KING OF COGNAC
Baptiste Loiseau (37), the youngest-ever Cellar Master in Cognac, is the man responsible for producing Rémy Martin’s fabled Louis XIII. We find out more about him…
Where are you from and what was your first encounter with Cognac?
I was born in a small village in the Grand Champagne region of Cognac, the only one of six terroirs from which we use selected grapes to create Louis XIII. Although I don’t come from a family of winemakers, I was surrounded by the industry and as a child, I used to eat grapes off the vine and drink the different juices during harvest season. I became interested in the wine and Cognac industry while on a tour of Rémy Martin and ended up studying agronomy, specialising in winemaking. I experienced foreign winemaking in SA and New Zealand before returning to Cognac in 2005 and joining the Rémy Martin tasting team.
Did you encounter any resistance to your appointment because of your youth?
From the beginning, my mentor and the previous Cellar Master, Pierette Triche, told me it wasn’t a question of age, but of passion, dedication, emotion, technical expertise and building relationships with stakeholders. I was chosen to accompany Pierette on six trips abroad before she passed the baton to me in 2014, but I’d had seven years of intensive training under her and was ready. Pierette was the first female Cellar Master in the industry, so there was already a precedent of audacity.
What does the concept of legacy mean to you?
When I decided to come back to Cognac, I never imagined I’d become Cellar Master – it’s a dream job. Legacy is part of my mission. In my daily work, I pay tribute to the heritage and craftsmanship that go into a Cognac using eaux-de-vie which are over 100 years old and the Cellar Masters who came before me. I often talk to the four who are still alive to find out what happened decades ago. I make sure I don’t diminish the quality, as these eaux-de-vie will be selected long after I’m gone. At the same time, there’s room for experimentation. We look at new steps in the production process to ensure the next generation knows how to manage change and the impact of climate change. Pierette Trichet selected rare cask limited editions in 2009 in another mark of innovation.
What makes the flagship Louis XIII Cognac special?
Louis XIII is really about the transmission between generations of Cellar Master. Earlier generations of Cellar Masters blended 1 200 of the oldest – from 40 to over 100 years in age – and finest Cognacs to create a liquid masterpiece, Only 1-2% of the thousands of eaux-de-vie have the potential to become part of a Louis XIII, which is a cut above the rest, the climax of quality – the king of Cognacs. Since 1874, the baccarat crystal decanter has remained the same to highlight the superiority of the spirit – it’s a piece of history in itself. We even had renowned French designer Christophe Pillet create special glasses to add to the sense of ceremony that comes with tasting Louis XIII.
You spent time in Stellenbosch early in your career. How did it compare with France?
My fascination with SA began as a teenager, when I read novels by André Brink and JM Coetzee. I wanted to experience the culture and learn more about the local winemaking industry. SA was extraordinary in terms of both winemaking technique and culture. The people were incredibly happy to have a young student from France learn to deal with grapes grown in a different climate. The cellars are much hotter here and the wines are bold, concentrated and full of sun.
What do you do in your time away from the cellar?
I’m a wine-lover, so I often participate in tastings. When I travel for pleasure, I tend to favour mountainous areas. I love nothing more than packing my hiking shoes and backpack and spending time in the countryside.