Words by: Difford's Guide
Q. What was it like growing up in Cognac? Was brandy, and the vineyards a big part of your childhood?
A.I grew up in the heart of the Cognac region and was immersed in all aspects of the wine and spirit industry. My father was a wine grower, so from an early age I was fascinated by the craft of fine wine and spirits making. This led me to develop my technical knowledge through two years of study in Burgundy and a degree in Oenology at the University of Bordeaux. I then joined as the head of wine production department at the cognac house of H Mounier and received instruction in the production of spirits and liqueurs from Mounier’s respected Maître de Chair, Jean-Louis Fèvre. After a seven-year apprenticeship I was honoured with the title of Maître de Chai.
Q. Can you tell me about being approached to make a vodka and your initial thoughts?
A. I was approached by an American businessman who asked me to create a vodka like no other to distribute in the US. He wanted to innovate and disrupt the world of vodka, creating a new premium market. He correctly identified that the expertise and know-how of my region would be beneficial to the quality of the spirits they were looking for. I was drawn to create Grey Goose because I knew I wanted to make a spirit that would change the way people think about vodka. I created it from a technical perspective not a commercial one. I had the same freedom that was so dear to the Cognac cellar masters, to start with the very finest base ingredients, and to oversee the entire production process. My philosophy was simple – if you don’t know it’s impossible, you can do it. It seems the logical and standard approach of many creators and artists. Their work becomes successful later on, posthumously in the case of many of the great painters. With Grey Goose I am incredibly fortunate for it to have been recognised as early as it was and I am happy that people can appreciate Grey Goose in all sorts of lifestyle settings from bars and clubs to restaurants.
Q. Did you face a backlash from the cognac community for venturing into vodka?
A.It was a controversial decision to make Grey Goose vodka in a region steeped in the traditions of making cognac. But having grown up in the region and trained in the art of cognac making, I knew I could use these skills along with French ingredients to re-invent the vodka category. I have to admit, at the beginning it was difficult but I didn’t care or pay attention to what they were saying about me, or how they were making fun of me – I kept going ahead with my clear objective in mind. I didn’t worry about my reputation; there was no time for that. There was a time where I felt my luck was starting to change, especially when people began to hear about the success of the brand in the United States, and would visit the Cognac region and ask specifically where the Grey Goose house was located. Now, the former sceptics cross the street and shake my hand when they see me; and this shows that my commitment has paid off. The story has a happy ending.
Q. Who has been your biggest mentor throughout your career and why?
A. More than any one person, my biggest ‘mentor’ has been my instinct. That has allowed me to appreciate opportunity, as to my mind, it is not luck, but opportunity that is important. Instinct and opportunity, the two together, allow you to have the confidence and daring necessary to achieve your objectives. I have learnt to know myself better over time as I've matured, getting more aware of who I am and the choices to be made. I work as a mentor for young people looking for their path in life. They come saying, " I want to do this, I want to do that,” and I try and help them to connect with their instincts.
Q. What’s your favourite aspect of your job?
A.Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see someone enjoying a Grey Goose cocktail in a bar and to see this happening in different countries around the world. It’s inspiring to meet different people from different walks of life who tell me how much they love Grey Goose. It’s a constant reminder of how important it is that we continue to exceed their expectations whenever and wherever they taste Grey Goose.
Q. What’s an average day like for you?
A. I spend a lot of time controlling the quality of the Grey Goose produced each day. I am either checking the production or visiting Picardie to control the process of transforming the wheat into a spirit (the fermentation and distillation). Grey Goose is the first vodka to do this in-house, a testament to our values. I also spend time developing new products – research and development – which is a great pleasure as I have carte blanche to come up with anything that I can imagine! For example, our new creation Grey Goose VX which is a precise combination of 95% Grey Goose vodka with 5% Cognac. I also receive people twice a week at Le Logis, the home of Grey Goose, in order to spend my time with people who want to know more.
Q. What’s the retirement plan – rum hut on the beach?
A. I’m having such a good time doing my job, it hasn’t even occurred to me! Incidentally, it seems that the retirement age keeps going up, so I have time! One thing I would like is to just keep travelling, especially with my family.
Q. What’s your preferred Grey Goose serve?
A. In cocktails, the martini is best suited to demonstrate the true character and flavour of Grey Goose. I also like making cocktails at home for my friends. I am lucky to have a large garden with a variety of fruit. I am closest to nature when I go out to harvest my fruit. That said, I also enjoy Grey Goose neat, its subtle rounded sweetness can be appreciated best at 0-6 degrees C.
Q. What's your favourite bar in the world?
A. For me, the best bars are in London – that’s where I got my greatest education in cocktails. Many international Mixologists have started their training in London. However in every major city in the world there now exists at least one prestigious establishment.
Q. When did you come up with the idea for Grey Goose VX?
A. Grey Goose VX is a very special liquid – the marriage of Cognac and Grey Goose vodka results in a rich and complex nose, with hints of white fruit blossom, plum, apricot, light citrus and wild honey, followed by a long, lingering finish. I am inspired by both the authentic and the innovative – drawing from the best of the past to create something new and meaningful. This is how Grey Goose VX came to be.
Q. Was it challenging finding the right grape variety and the amount to pair with Grey Goose for Grey Goose VX?
A. No. What was challenging was to be daring enough to propose this marriage of spirits. It is absolutely contrary to the traditions of Cognac. I have had the honour and privilege to work with both spirits – not everyone has this – and the idea tempted me! I started to think about this 3 years ago and I couldn’t resist the temptation to make known the flavour of this cognac when it’s young. Everyone knows what it’s like when it’s older and coloured but not when it’s young.
Q. Is VX it what you hope to be known for?
A. It’s a new way to surprise the consumer. The spirit of Grey Goose is to surprise with the exceptional. If anyone was going to produce this, it was Grey Goose. However, before VX, I’d like to be known for Grey Goose itself. I want Grey Goose VX to stay next to Grey Goose as long as possible and I want to surprise people with my new ideas – this is the whole ethos of Fly Beyond – to go further to again attain the exceptional. One can always surpass oneself, that’s the aim!
Grey Goose Maître de Chai