We live in an era where many luxury products are produced and distributed much like any other. Notions of rarity and exclusivity have become relative at best and in many instances, the term "luxury" has been virtually stripped of any intrinsic meaning. It might be enough to make even a true believer thoroughly cynical were it not for a handful of brands that have managed to retain their soul in their quest for growth and expansion.
I had the privilege recently of traveling to the Cognac region of France as a guest of Rémy Martin to experience their latest offering, Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Rare Cask 42,6. Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Rare Cask 42,6 is the product of exceptional eaux-de-vie carefully selected and aged for almost a century under the watchful gaze of several generations of cellar masters. The tierçon (barrel) that holds this particular blend yields just enough cognac to fill a mere 738 specially crafted Baccarat black crystal decanters. It is therefore in rare supply, a reality that is reflected in both its highly limited distribution and eye-popping price tag (one bottle of the rare spirit will set you back a cool 18,000 Euros). It is the second such offering, the first, Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Rare Cask 43,8 was released in 2009.
Initiation to the world of cognac can be a somewhat intimidating experience for a neophyte (I speak from experience). This is especially true for a product like Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Rare Cask 42,6 whose appreciation requires one to understand not only what goes into the making of a fine cognac but what goes into the making of an exceptional one. We had the honor of being guided in our tasting by Rémy Martin's cellar master, Pierrette Trichet and her deputy Baptiste Loiseau. Their obvious passion for their work is matched only by their obvious delight in sharing the experience with others. It made all the difference.
I fully admit to being smitten both with the world of cognac and with the Rémy Martin brand in particular. Part of the appeal for me is the inherent complexity of marketing and communicating about a product like cognac. The global drinks and spirits business is a highly competitive one and the luxury segment of the market which includes cognac is currently in transition. The sector's expansion over the last few decades most notably in new markets like Asia has meant that brands have had to compete ferociously not just in terms of product and distribution but also, and perhaps most crucially, in terms of communication and image.
Cognac is not an easy sell. Unlike champagne for instance whose appeal is relatively accessible, cognac by contrast is much more of an acquired taste. Also, like whisky, it is a product that was historically destined first and foremost to men or rather, gentlemen. It has both a gender and class specific legacy firmly attached to it hence the necessity of a thorough makeover for a new generation of consumers. The challenge therefore lies in educating the consumer to appreciate the product's virtues whilst casting it in a new, more inclusive light. No small feat.
Ultimately, the soul of a brand will be preserved (or not) by the people who are entrusted with navigating this generational transition. Some brands have seemingly lost their way. Rémy Martin has not. I believe that is a testament to people like Pierrette Trichet and the solid team of passionate professionals that surrounds her. They are the heart and soul of Rémy Martin and therefore the brand's most articulate ambassadors. I tip my hat to them.
The Luxe Chronicles
N.B In accordance with my policy of full disclosure, round trip travel from Paris to Cognac plus accommodation were born by Rémy Martin. I also received a 35cl bottle of Rémy Martin XO as a gift, a value of approximately 85 Euros. Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Rare Cask 42,6 has a suggested retail price of 18,000 Euros.