On Sunday October 20th, 2016, the house of Rémy Martin celebrated the launch of La Maison Rémy Martin. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rémy Martin brand, it is a French firm that predominantly produces and sells top-shelf quality cognac. The evening took guests on a tour of sensory and experiential engagement, in order to educate them, and involve them in the world of the Rémy Martin product.
In the words of the Rémy Martin representatives, this experience is not intended to be “your normal tasting by any stretch of the imagination”. It is interactive, immersive, and extremely personal. This pop-up instillation has taken place in both Chicago and LA, and now, it is taking New York by storm.
Now, I will be extremely candid with you all; I was not a huge cognac fan entering into the evening, but by the end, I was well and truly converted.
The event took place at the new La Maison, situated on 356 West 12th Street, which had only opened four days prior. The space, though intimate, is deceptively large, made up of numerous rooms. Upon entering the building, there is a hallway and a small lounge area, in which visitors can converse before the tour begins. The walls for this opening area are made solely out of brick, and interestingly, white/yellow theatre lights are used to create the soft ambiance. The mix of brick and lighting give the room a smooth, retro yet timeless quality, very much fitting of the cognac brand. Conveniently, in the lounge area, there is a bookshelf, with a map indicating the regions where there Rémy Martin cognac is produced. Unbeknownst to the guests who do not study the map in depth, the education of the cognac production has already begun.
To start the evening off, guests were provided with an original cocktail, consisting of VSOP cognac, lemon juice, Perrier, and apple cider. It was a smooth and refreshing drink, with a subtle taste, so as not to ruin the mouth palette for the rest of the tour.
The event had an eclectic group of VIP guests in attendance, such as the musical duo ‘Lion Babe’, ‘Orange is the New Black’ actress Jackie Cruz, Rotimi Akinosho from ‘Power’, supermodel Tyson Beckford, and artists Shantell Martin, and Vincent Leroy. There were also numerous Rémy Martin officials present, including the global CEO Martin Eric Vallat, and the President of Rémy Martin Cointreau USA, Philippe Farnier.
All of the Rémy Martin representatives were extremely friendly and incredibly knowledgeable. They informed me that in order to be labeled a cognac, the drink must be aged for at least two years, however Rémy Martin’s youngest eaux-de-vie cognac, the VSOP, is four years old. For the XO, the youngest is six years, which is comprised of 400 different eaux-de-vies, however the aging can go up to fifteen/twenty years.
When the tour was ready to commence, guests were ushered into the first room: the ‘Sensory Room’. In the middle of the room, there were visual representations of all of the elements that contribute to how the cognac is made. For example, there were white stones to symbolize the life span of the cognac; in France, there are vines that are used to fetch the water from extremely deep in the soil, so that during the summer, when the soil is incredibly coarse, the vines are not stressed, and they produce very high quality eaux-de-vies and grapes. The soil was represented by limestone, as it is very coarse, and during the summer, the soil can get extremely course.
On the far wall, there was a projection of Bordeaux, France, where the Rémy Martin cognac is aged. The film was artistically poetic in design, with visuals and sounds to transport you to this wonderful French region. There were even images of the cobwebs that sit upon the cognac barrels, which may appear unappealing, but in actuality they provide the purpose of protecting the cognac from critters that could ruin it’s flavor.
After we had time to explore the room, Philippe Farnier made a speech to the guests, explaining to them the purpose of the night, and what the tour will entail of. He explained that this experience is interactive, and the night should immerse us in the world of Rémy Martin. He goes on to briefly describe how the cognac is made, going through the procedures and people necessary to enable the aging process. Amazingly, they use up to 1000 eaux-de-vies to make up the different blends of cognac that Rémy Martin provides. The methods for producing the Rémy Martin cognacs are centuries old, and religiously followed. Farnier used to work in the perfume industry, and as someone who deeply understands the importance of fragrance; he explains that it is imperative that the cognac experience ignites all of our sensory receptors. Smell, in particular, ignites our memories, and he would like the smell of cognac to become ingrained within our positive memories.
The next room we entered was the ‘thinking’ room. It is a homage to all the of the different elements that go into making cognac, and in this case it related to things such as the soil, and the micro-climate. The speaker explained that cognac must be grown in specific areas in France, and Rémy Martin has six cognac growth areas in France. These areas are especially sought after, as they yield grapes with the most opulence, due to the rich and peculiar climate of these regions.
The speaker then talks about the job of the cellar master for Rémy Martin. At 35-years-old, he is the youngest cellar master the company has ever had. He has a degree in wine engineering, and he was an apprentice for eight years under their previous cellar master, before taking over. His job is to be the guardian of the style of Rémy Martin. He ensures that every single product created has the same quality and characteristics of the Rémy Martin product that consumers drank fifty years ago. The cognac product should be ageless, meaning that the drink should provide the same taste and experience for those who drink it, no matter how many years pass. The cellar master tries about 2500 eaux-de-vie per year, and after he tastes these, he decides which journey they will go on: he determines which cognac the eaux-de-vie should be paired with, and how long it should be aged. The speaker compares that vision and skillset to somebody walking into a hospital, going up to three newborn babies, and going: ‘doctor, lawyer, unemployed’. The cellar master’s insight into how the cognac will turn out is incredible.
Something I particularly liked about the evening, was that everybody who took a part in the creation of the evening was given the opportunity to say their piece. The experience was about craftsmanship, skill, and artisanship, starting with the creators of the cognac, and ending with the designers of the event. As a result of this, all people involved were able to explain their inspirations. The designer of the aesthetics of the rooms was introduced in the ‘thinking’ room, and she explained the inspirations behind the decorations for the tour. This room especially had a very specific design; everything was earthy and plant based – with trees, vines, and leaves bursting from every corner of the room. On the table, there were plants in transparent oval cases, and the designer said something extremely poetic: these were plants behind glass that deserve spotlight. As the plants were integral to the cognac creation, it was only fitting that they were highlighted in the center of the room.
True to the interactive experience, the speaker encourages us to try our hand at becoming a cellar master. On the table were mixing kits, comprising of numerous test tubes containing different eaux-de-vies. Just by smell and taste, we were encouraged to mix these eaux-de-vies together to create something similar to the VSOP cognac. As to be expected, this task was pretty impossible, highlighting just how talented Rémy Martin’s cellar master must be.
Following this fun hands-on production experience, we went into the ‘oak’ room, to learn more about how the Rémy Martin cognac is made. It turns out, the company uses oak wood to age the cognac, as it is extremely coarse, and it allows for oxidization and evaporation. The wood selection process is remarkably meticulous, and all oak used for the casks must be over 150-years-old. The speaker assures us that the cellars are as historic as the family traditions behind them. The Rémy Martin estate is also the only cognac company that has remained family owned since is succession. With over 290 years of experience, Rémy Martin understands that creating cognac requires passion, nurturing, and time. Their process of cognac production has remained unchanged for centuries, and that is where their quality comes from.
To continue to involve the audience, the speaker allowed some volunteers to try the 1738 cognac straight from the barrel, while samples were provided in glasses to the remaining guests. The taste of this brand of cognac is potent, with an interesting blend of flavors, such as oak, nuts, and fruits.
The next, and final room allowed us all to try the XO cognac. In this room, there was a table with an assortment of food and plants, all of which contribute to the flavors of the XO cognac. We were highly encouraged to pick up anything from the table that we chose to, and to smell and taste these samples, while comparing it to the smell and taste of the cognac, to determine whether we can taste or smell these components in the XO. We were given unconventional cognac glasses to try the XO, as they were more similar to wine glasses. The speaker explained that this was to go back to the origins of Rémy Martin, as the XO was a great wine before it was a great cognac. The glass was perfectly shaped to allow the flow of the aromas of the cognac.
First we were encouraged to look at the cognac in the glass, because desire comes from the eyes. The mahogany color of the XO derives from the aging process in the oak barrels. Then came the smell, as we brought our nose closer to the glass, we experience four types of aromas: floral notes such as jasmine and saffron, spice notes such as vanilla and cinnamon, fruity notes such as grapes and apricots, and nutty notes such as pistachios. Then came the palate; we were given foods to cleanse our mouth palate so that we could fully experience the taste of the XO. The speaker referred to these as ‘food pairings’, to enable contrast and fusion. One food that does this is Parmesan cheese. We were provided with Parmesan that derived from the Red Cows in Northern Italy, a particularly high and rare quality of Parmesan. It allowed us to create a blank canvas to taste the XO, and for me, it completely transformed the taste of the cognac. I didn’t merely taste the strength of the drink; I was able to appreciate the fruity and sweet taste of the XO more than I ever had before. The next pairing was candy orange; I was able to taste more of the oaks notes of the XO, as it contrasted with the sweet taste of the candy orange. Another suggestion for pairings was chocolate; because it is a fusion, a perfect match for the XO, which brings out the silkiness and velvety elements of the drink.
After this tasting experience, it was time for us to eat. We all sat down, but before we began our meal, the designer of the Rémy Martin packaging, Vincent Leroy, came out for a speech. He had designed an art piece for the event, titled Red Ripples, which he unveiled in the dining room. He explained that this sculpture, like the Rémy Martin packaging, was inspired by the ripples that a drop creates as it hits cognac in a glass. The sculpture was kinetic, and gave visual life to the circulatory shapes on the Rémy Martin packaging.
Then it was time to eat. The renowned Chef Marc Forgione curated the dinner. Each course was paired with a Rémy Martin drink. To start, there was ‘Bisque De Homard Fumé: smoked lobster bisque, carrot and apricot purée à la Michel Guérard. The drink was an ‘Old Fashioned Royal’, made up of Rémy Martin XO, brown sugar, and bitters. The main course was ‘La Venaison En Croûte D’Épices: spice-crusted venison, preserved orange, heirloom squash, and hazelnut butter. The drink for this course was 2014 Aurélien Chatagnier Saint-Joseph, from Northern Rhône, France. Finally, for dessert, was the ‘Gâteau Reine De Saba: queen of Sheba cake, and to drink was the Rémy Martin XO.
The food, drink, and tour were all divine. I have officially been converted to a cognac lover, and highly recommend you try the Rémy Martin product.[slideshow]
If you would like to find out more about what Rémy Martin has to offer, follow this link: http://www.remymartin.com/us/cocktails/old-fashioned/