Cognac native Christophe Valtaud is one of only three people who currently know the secrets to making the ultimate Martell blend. The 39-year-old is at the helm of the cognac house as the cellar master, having taken over the role in April this year. Valtaud has a doctorate in biochemistry, molecular biology, and plant physiology, and his passion for making the perfect eaux de vie is easy to discern.
How did you get started in the cognac industry? I grew up in a family where cognac and cognac making were at the core. My father and my grandfather were winegrowers and I would follow them around from an early age. As long as I can remember, I have been in the vineyards, so it was very natural to keep building on this heritage. I joined the House of Martell in 2011 as sustainable viticulture manager, before holding the roles of distillery and wine supply, and then vineyard manager. I worked alongside the former cellar master for many years before being appointed the role.
In three words, what’s the signature taste structure of Martell cognacs? Elegance, complexity, balance.
Tell us a bit about the Martell VS Single Distillery? Martell’s unique and historic method of double distillation of exclusively clear wines allows us to produce exceptionally fine and luscious cognacs. For VS Single Distillery, we have taken this approach a step further by selecting eau de vie from a single distillation source. VS Single Distillery is an even more authentic expression of our house style and savoir faire — a fine, luscious cognac overflowing with Martell’s signature fruity aromas.
How do you determine the quality of an eau de vie? What characteristics make a great cognac? The cognac is almost always a blend. With the blending, we want to preserve the same taste to perpetuate cognacs invented by my predecessors. The cognac is subject to variability because it is made from wine, and each vintage is different. We need to blend to preserve the same quality and the same taste to our Martell cognacs. With the blending, we get into the “art world” because, like each art, it brings you some emotions and feelings. We want share and perpetuate these emotions with you.
Have you seen any changes in consumer palates over the years? Cognac remainsa symbol of refinement, craftsmanship,and authenticity. More and more,consumers are keen to discover it throughvarious consumption occasions. Cognacis still savoured as a warm drink to enjoyon crisp fall nights, but this French spiritis more and more appreciated all the restof the year.
Have you seen a change in how people perceive cognac since your involvement in the industry? The days of the cliché of cognac drinkers being cigar smokers, curling up next to a roaring fire while casually swirling a snifter of the ambercoloured liquor, are long gone. Withchanging times, trends in social drinking patterns too have considerably changed across the world, and consumers have started trying new drinks.
Have you had to adjust your cognac lineup to keep up with changing patterns in the market, or has your target market remained unchanged? Globally, we find that consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about cognac and the evolving consumption pattern is driven by brands with substance, authenticity, and products with heritage. Martell, as the oldest of the great Cognac houses, with 300 years of heritage, continues to strengthen its prestige leadership through craft and excellence, with products such as the newest VS Single Distillery, but also with super-premium and ultrapremium products, such as Cordon Bleu Extra or Single Estate Collection. In parallel, the major driver to rebuild the cognac category across most markets is innovation. Martell continues to innovate with new-edition launches such as Martell Blue Swift, the first-ever VSOP finished in Kentucky Bourbon casks, or Martell VS Single Distillery across the higher styles.
What’s the best way to appreciate a fully aged cognac? At Martell we prefer when our cognac is tasted in a way that reveals all its authenticity and complexity. Regarding fully aged cognac, we recommend to enjoy it neat or on the rocks to preserve and discover all the subtleties of the old eaux de vie. But the true richness of our house is the mingling of cultures, and we understand, respect, and valorise the diversity of ways to enjoy our cognac.
Is it ever acceptable to use a cognac in a cocktail? Of course, mixology is also a very good way to introduce cognac to youngsters through exciting cocktails or long drinks: mixing cognac with tonic, ginger ale, or green tea, for example.
At Martell we offer some interesting cocktails, such as Martell Curious Halo and Martell Sidecar, using sparkling water, lemon peel, and orange peel with give a refreshing flavour, making the drink perfect for summer. Regarding Martell VS Single Distillery, the smoothness andfruitiness of the blend makes it perfect to enjoy neat. And this fruitiness, with luscious and sweet aromas, is also perfect to make it a long drink or cocktail. For instance, it matches perfectly with citrus fruits and red berries, which provides a wide range of opportunities.