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78Isea& iIAUTUMN 2009 Spirthiet ofTradition The hallowed cellars of the House of Rémy Martin cognac

masterartisan AUTUMN 2009I sea& iI79 A century in the making, Louis XIII Cognac is a masterpiece of man and nature. Katie Connockvisited the House of Rémy Martin in France to sample the legendary process and product H idden away in peaceful countryside to the west of France, the Charente River, proclaimed " The loveliest river in my Kingdom" by François I, gently winds its way through a landscape of vineyards bursting with the fruit that will create the world's best- known brandy, Cognac. Named after the region in which it is produced, this amber nectar of the drinks' world must conform to strict legal requirements in order to bear the Cognac name; as any Frenchman will tell you: " all Cognac is brandy but not all brandy is Cognac." The region is divided into six growth areas, or crus, based on the characteristics of the soil, and these are reflected in the aromas of the final product. The highest quality Cognac is produced from vines planted in the Grande Champagne cru ( not to be confused with a certain other well- known vine- growing area of France) as the chalky nature of the soil allows for the regulation of its humidity, which is perfect for the vines. It is therefore fitting that it is solely from this cruthat the House of Rémy Martin accepts the eaux- de- vie( samples of the distilled wine) that will go on to produce the ' crowning jewel' of its range of Cognacs, Louis XIII. Widely heralded as the ' King of Cognac', a bottle of Louis XIII is 100 years in the making and sets the standard for luxury. It is for this reason that it has been the drinking partner for many iconic figures commemorating monumental moments of history, such as the celebration of Winston Churchill's election victory in 1951, and Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Versailles in 1957. It is not surprising, therefore, that the process of turning the meagre grape into a spirit of such depth and finesse is one nurtured by the most skilled craftsmen, who are blessed with a unique and selfless respect for their profession and the passage of time. Pierrette Trichet, the first and only female cellar master, currently leads the House of Rémy Martin's craftsmen in the time- honoured process of creating Louis XIII Cognac. Each year, more than 1,200 growers submit samples of their eaux- de- vie to be considered in the blending of Louis XIII, with the incentive of a financial bonus if theirs is chosen - along, of course, with the pride associated with this honour. Only up to three per cent of all the samples tasted by Trichet and her team will be deemed to have the potential and quality required for Louis XIII. As is necessary for the production of Cognac, the wine has to go through a double distillation. Alone among the great Cognac houses, Rémy Martin retains the traditional method of distillation on the lees in small copper stills ( alambics), since it is convinced that this is the only way to reveal both the subtlety and intensity of the Grand Champagne eaux- de- vie. The first distillation produces a raw eaux- de- vieknown as the brouillis, which is then redistilled. There is a huge amount of skill ? In November 2008, the three generations of Rémy Martin cellar masters, Pierrette Trichet, Andre Giraud and Georges Clot ( pictured above, left to right), came together for a unique celebration and tasting straight from the barrel of a Louis XIII that was a product of their combined work over the last century