When I met with Pierrette Trichet, the Cellar Master for the House of Remy Martin, I could not help but be impressed by her intelligence and elegance as well as a steely determination. She needed every bit of that steely determination for she is not only the only female Cellar Master in Remy Martin's history, but in fact is the only female Cellar Master in the history of the major producers in the region of Cognac.
Pierette was born in the Gers department, between Toulouse and the Pyrenees. Her father was a wine grower, and her mother was a teacher in the Sainte-Christie-d'Armagnac. She combined an academic background in biochemistry and biology with a love of the land. By the age of 20 she took her first job with the House of Remy Martin, where she worked in the company's research labs doing analysis of cognacs. By 1993, then Cellar Master Georges Clot promoted her to the exclusive "tasting committee" and by 2000, she was made Mr. Clot's top apprentice. Three years later she was rewarded with the top position of Cellar Master where she is responsible for carrying on the Remy Martin style in its centuries old traditions.
Caroline Sarrot, from The House of Remy Martin, was kind enough to interpret the following interview:
Please describe the uniqueness as well as the similarities of Cognac versus other great Brandies of the world.
"The unique character of cognac provide from a strong charter. Within the Cognac area, Fine Champagne Cognac is the only blend of two crus, protected by the "Appellation d'Origine Controlee", the French law of 1938 which officially recognizes the complementary qualities of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. Cognac belongs to the luxury products heritage of France, but it was also adopted very rapidly by China (From 1883 on) the USA, Russia, and Europe. This product is associated with very strong values such as success, respect and honour. Cognac is also very versatile, depending on its qualities, and can be enjoyed neat or on ice for an XO, or in a cocktail for our V.S.O.P., etc...
But I want to take your question further and ask what differentiates the Remy Martin cognacs from the other cognacs of the region. It is their harmony and opulence owing to the quality of the grapes combined with the talent of the winemakers and distillers who work to form cognacs that are harmonious and aromatic."
What are the grape growing methods and cellaring practices that separate Louis XIII (Remy Martin's most prized Cognac) from other cognacs?
"Coming exclusively from chalky lands, the best parcels of Grande Champagne, Louis is composed exclusively by eaux-de-vie which has been awarded (bonus 10%).
It represents the absolute mastery of time, the result of nature, a succession of daring initiatives. The cellaring methods are different in the selection of the Grande Champagne's Eaux-de-vie. Louis XIII is the result of a unique heritage of rare and exceptional eaux-de-vies transmitted through centuries."
What are the primary responsibilities of the Cellar Master for Remy Martin?
"My days are dedicated to different major activities. The most obvious one, naturally, is tasting and sampling. Every day I taste eaux-de-vie in order to carry out two essential missions: first of all, the selection of the eaux-de-vie proposed to us by our winemaking and grower-distiller partners. This is what we call the 'agrement' or approval process.
Thousands of samples are submitted to us during each distilling season, and we make a painstaking selection based on taste and quality criteria. I also taste very regularly the eaux-de-vie that are ageing in our cellars in order to check their development so that I can know at any moment the exact state of our stocks. And I taste the blends that I make. I select from the great diversity of our eaux-de-vie those that are ready to enter into the composition of the different Remy Martin cognacs and I make the right blends necessary for reproducing the exact taste of each one of them, year after year.
There is another aspect of my work that I strive to keep in mind all the time. We call it 'wood management':
This is the parallel management of our stock of eaux-de-vie and the barrels in which they are aged. Just imagine; Remy Martin possesses the largest stock of Fine Champagne eaux-de-vie in the world. They are aging in about 200,000 oak barrels. And to optimize this aging, we replace the barrels regularly over the years. It is an important task. The final aspect of my daily work is quite different: recreating the products of the range every year and innovating.
I very often think about new types of blends that may have a chance of being produced to enrich our range of cognacs. In the Remy Martin style...
Lastly, I travel from time to time to explain my work. And I have a chance to meet you, Brad."
How did you become Cellar Master at Remy Martin?
"Aged 20, I was noticed by the House of Remy Martin where I was offered my first job. I was never to leave this employer. Working with the cognacs of this venerable House, my responsibilities continued to evolve over the years: research activities, analysis of cognacs and tasting in the company's laboratory.
'Like eau-de-vie, you improve and mellow over the years.'
1993 was a landmark year for me because it was then that I joined the prestigious and very exclusive 'tasting committee' where I intensified my collaboration with the Cellar Master of those years, Georges Clot.
The Centaur brand appreciated my work and my patience, qualities required for the production of quality eau-de-vie. In 2000, Georges Clot appointed me his own assistant. My consecration arrived three years later. I was entrusted with the immense responsibility of perpetuating the Remy Martin style and carrying on its centuries old traditions. I became the first woman Cellar Master of a major cognac producer.
'I am only interim,' I warn all those who forget that the great cognacs are developed over several generations of Cellar Masters.
'Happiness is a team sport,' as Romain Gary wrote, 'And so is cognac,' I used to add discreetly."
Who influenced you most in your career?
"There is no place for ego in this profession. I am the heiress both of Georges Clot, whom I succeeded, and all those who preceded me in this post. I often compare my role to that of a relay runner who is given the baton by a teammate and then has to pass it on to another teammate in the best conditions. Wanting to create a new style or leave my personal mark on the Remy Martin cognacs would be totally contrary to the mission entrusted to me. The style is not Pierrette Trichet nor Pierre, Paul or Jacques, but Remy Martin! The story of Remy Martin is a success story. My wish, which is what is expected of me, is to 'continue the story'. I am not here to please myself but to give pleasure to all those who enjoy Remy Martin cognac.
In 2001 you launched Louis XIII Diamant. In 2007 you introduced Louis XIII Black Pearl, and 2010 Louis XIII Rare Cask. Each of these projects had a different objective and focus. Please describe the objectives and focus of the three projects.
"My most memorable moment in my work was the creation of the Louis XIII blend, which is the high point of my professional life, the fact of producing a cognac with thousands of batches, some of which are over a hundred years old. I have to show respect for the product. Each creation is a great moment. In 2007, Louis XIII gives birth to Black Pearl, an exclusive series produced from a century old tiercon (a type of oak barrel), installed in a cellar hidden in the Grollet Homestead since 1960. 786 carafes numbered 001 to 786 were produced..."
When you are going through the blending process, can you describe your role and the roles of the various members of your production team?
"You are right; being a cellar master is not a lonely job. Nobody is any good working alone. I work very closely with a team of ten people who assist me in my daily work. This 'tasting committee', as they are called in Remy Martin, has a very clearly defined role; it supports the Cellar Master in the selection activities, and in the construction and monitoring of the blends. My work is surrounding by a network of tremendous interaction; with the members of this team, with our wine growing partners (who start the process) with the teams that work in the cellars and with many other employees. It is a long human chain. This know how and tradition, passed on from generation to generation fascinates me."
Who is Louis XIII's biggest competitor?
"Louis XIII is the world's most prestigious spirit, transcending the category by virtue of its remarkable composition, genius and age. There has never been and will never be one competitor. Louis XIII is the King of Cognac and the Cognac of Kings, thanks to the precious reserves of eaux-de-vie that has been maturing since 1874, the year of its creation."
What do you see for the future of Louis XIII?
"To prepare a heritage as prestigious as the one that has come down to me. In a major distillery of cognac, the heir to a long tradition of quality and excellence, such as Remy Martin, the mission of the Cellar Master is, as I see it, to ensure compliance with all the aspects of the production process that have built up the reputation of the House over the centuries. You have to keep looking back and looking ahead. That is the gist of the double responsibility entrusted to me; to guarantee today the style that has always characterized our cognacs and to give the future generations of Cellar Masters the means to perpetuate this style by adopting a very long-term outlook in my daily work."