Marc Boissonnet lives by the maxim “do what you love and you will never work another day in your life.” Born into a family of winegrowers, he naturally adopted the Hennessy way of life with pastimes ranging from furniture design to pampering his vintage car and grooming his garden. He joined the maison in 1998 as a creative marketer and today travels the world as a brand ambassador, advocating its exceptional processes and pleasure.
“I was first attracted to the brand, then came to be amazed by the products,” Boissonnet says. “After 20 years at Hennessy, those two things melded for me — the product is the brand and vice versa. It started as work and then became so entangled with my daily life that I can no longer call it work. I’m sitting here with you in this wonderful place, with the Petronas Twin Towers behind us. Yes, technically I’m working, and if you were saying something that I disagree with about my beloved brand, I’d fight tooth and nail to defend it. But this is not work. It is a love story.”
We are chatting on a terrace in W Hotel Kuala Lumpur on a humid evening while awaiting the company of a few journalists for an exclusive dinner at Saint Pierre, the counterpart to Singapore’s Michelin-starred destination helmed by chef Emmanuel Stroobant.
The ambassador’s passion for the house runs deep. Researching the gentleman uncovered some brilliant analogies he shares with visitors touring the chateau in the French town of Cognac. One is “keep the spirit, dispose of the body” to describe the distillation process that reduces cognac distillate to a tenth of its volume, ensuring a concentrated essence. Another has to do with ageing.
“Ah, you read about that,” he exclaims, pleased. “Eaux de vie are like children — you have to shape them from young. You assess their potential and select the right barrel for them. They mature into young adults and you marry them, blending them with other eaux de vie to create the final product. Ageing means they are alive, and living things require respect. They are like people whom we look at through the lenses of character, origins, age, how they have evolved. It is a fitting analogy for human life. Don’t ask me which is my favourite, they are like my children and I can’t pick one over the other.”
Established in 1765, Hennessy remains a foremost name in cognac and continues to be relevant across generations. According to Boissonnet, the secret lies in its consistency. “The more things change superficially, the more I think people need something stable to hold onto,” he muses. “A timeless brand like Hennessy is reliable; it is genuine and stable. It is never out of fashion because it is not fashion. We have innovated a lot over the decades but we continue honouring the traditions and best practices for our legacy. We don’t create something and impose it onto the rest of the world. We just do things a certain way and you either like it or you don’t.”
This includes taking an artistic approach to the craft and equally valuing the contributions of man and nature. Cognac is the marriage of vineyards and forests: the grapes bring the floral and fruity elements while the oak barrels provide the wood and spice. There is no hard and fast formula, and it is man who orchestrates the magic between both. Each iteration is unique as the wood and fruit alter every season.
Therefore, enjoying Hennessy’s cognac is not merely about consumption for its own sake. “If you are thirsty, drink water,” shrugs Boissonnet. “You should retain or take back something from it, a dimension of well-being or appreciation. Our idea of art de vivre is to enjoy something meaningfully.”
The versatility of Hennessy’s range enables consumers to tailor their enjoyment, and Boissonnet counters the outrage of purists by encouraging experimentation. “Hennessy can be served at room temperature, with ice or water, or in cocktails and long drinks,” he says. “Hennessy VS served with a soft drink and ice does the job. It is a natural balance of strength from the barrel and the finesse of fruit, and you can choose which element to enhance. Soft drinks play up the fruit while something spicy like ginger ale or fresh ginger brings out its intensity. You can push it to an extreme or counterbalance it. Personally, give me VS with sparkling water and some oysters, and I’m good.
“The point is to provide mixologists and bartenders something they can work with, not design a rigid product. We are all the way in Cognac, in France. We have no idea what people around the world are capable of,” he concludes. “We provide the key ingredient, the strong beating heart, around which others can build their own constructions.”
This article first appeared on Mar 11, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.