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Why Cognac’s First Woman Cellar Master Says It’s OK to Add Coke

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Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Pierrette Trichet has a job that many a man might crave and an increasing number of women, too.

She’s the cellar master at Remy Martin, the first woman to hold the top post at one of the four major Cognac houses. Remy Martin, owned by Paris-based Remy Cointreau SA, was founded in 1724, so it took a while to break the male monopoly, which finally ended when she ascended to the top job in 2003.

If Trichet, 58, takes satisfaction in her achievement, which came almost three decades after she joined Remy Martin, she plays down gender and focuses on the spirit to which she has devoted her working life since studying biochemistry and biological analysis at the University of Toulouse.

“For me, there’s no issue whatsoever being a woman and being a cellar master,” she says in an interview. “I’ve been chosen because of my skills, because of the way we conduct tasting and my ability. It’s my mission, it’s my role. I’m there to represent the house and to continue its wonderful legacy.

“This world involves working in the fields, working with barrels. Men are stronger so they’re more inclined to get into the industry and there are fewer women. It’s harder to make the first step but after that it’s all about skills and if you win recognition you are given the opportunities.”

(While there are dozens of smaller houses, most cognac is produced by Courvoisier, a brand of Beam Inc. of Deerfield, Illinois; Paris-based LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s Hennessy; Angouleme, France-based Martell & Cie SA’s Martell; and Remy Martin.)

Cellar Master

Trichet, who was born in the Gers region of southern France, is the daughter of a winegrower father and a mother who taught in Sainte-Christie d’Armagnac. She joined Remy Martin at the age of 20 and made it to the position of assistant cellar master in 2000, before taking over the top job.

She’s softly spoken and appears shy, particularly as the interview in a London hotel is being filmed, so there’s a light shining on her and public-relations assistants are in the room. She speaks French and there’s a translator who helps shape her hesitant replies.

What does her work involve?

“There are two major roles and duties,” she says. “First, we have the responsibility to be like a visionary, to build so that the next generation will take over. Second, I’m the guardian of the Remy Martin style and to keep this consistency. My role is to select eau de vie, the future cognac, and then to make sure it’s aging properly in our cellars and also to create, or recreate, the Remy Martin cognac style.”

Even as emerging economies such as China and India increase the potential market for luxury brands, Trichet says it isn’t her job to help cognac to evolve to meet the demands and tastes of new consumers, even ones who might pour in other drinks such as Coca-Cola to add a little sweetness and light.

Coke Pleasure

“The style of Remy Martin Cognac is not changing: We are here to protect it,” says Trichet, who is conservatively dressed in a dark suit. “Cognac is about pleasure, so if a consumer takes pleasure from drinking it with Coke, there’s nothing I can say about it. I’m creating cognac for people’s enjoyment.

“We are listening to consumers and I have created a cognac called Coeur de Cognac, which is a cognac to remind people how great cognac is. So it’s something special but the style doesn’t change. It’s not taste that’s changing but people’s way of perceiving cognac and enjoying it. Today, it’s much more OK to try different ways of drinking it, such as on ice.”

How about Trichet? After almost 40 years with Remy Martin, can she still take pleasure from drinking cognac?

“I try to make a distinction between work and pleasure,” she says. “So, even though I work with cognac all week, at the weekend I open a nice bottle of wine and share cognac with my friends. It’s all around pleasure and sharing.”

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.)

To contact the writer on the story: Richard Vines at rvines@bloomberg.net or Richardvines on http://twitter.com/home.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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