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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

80Isea& iIAUTUMN 2009 needed by the distiller at this stage and they must rely on their nose, eyes and the assistance of a hydrometer to cut the distillate into three parts: the head, the heart and the tail. Only the heart ( the coeur), now known as the bonne chauffe, will go on to become Cognac. This high alcohol distillate is then ready to be transferred to specially crafted Limousine oak barrels to age and mellow, and this is where the real magic takes place. It is impossible to overestimate the immense level of skill and passion that the cellar master must exercise during the ageing process. It is not simply a matter of leaving the barrels for several decades, and then voila! you have Louis XIII; it is about under-standing and nurturing the complex relationship that the eaux-de- viewill experience with their environment and the natural progression of time. In addition to their great age, the Limousine oak barrels are characterised by their very fine walls, allowing subtle changes to take place between the air, the wood and the eaux- de- vie. Each individual eau- de- viewill have its own nuance and character so the cellar master must be a craftsman, an artist and a visionary, painstakingly and continually blending over 100 years to obtain the perfect balance of flavours and richness that define Louis XIII. In total it takes a blend of around 1,200 eaux-de- vieto reach that familiarity of flavour that over the decades Louis XIII connoisseurs have come to know and love. But it is not just the expert blending that is key during the ageing process, the cellar master must also keep in mind the relationship with the environment. Over the years, the barrels will be moved between cellars of differing atmospheres in order to affect the rate of alcohol lost through evaporation. There are no man- made heating/ cooling systems, they rely purely on the natural atmospheric make up of each cellar along with the cellar master'sinherent understanding of its affect on the eaux- de- vie. Trichet must accept that she will lose one whole cellar's worth of Cognac through this evaporation, which is affectionately known as the ' angels' share' - and lucky angels they are too, as this represents 6,000 barrels of this precious liquid. An understanding of this complex process and of the responsibility placed on the shoulders of the cellar master would inspire anyone to place these individuals among the ranks of other great craftsmen of industry, but there is one aspect of the role of the Louis XIII cellar master that catapults them to a level entirely of their own. These cellar masters, these visionaries, will never see the final product of their initial selections. As Trichet puts it, they are simply a passage, " We take from the past and we leave for the future." There are no lavish self- congratulatory launch parties or exhibitions, there is simply a very humbling recognition that they are just one part of something much bigger. They can only give thanks for the decisions of those that have gone before them and hope that the decisions they themselves make will allow for the enjoyment of Louis XIII in centuries to come. At a time when financial insecurity can render a person's spending potential a little more cautious, quality for money and the reassurance that you are " getting what you asked for" become paramount. At Rémy Martin, this assurance is born out of the immense skill and passion of its cellar masters who, year on year, tirelessly strive to produce the exact flavours held in every single bottle of Louis XIII that has gone before. Ask Trichet to name the biggest compliment she could be paid for her work Right: the House of Rémy Martin and its celebrated vineyards