As the 9th generation of the Martell family, Amaury and Thierry Firino Martell share how they are embracing the spirit of innovation to preserve and protect their family’s rich legacy.
Growing up in the small French city of Cognac, brothers Amaury and Thierry Firino Martell enjoyed a charmed life. Surrounded by picturesque views, they learned about the finest brandy at their father’s knee. Representing the 9th generation of the Martell family today, the brothers are keenly mindful of their heritage. Together, they uphold tradition while embracing the spirit of progress and innovation, building on historical savoir-faire to reach new heights.
The first time Thierry tasted Martell cognac with his father, they were along the Charente River. “He taught us the right way to drink cognac and to appreciate it. Take the time to indulge in the colour and aroma as you gently swirl your glass between sips.” The experience instilled in young Thierry a deep-rooted appreciation for the innate beauty of his father’s work.
“Amaury and I started to work in the family vineyards at a very young age. It was important to our father that we would know how cognac is made,” Thierry says. Fully invested in the artistry of cognac production, the brothers have always understood that quality starts from the vineyard. “This is not just alcohol you mindlessly produce and sell overseas. You must know how to cultivate a vineyard and grow grapes. This is the first lesson we learned together.”
Amaury inherited the household passion for vine growing, handed down through generations for over 300 years. Today, he runs the 145-hectare family vineyard, which his father, Olivier Firino Martell, once managed himself. Amaury is an expert in maintaining the perfect terroir to cultivate the finest grapes, understanding the importance of taking care of the soil and vines throughout different seasons and ever-changing conditions.
“Working in the vineyards, I have observed that our climate is changing. Summer 2022 was exceedingly hot, while winter 2021 was not very cold. Although the rainfall is roughly the same quantity, light rain that falls over two weeks comes in bursts as heavy as Malaysian storms. As the weather changes, we can only adapt as best as we can,” Amaury elaborates.
The brothers reveal that through careful selection, Martell is cultivating a new variety of Ugni Blanc, Cognac’s most common white wine grape. The hope is to achieve a variation that can more effectively withstand scorching summers with greater tolerance to certain common diseases, reducing, if not eliminating, the need for pesticides. With over a decade invested in research and development, the brothers are optimistic about the future of Martell’s cognac production. “The focus for us has always been on quality – this has not changed at all,” Thierry affirms.
According to Amaury, Ugni Blanc is the top choice for cognac production in the wintry region. The grape’s high acidity and low levels of sweetness result in tart wines with low levels of alcohol, between 7 to 9.5% ABV. “We need to have a good amount of acidity because winemakers in this region are forbidden to add sulphur as a preservative. We harvest in September, and distillation lasts until the end of March, so without sulphates, we need that acidity to protect the wine.” Adhering to strict production methods results in the purest base white wine. It is distilled in copper stills to create eau-de-vie, then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Subsequently, Martell’s Cellar Master Christophe Valtaud blends different eaux-de-vie to make the most sophisticated cognac bursting with life and emotions.
“The clear wines add a lot of finesse to the cognac, but a lot of attention goes into preparing the oak barrels,” Thierry mentions. “Martell has a specific method of heating the barrels in preparation for ageing the eau-de-vie. The heat is not too intense, and the process takes around 30 minutes, but the treatment greatly enhances aromas. Much work is involved in using these traditional methods, but it is important.” Amaury echoes Thierry’s views, elaborating on their responsibility to pay attention to every detail in honour of Martell’s heritage. “We must work hard now for the cognac that will be served in 2050 and beyond.”
Recognising environmental preservation is as critical as preserving tradition, Martell is also leading the charge on sustainable viticulture. The changes are creating a real impact on protecting ecosystems and producing cleaner products. “It is a constant evolution to test new technology,” Thierry says. An example is Martell’s use of an electric straddling robot in its vineyards. Known as Bakus, they reduce the use of chemicals through automated soil management while eliminating herbicides through mechanical weeding. Since 2020, Martell has successfully reached the goal of using zero herbicides across all vineyards.
Discover more about Martell Cognac at martell.com
This story was first published in Prestige Malaysia’s February 2023 issue. To read the latest issue, pick up a copy from the nearest newsstand or subscribe on Magzter.