When Baptiste Loiseau was appointed (or perhaps anointed) cellar master at Rémy Martin in 2014, he was just the fifth person to hold the title in 90 years. With Loiseau responsible for the production of the most famous Cognac of all – the regal, rarefied Louis XIII – you might think that his name, along with those of his predecessors, would be etched in the limestone that defines the cellar walls and soil in this renowned region. In most creative fields, after all – witness the pre-eminent Paris fashion houses – the top designers enjoy celebrity status, acclaimed for their creativity and innovation. But things are done a little differently in the sleepy Charente countryside 300 miles southwest. Here, the cellar master is not meant to take centre stage. And with good reason…
Such is the prolonged evolution of Louis XIII that it will be impossible to assess Loiseau’s efforts in his lifetime. Indeed, Loiseau himself will never get to taste the fruits of his labours. Louis XIII is made from a blend of up to 1,200 different eaux-de-vie that were distilled many years ago, by his predecessors, and are constantly fine-tuned as they develop over the decades. Only after this extended ageing are they bottled in the distinctive studded Baccarat-crystal decanter. And if the cellar master’s guiding influence were not discreet enough, there is a further twist: Loiseau is not seeking to put his own personal stamp on the brandy. Instead, Louis XIII is intended to conform to a house style, so that it remains stylistically consistent over the ages. ‘We are here temporarily,’ Loiseau says, ‘but we have to ensure the story of Louis XIII lives on.’
When he says ‘we’, Loiseau is referring to his elite group of predecessors. The bond between them is clear. For the earnest Loiseau, the responsibility of completing the work of his peers evidently holds emotional as well as professional significance. He pulls out a measuring tool – designed to gauge the level of liquid in a cask – that was presented to him by Pierrette Trichet on her retirement after 38 years at the house. ‘I don’t use it,’ he says, with a slight crack in his voice. ‘I’m just keeping it for the next generation.’
Like those before him, Loiseau was appointed by his predecessor. He recalls the moment as if it was a Jedi tutorial from Star Wars. ‘Pierrette told me that she couldn’t teach me anymore,’ he says. ‘I’d learned all the science, now I had to feel it. She told me I was ready.’ Luke Skywalker and Yoda had nothing on this.
We are here temporarily, but we have to ensure the story of Louis XIII lives on.
Loiseau will now start the search for his own successor. For the time being, though, he is focused solely on making the best – and most consistent – Cognac possible. Trichet understands the significant nature of those early years in the role. ‘Making my first final blend was a huge responsibility,’ she says of the moment when she selected the eaux-devie that had been crafted by her predecessors more than half a century earlier. ‘When the tasting committee [at Rémy Martin] told me that I hadn’t changed anything, it was the most moving compliment they could make.’
As with a non-vintage Champagne, the goal in creating Louis XIII is to blend different parts to yield a consistent style, so that a bottle made in 1960 (the first year of the now 96-year-old André Giraud’s tenure as cellar master) will taste the same as Loiseau’s debut 54 years later, and as that of his successor when blending the eaux-de-vie that Loiseau is distilling today. The goal is a haunting yet powerful rendering of dried fruits, honey, leather, cigar box and floral tones – flavours that seem to go on forever. Cognac, perhaps more than any other drink, is all about time – as Loiseau and his three counterparts know all too well.
This article forms part of a series from Issue 6 of Club Oenologique magazine, in which three leading cellar masters explain how maintaining a house style is more important than expressing personality. Read the other features here: