The Mas­ter of the Cel­lar

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text: Julie Gra­ham Image © House of Rémy Martin

Each drop of Louis XIII cognac, the most ex­clu­sive and lux­u­ri­ous spirit in the world is like liq­uid gold, shrouded in a rich his­tory that cel­e­brates gen­er­a­tions of cel­lar masters, ex­tra­or­di­nary crafts­man­ship, and time. Re­tail­ing in South Africa at R50,000 per de­can­ter, Louis XIII is the most cov­eted spirit

in the world. The strik­ing Bac­carat crys­tal de­can­ter with its gold-plated la­bel houses this ex­cep­tional spirit that pays homage to the finer things in life. It is made pos­si­ble through ex­pert crafts­man­ship, at­ten­tion to de­tail, and an ex­tra­or­di­nary journey that takes gen­er­a­tions of cel­lar masters to com­plete. An in­tri­cate alchemy of up to 1,200 eaux de vie (French for “wa­ter of life”) are exquisitely blended af­ter be­ing timeously se­lected by the skilled cel­lar mas­ter. The youngest com­po­nent of the eaux de vie date back at least 40 years, mean­ing that the grapes har­vested today (that will first be­come wine and ul­ti­mately eaux de vie) will only be ready for con­sump­tion by the cel­lar mas­ter’s suc­ces­sors. Each de­can­ter is the life achieve­ment of gen­er­a­tions of cel­lar masters.

Pro­duced by the House of Rémy Martin, the de­can­ter it­self dates back to 1850 when Paul-émile Rémy Martin I was gifted a metal­lic flask by a lo­cal farmer near the site of the fa­mous Bat­tle of Jarnac in 1569. In hon­our of the House’s 150th an­niver­sary in 1874, he blended a unique cognac and cre­ated a glass replica of the flask which would be its ves­sel. Named the “Grande Cham­pagne Very Old – Age Un­known” (Grande Cham­pagne be­ing the re­gion of ori­gin in Cognac, France), it was later changed to Louis XIII as a trib­ute to the French king.

“In 1874, he [Paul-émile Rémy Martin I ] was al­ready high­light­ing that it has to be old to be the best. And since 1874, the mis­sion of the cel­lar mas­ter is to recre­ate the recipe ev­ery year and main­tain the style,” ex­plains Bap­tiste Loiseau, the youngest cel­lar mas­ter in the his­tory of Cognac and the man who is cur­rently se­lect­ing the House’s very best eaux de vie to age and be used in the Louis XIII blend in decades to come.

Born in 1980 in Cognac, France, Bap­tiste had dreams of one day procur­ing his grand­fa­ther’s farm on which flow­ers and veg­eta­bles grew in abun­dance. Though he was sur­rounded by vine­yards, he was more in­ter­ested in the science of the soil and so stud­ied agron­omy. “The link to the earth was al­ways some­thing very im­por­tant to me,” he says. While study­ing, he en­coun­tered many wine­mak­ers in Cham­pagne, Bur­gundy and Cognac and, amazed by their pas­sion and the creative ways in which they ex­pressed them­selves through dif­fer­ent ter­roirs, the 20-year-old made the shift into wine­mak­ing. He took what is re­ferred to as the “royal route” by study­ing at the coun­try’s most renowned schools, the In­sti­tut Na­tional Agronomique Paris-grignon and the École Na­tionale Supérieure Agronomique de Mont­pel­lier. Through wine­mak­ing, he got to see the world and even spent a sea­son in South Africa – a coun­try he had been fas­ci­nated with since read­ing the books of his favourite au­thors, An­dre Brink and JM Coet­zee, as a teenager.

Dur­ing his trav­els abroad, he was of­fered a job back in his home­town of Cognac in a re­search in­sti­tute as an ex­per­i­men­tal en­gi­neer, giv­ing ad­vice to grow­ers across the coun­try­side. In 2007, the House of Rémy Martin asked him to join the team as an ad­vi­sor and voice of the cel­lar mas­ter, Pier­rette Trichet – the first woman to ever be made cel­lar mas­ter in a ma­jor cognac house. Trichet, a no-non­sense, strong, yet hum­ble woman whose ex­cep­tional cre­ations proved her met­tle, de­spite much re­sis­tance in the cognac community, took the young Bap­tiste un­der her wing and guided him through the com­plex process of cre­at­ing the his­tor­i­cal Louis XIII.

Be­cause the in­tri­cate, mul­ti­fac­eted recipe of Louis XIII isn’t writ­ten down but passed orally from cel­lar mas­ter to cel­lar mas­ter, the two had to be aligned in their de­scrip­tors and vo­cab­u­lar­ies of the many aro­mas and flavours found in the lay­ers of Louis XIII. “She let me ex­press my­self first and then she would tell me, ‘Ok, I am try­ing to un­der­stand what you feel. I will tell you what I feel. And to­gether, we will find the right terms’,” Bap­tiste re­calls. “For ex­am­ple, I would talk about smelling figs, but for Pier­rette it was the aroma of dates. So then it was my role to un­der­stand what she was ex­press­ing and, in or­der to align with the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, change my vo­cab­u­lary.” The two de­vel­oped a very close re­la­tion­ship and in April 2014, af­ter seven years of train­ing, she handed over the cov­eted ba­ton of cel­lar mas­ter to the then 33-year-old. “As daunt­ing as it was at such a young age, Pier­rette as­sured me by say­ing, ‘It is not a ques­tion of age. It is not a ques­tion of gen­der. You have the skills, so go for it’.”

I had the in­cred­i­ble priv­i­lege of meet­ing Bap­tiste Loiseau on his re­cent visit to Cape Town to have my very own Louis XIII ex­pe­ri­ence with the charm­ing, fresh-faced cel­lar mas­ter whose hu­mil­ity and pas­sion are noth­ing short of in­spir­ing. As we spoke, he de­canted a bit of the liq­uid gold into two glasses for it to set­tle. This en­ables one to get a taste of the dif­fer­ent lay­ers as they come into con­tact with the palate. Be­fore our tast­ing, he ex­plained that the first part of the journey is through the nose – a prized part of his anatomy that he has to ser­vice and train like a pro­fes­sional ath­lete. I ex­pe­ri­enced a heady feel­ing when nos­ing the cognac for the first time, and my mem­ory im­me­di­ately took me to the kitchen at Christ­mas time with the notes of plum jam, cloves, cin­na­mon and raisins. It was all very nos­tal­gic. I then picked up a dif­fer­ent layer, flo­ral notes of dried red roses. The deeper into the glass I went, the more the aro­mas changed – to hazel­nuts, honey and ginger­bread be­fore shift­ing into more in­cense aro­mas and to­bacco. It was a sen­sory journey, com­plex and lay­ered. “For me, Louis XIII is the per­fect balance of the con­cen­tra­tion of time but also the live­li­ness of the eaux de vies that is still so fresh and aro­matic,” he en­thuses.

Be­fore our first sip, I am told to sim­ply wet my lips with the prized spirit in or­der to pre­pare my palate for the tast­ing. Then, with­out swirling – a com­mon mis­take that merges the lay­ers and brings the strong, burn­ing al­co­hol com­po­nent out more vig­or­ously – I took my first sip and, as Bap­tiste says, “let it in­vade my palate”.

The ex­pe­ri­ence is like fire­works, go­ing off in all kinds of di­rec­tions and yet smooth on the palate. It starts off spicy, and then fol­lows with a deep smok­i­ness of to­bacco and in­cense. What fol­lows are soft, fruity notes akin to the nos­tal­gic aro­mas that took me back to Christ­mas time. I am told that the amaz­ing thing about Louis XIII is that it never re­veals it­self the same way. “It’s al­ways a dis­cov­ery,” Bap­tiste says. “Some peo­ple think what I do is a rou­tine job, tast­ing the same thing over and over again. No, with Louis XIII it’s al­ways a dis­cov­ery and de­pends on the con­di­tion of that par­tic­u­lar day. It’s a new ex­pe­ri­ence all the time.”

An hour af­ter my mem­o­rable meet­ing with the cel­lar mas­ter and my maiden voy­age with the iconic Louis XIII, I am still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the depth of flavour and com­plex lay­ers the spirit so gen­er­ously pro­vides. It is a true trib­ute to the crafts­man­ship, hard work, and time that goes into it and worth ev­ery cent of its hefty price tag. Louis XIII cognac is an icon of French art de vivre and ex­cel­lence, and Bap­tiste Loiseau is fly­ing the flag with pride.

For more in­for­ma­tion on this no­ble and his­toric brand, visit

From left to right : Ge­orges Clot, Bap­tiste Loiseau, Pier­rette Trichet, An­dré Gi­raud

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