Sinking into his chair in the presidential suite of the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Baptiste Loiseau holds up a crystal glass of Louis XIII. “I’m younger than the youngest eau-de-vie in this cognac — when you’re in a position like mine, you start to realise what the passage of time really means,” he says, giving the glass a gentle swirl. “You’re just here for a few decades, but Louis XIII will live on.”
At 35 years old, Loiseau is the fifth cellar master with Remy Martin. He follows Pierrette Trichet, the first female cellar master of a major cognac house. Among his many responsibilities, Loiseau’s most exacting task is the production of Louis XIII, one of the world’s most exclusive cognacs with a pedigree that dates back to Paul-Emile Remy Martin in the late 1800s.
The cognac is conceived in the grand champagne vineyards in the eponymous region. After harvest and fermentation, the wines are distilled to produce eaux-de-vie, the base of all brandy, which are aged in oak barrels. What distinguishes Louis XIII from the rest is that it is assembled from a blend of some 1,200 eaux-de-vie that have been left to mature for between 40 to 100 years, so every bottle literally is a century in the making. It’s like putting a puzzle together, where knowledge of each piece is essential to its placement.
The task is to produce a cognac that offers floral and spicy aromas, is fruity on the palate, with characters of tobacco leaf and a finish that hints at sandalwood and lychee. All this, wrapped in an opulence and tension that make the brandy extraordinarily vibrant.
Trichet’s mastery of the craft was such that, during her 10-year tenure, she discovered a Louis XIII Rare Cask not once, but twice, in 2004 and 2009. The Rare Cask is diametrically opposed to the “regular” Louis XIII, as it is wholly unblended, and bottled from a single cask marked for its unusual aroma and flavour expression.
What does Loiseau bring to the table? Although a native of Cognac, he joined the house of Remy Martin only in 2007, when he was his mid-20s, with a background in agronomy and winemaking. His winemaker’s keen nose and palate helped him prove his mettle and, before long, he became Trichet’s apprentice, tasting 1,500 to 2,000 eaux-devie with her over five months. “I matured at the house of Remy Martin,” he says. To this day, he would reference the notes he took during the tastings.
He became cellar master in 2014, seven years after he joined the house. Like his predecessors, Loiseau’s duty is to commit the legacy of Louis XIII to the next generation. “I strive to protect what I have inherited, while I prepare for the future. If I don’t, I won’t suffer the effects now but those who come after me will,” he says.
Like Trichet, Loiseau is not afraid of making unconventional decisions when necessary. For instance, grapes may need to be picked earlier than usual, due to the onset of hotter summers. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, change is sometimes necessary for the sake of constancy. He says: “Change is not necessarily a revolution, but an evolution.”
In a world dominated by fleeting drinking trends, Loiseau says his greatest mission is to preserve the identity of Louis XIII. “The way you reach your goal is not as important as the goal itself, which is the consistency of Louis XIII.” The mantle of history is on his shoulders and, if his tenure lasts as long as Trichet’s, he has a decade to prove himself.