acted as chairman and CEO. He groomed a young man named André Giraud, who took over in 1960. In 1990, Georges Clot, a chemist from Toulouse, took over the reins. Clot brought along Pierrette Trichet, who in 2003 became the first female cellar master in the history of Cognac.
In 2014, Rémy Martin made history again when it appointed Baptiste Loiseau, who at the tender age of 34, was the youngest cellar master ever to be named.
Naturally, with we were curious about the perspective of such a young cellar master- particularly on the idea of legacy. We had some tough questions for him:
HS: How do you maintain the style of eau-de-vie consistently? What are your biggest challenges?
BL: When I was under the tutelage of Pierrette, every single tasting I did was with her so that I learned how to taste the same way she does. That’s how I trained to taste and judge the eaux-de-vie the same way Pierrette and the previous Cellar Masters did. To ensure the quality and consistency of each selected eaux-de-vie, I also have to make sure that everyone in my tasting committee is well-prepared before each tasting – that means no coffee that morning, no perfume or scented products, basically nothing that could affect our sense of smell.
One of the biggest challenges I face as Cellar Master would be in making the final decisions on the eaux-de-vie to maintain the style of the House. As you can imagine, tasting can be a very subjective experience and so many of these decisions would have to be made by feeling rather than logic. Even when we are faced with a poor harvest and eaux-de-vie produced are limited, I have to ensure that I never sacrifice on the quality and consistency of the eaux-de-vie even if it means we have to produce less cognac.
HS: How important is tradition to you, personally? Does it heavily influence your work?
BL: Having understood the importance of transmission in continuing a great legacy such as LOUIS XIII, I would say tradition is very important to me as it is only learning from tradition and the past can we look toward the future. Very much of what I know and do as a cellar master, I learned closely from Pierrette Trichet just as she did from Georges Clot, who learned from André Giraud, and so tradition does influence a majority of my work.
HS: As cellar master, how would you judge your own legacy? How do you find ways to keep improving and learning?
BL: Legacy is all about people, transmission and time. As I’ve learned from the previous Cellar Master Pierrette Trichet and those before her, the ultimate mission of the cellar lies in preparing for the next generation. My own legacy would thus be in the transmission of what I’ve had the privilege to inherit from previous generations – the knowledge, skill, passion and commitment that will keep the style of LOUIS XIII and the House of Rémy Martin going for years and years to come.
As Cellar Master, it is my job to bridge tradition and innovation so that while we preserve the exquisite blend first created by Paul-Emile Rémy Martin in 1874, we also continually improve to keep up with the times to maintain relevance to our connoisseurs. As both a previous winemaker and now a Cellar Master, I’ve grown to understand how the different elements in the cognac making process can really influence the final product – the terroir, the winemakers’ agricultural techniques, and the distillation techniques all come together to create exceptional differences to the characteristics of the final eaux-de-vie produced.
So, on top of always looking out for new ways to improve our distillation processes, I am also constantly working with our winemakers to together improve the agricultural techniques in Cognac so that we can produce better quality grapes for exceptional eaux-de-vie.
My own legacy would thus be in the transmission of what I’ve had the privilege to inherit from previous generations- Baptiste Loiseau, Cellar Master
HS: It was mentioned that each cellar master thinks a century ahead. What are your biggest concerns at the moment- and for the future- when it comes to the art of making and managing fine eau-de-vie?
BL: One of my biggest concerns at the moment is the ongoing issue of climate change. Since last year, we’ve been struck by spring frosts that have really impacted the production of grapes and the amount of eaux-de-vie we are able to use in our cognac. It is an issue that we’re working very closely with our winegrowers to address to protect our terroir for the future.
As the cellar master, another constant concern of mine for the future of LOUIS XIII and the House of Rémy Martin is to groom the next generation who will ensure the legacy lives on for generations to come. This includes not just my successor as the next cellar master, but also the next generation of wine growers, wine makers and distillers to keep alive the passion and dedication for the craft in each step of the process in making, selecting and aging the eaux-de-vie.
HS: As cellar master, what is your vision and expectation for Remy Martin for the years ahead?
BL: The House has placed great importance on its people, terroir and time, as these are key in bringing the House to where it is today. As the cellar master, my vision for the House of Rémy Martin a balance between the never- ending quest for innovation and the continued transmission of tradition and heritage.
The pinnacle of quality doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re interested in picking up Louis XIII, contact [email protected].