By becoming the first woman cellar master for the premium cognac brand Rémy Martin, Pierrette Trichet has vanquished the traditionally male bastion
This is a rather fascinating story. The story of a young girl raised in a land of vineyards — in a small town near Armagnac in South West France — who grew up to be the one to break the glass ceiling in a predominantly male dominated cognac industry and become the first woman cellar master.
“Having grown up surrounded by vineyards, steeped in the culture of winemaking, I developed a deep attachment to the land. Though I didn’t dream of working in the cognac industry per se but I knew early on that I wanted to be involved in viticulture somehow,” says Pierrette Trichet, the first woman cellar master of the premium cognac brand Remy Martin. Since other cognac brands are yet to employ a woman cellar master, Trichet is the only one in the entire industry.
She took a rather interesting route to be involved. “I studied chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Toulouse. My intention was always to use my training in science and apply it to issues relating to viticulture,” says Trichet, in India recently to launch a rare cask she has discovered.
Trichet says she can vividly recall the moment Madame Dominique Heriard-Dubreuil (the CEO of Rémy Martin) announced her selection for the top job. “I felt a deep sense of honour and pride; it was a very emotional moment for me.” Cognac being “a traditionally macho world,” Trichet received her share of “disparaging comments or jokes questioning my ability to taste as well as a man.” She adds, “You just have to focus on your job and get on with it. Also, the cognac and wine industries are changing. The industry is more open to women than it might have been in the past.”
Trichet was picked up by the Rémy Martin owner Andre Heriard-Dubreuil from a laboratory in the 1970s. The laboratory used to carry research for wine and cognac makers including Rémy Martin. “This was essentially my introduction to the world of cognac. Andre Heriard-Dubreuil was very forward-thinking in this respect. He understood early on the importance of science as an aide to understanding the process of extracting the best eaux-de-vie. I eventually integrated the House of Rémy Martin when Andre Heriard-Dubreuil set up the brand’s in-house laboratory and testing facilities.”
Typically, as a cellar master, Trichet’s days are dedicated to a clutch of major activities, the most obvious one being tasting or sampling. “Every day I taste eaux-de-vie to carry out two essential missions: first of all, the selection of the eaux-de-vie proposed to us by our wine-making and grower-distiller partners. This is what we call the ‘agrément’ or approval process.”
Thousands of samples are submitted to her team during each distilling season. They make a painstaking selection from it based on taste and quality. “I also taste very regularly the eau-de-vie that are ageing in our cellars to check their development so that I know the exact state of our stocks. And I taste the blends that I make,” she fills in.
There is another rather interesting aspect of her work. “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. Rémy Martin possesses the largest stock of fine champagne eaux-de-vie in the world. They are ageing in about 200,000 oak barrels. And to optimize this ageing , we replace the barrels regularly over the years,” she explains.
About the superiority of Rémy Martin, Trichet says, “Cognacs from the House of Rémy Martin have their own style, renowned since 1724. Unlike others, Rémy Martin cognac are ‘fine champagne’ only which means the house is only using grapes from Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne considered the two best terroir of the Cognac region. LOUIS XIII for instance is made only with the finest eaux-de-vie from Grande Champagne which offers an incredible ageing potential that allow us to have one century in a bottle. “
LOUIS XIII RARE CASK 42,6 is a second extremely rare tierçon that she has discovered after Rare Cask 43.8
“Ever since the extraordinary discovery of the first Rare Cask I was like an explorer searching for a priceless gem,” she says. In 2009, during a tasting, her attention was drawn to a few casks that she had previously identified for their strength and exceptional aromatic complexity. “I had put my chalk mark on them with the intention of following their evolution more closely.” Because cognac is a living, mysterious product, she knew she had to be patient for it to be ready at its perfect point of balance. “The following day I was walking in the Charente countryside. The intense aromas of autumnal nuts and fruit in the air reminded me of tasting this outstanding cask in the Grollet cellars. The similarity between these autumnal scents and the aromas of the cognac struck me immediately! That’s only in 2012 that I tasted this cask with my deputy cellar master, Baptiste Loiseau. Together we finally found the long-awaited perfect point of balance, and so we decided a new page of history would be written, with the unveiling of LOUIS XIII RARE CASK 42,6.”
The first Rare Cask was launched in China and the latest one in India. Trichet says why. “Nature is very important in the story of this particular cask, like it was for the first Rare Cask 43,8. For this reason, as for the first launch of LOUIS XIII RARE CASK 43,8 that we held in a grotto in Guilin, China, we have selected Udaipur in India as the setting for the launch this time. Udaipur is a reflection of nature at its finest. India itself, a kaleidoscope of colours, rich in timeless diversity, is an ode to the five senses. We have chosen the heart of this inspiring place to present our new rare Rare Cask, a rich blend of more than 1,200 eaux-de-vie with a unique and exceptional aromatic bouquet.”
Trichet says exceptional cognac like LOUIS XIII Rare Cask is just incredible by itself. “But you know, there are many ways to enjoy our iconic VSOP. I would recommend a classic Side Car mix of Rémy Martin VSOP and Cointreau with lemon or a Rémy Ginger as ginger is a fantastic combination with our VSOP.”