“My grandfather taught my father to make cognac and my dad did the same thing for me,” says Amaury Martell, a member of the ninth generation of the family that founded the oldest of the great cognac houses, in an interview with Ajeng G. Anindita
Cognac-based winemaker Amaury Martell is a member of the ninth generation of the Martell family. Jean Martell founded the oldest of the great cognac houses in 1715. Today, the house of Martell is a subsidiary of the French wines and spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard.
Amaury was born in 1985 and spent his entire childhood in Cognac. At 18, he moved to Bordeaux to research and write a marketing study on wines and spirits. Two years later, he went to the Wine University at Chateau Suze-la-Rousse, Grignan, near Avignon, to study for a year.
He was only 13 when he began working in the wine industry. It was a side job at first, but he soon fell in love with it, as he explained recently when, accompanied by Jacques Menier, Martell’s Heritage Director and an old friend of Prestige, met up with us at Grand Hyatt Jakarta. Highlights:
Amaury, what appeals most to you about the world of wine and cognac?
The outdoor setting is really where I most fit in, which is why I chose to work in the vineyards and to become a winemaker in Cognac. Another reason is the changing work every season. I wouldn’t like working in a closed environment with the same job every day.
I feel like this is what I was meant to be doing since I was very young. And I think I’m quite good at it (laughs), so why do something else? We are also lucky that the countryside in the Cognac is very nice. There are no factories. We all know each other. It’s a small community and a nice part of France.
Cognac, obviously, has a long history in our family. The knowledge is very important, as it’s passed through generations. My grandfather taught my father to make cognac and my dad did the same thing for me. We always quest for the absolute quality of the cognac right from the beginning. For example, when Martell wants to work with the farmers, they will have to sign a chart and follow these specific rules on how to make cognac. So if they want to sell their cognac to Martell, they know they have these charts and rules, because Martell is asking for specificities in terms of how to make a cognac.
What’s the most crucial part of the process of making a great cognac?
Of course, you have to have a good wine to make a good cognac. Thus, it’s important to put on a good work to the vineyard, to make good grapes. After that, the distillation, and for me this is one of the most important thing in the process, because during the distillation you choose what you want and what you don’t want. We do double distillation in the copper stills and what you get from it is what we called eau de vie and this will become the cognac. The distillation is a very precise method as the time you switch from the good part to the rest can determine the taste.
Aside from the good quality of the product, I think cognac is great because of the people you are enjoying it with. It’s very important for me to share a good cognac in a good place and setting, with the good person. It’s a combination of the whole thing. It’s a package.
What’s the best way to appreciate a fully aged cognac?
I would say, you enjoy it the best you way you like. For me, it could be a Cordon Bleu on the rocks. In France, we have started to drink cognac cocktails, which are very good. Some use cognac as an aperitif, mixed with tonic or ginger ale. You can do a lot of things.
If you want to do food pairings, it really depends on the strength of the taste. If spicy, you’d go for something fruitier like VSOP. For meat, you go for Martell XO. For seafood, especially steamed fish, you’d go with Cordon Bleu. For dessert? Especially with chocolate, I would definitely go with Cordon Bleu.
Any memories of your first taste of cognac?
You know when you were baby and you were teething? My dad put a very little Cordon Bleu in my milk bottle so I didn’t cry as much. That’s maybe why my favourite cognac is Cordon Bleu (laughs).
Have you seen a change in how consumers perceive cognac?
In terms of taste, our customers are more sophisticated nowadays. The fastest growth market is the ladies. Unlike men, who mostly stick to what they know, they are much more open-minded and very open to trying new things.