When news broke in 2014 that the young, fresh-faced Baptiste Loiseau would be the new cellar master for esteemed cognac house Rémy Martin, eyebrows were understandably raised. Although impeccably qualified, Loiseau, at 34 years old then, would be the youngest person to take on such a role in the cognac industry — and still is. How would he communicate with winegrowers and industry veterans who had been doing their jobs since before he was born?
“Some people were definitely a bit shocked,” he admits with a laugh. “In the beginning, some winegrowers said, ‘You seem like a nice guy but I don’t really understand how a young guy like you can tell me how I’m supposed to work.’ Some of them had trained me and now I was giving them advice on how to improve quality. But I wasn’t there to tell them what to do or how to run their business. It’s about creating a relationship, having conversations. We’re a big family.”
Past the boyish smile and charming dimples, Loiseau is in fact remarkably well-trained for his role, and boasts impressive academic credentials too. A native of Cognac, he originally set his sights on a career in biology, but the real-life experience of the profession made him rethink his decision. He retrained as an agronomist and oenologist and, upon joining Rémy Martin, spent several years under the tutelage of his famously no-nonsense predecessor, Pierrette Trichet — the first woman to be made cellar master of a major cognac house.
Loiseau’s youth and vitality have obviously had an impact on the house, in particular the way Louis XIII — one of the world’s most exclusive cognacs — is perceived. “It helps people understand that you can be young and enjoy really exceptional cognac like Louis XIII,” he says thoughtfully. “I have travelled the world to meet our collectors, clients and connoisseurs and even they are surprised that someone so young could be Rémy Martin’s cellar master. I think it’s not about age; you can really enjoy cognac even if you are young. And some of our customers, especially in the newer markets, are actually quite young as they have achieved success earlier in life.”
His hands-on approach to work is also a reflection of his youth and energy. He starts off his days — after dropping his two children off at school — by heading straight to the distillery to get a gauge of the wines right at the point of distilling. “I like to be at the pot still and smell the aromas — it’s freezing in the winter, but it’s so nice to be in the warm distillery,” he says with a good-natured grin. “I smell the wine and I talk to the distiller about the wine he has made on that particular day. And it’s wonderful to be there and experience this.”
Loiseau’s busiest months are from October to March, which is when the tasting is done — only 1% to 3% of the wines are deemed suitable for Louis XIII, the rest are used for Rémy Martin’s other exceptional cognacs. “It is all blind testing — what makes this job so varied every day is that the samples are different each time, and I do not know where the individual wines are from,” he adds.
His impact has also been evident in Rémy Martin’s product line-up — last year, the exclusive Carte Blanche à Baptiste Loiseau cognac was unveiled, for which the good-natured cellar master scoured the house’s incredible legacy, in the end selecting a single vat to be the ambassador of the Rémy Martin style. For this second edition of Carte Blanche, Loiseau wanted to illustrate the unique character of Rémy Martin with an original blend. He carefully selected this Cognac Fine Champagne from the vast and varied collection housed in the Merpins Cellars. Matured in a single vat, it perfectly embodies the spirit of the house. This profound yet smooth cognac expresses remarkable nuances with delicate notes of plum and gingerbread.
“Right now, my focus is on respecting tradition — when you’re the cellar master for a house like Rémy Martin, you have to respect the style, maintain the consistency and understand the facets completely so the blends of the house will go the right way. I love to talk to people about how to enjoy Louis XIII, and what it’s like to work with one of the world’s best cognacs,” he says.
I get to enjoy some of this precious nectar with Loiseau during the course of our conversation, served neat in Christophe Pillet’s crystal glass. I am surprised to hear that although a more decadent and aged cognac like Louis XIII should always be enjoyed neat, everyday cognacs are traditionally taken with a dash of ginger ale. “It’s a wonderful way to enjoy it, and that’s the way people in Cognac drink it. The citrusy flavour of the ginger gives a freshness to the cognac and enhances its vanilla aroma. It’s the perfect match,” he says.
As we are both under 40, we also note that the contents of our glasses is in fact older than we are. “In this job, I feel like I am the guardian of the temple,” he says respectfully. “It is my mission to communicate to people that if the eaux de vie are not ready, it is really just not ready. Luxury is time, in many ways, and it’s good for younger people to realise that they are drinking something that was bottled before they were born — the youngest eau de vie I use for Louis XIII is older than me.
“I am dealing with something bigger than all of us, something created by generations of previous cellar masters. I am very lucky that I became cellar master when I was so young, because I can follow the journey of the eaux de vie for a much longer period than other cellar masters, which also gives me the chance and privilege to perhaps create new limited editions, for example. You have to respect the style, of course, but as a young person, I want to explore new ways of making as I understand all the facets of the blends.”
That certainly puts things in perspective — Loiseau has many more years ahead of him in this role, which gives him multiple opportunities to explore the breadth of Rémy Martin’s cellars well into the future, continually keeping its history and heritage at the forefront.
This article first appeared on Mar 26, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.