Our Swallow spirits specialist in an interview with Grand Marnier’s master distiller Patrick Raguenaud, about the luxury of fine cognac.
– by Beverly Wooding
A seventh-generation native of the Cognac region of France, Master Distiller, Patrick Raguenaud, joined Grand Marnier four years ago as the Director of Production. He’s in charge of distillation, blending, and all areas of production. He and Canadian Brand Ambassador, Javier Santos, were in town recently to lead a tasting of six products in the Grand Marnier Lapostolle portfolio – Cordon Rouge, Raspberry Peach, Louis-Alexandre (which is exclusive to the Canadian market), Cuvée du Centenaire, Cuvée 1880, and the rare and sublime Quintessence.
Launched in 1880 by Louis-Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle, the Marnier orange liqueur didn’t get its “grand” denomination until Louis-Alexandre’s friend César Ritz (of the Ritz hotel in Paris) suggested it as “a Grand Name for a Grand Liqueur”. The product is made with the bitter Citrus Bigaradia orange (grown at the family’s property in Haiti), refined beet sugar, and blended with the finest cognacs. The best of those – Grand Champagne crus – are used in the newly launched Cuvée 1880, as well as the Quintessence. The Cuvée 1880, commemorating the founding year of the liqueur, is unique in that it contains the most cognac (91%) and half the sugar of any other Grand Marnier products.
I sat down with M. Raguenaud to talk about these familiar, yet mostly unexplored, products.
Let’s talk about Grand Champagne cognacs. What’s distinctive about them, flavour-wise?
I think there are two main characteristics of a Grand Champagne cognac. First, the power and the energy of the cognac itself. It’s always a very rich, powerful and complex product. Second, I think there are more aromas, more fruits and more flavours than cognac from other areas.
In terms of consequence, that means the Grand Champagne cognacs have a greater ability for longer aging. If you want to age a cognac for many years, only a Grand Champagne will have enough energy to stay such a long time in barrel. With the other areas, the other crus, you don’t have the same potential.
“Luxury” is the most commonly used word to associate with Grand Marnier. Is this still a conscious brand choice or is there any desire to broaden the demographic?
I think Grand Marnier is a luxury product because it’s made with luxury ingredients. For example, the essence of orange – it is made very carefully, always “craft”. Cognac is the most expensive spirit of any category to produce (approximately 1,000 euro per 100L), because it’s unique in terms of terroir and way of production. We respect the production process, the origin, the history of the product, the very strong skill of the farmers. It’s all these ingredients together that go into the cost and the luxury image we have.
As far as innovation, where would you like to go next with the product?
Ah, we have some projects in the pipeline, but it’s perhaps a bit early to say any more than that. We have just launched the 1880 in Canada, so we’re in no rush to introduce more new product. We have to hear our consumers, talk with them, see what they think of the 1880, what they like about it first.
Describe your ideal setting for enjoying a dram of Grand Marnier?
Quiet, peaceful resting time with good friends. Some people used to say in France, “You look at it, you smell it, you taste it, and we talk about it.” So, that means you have to be with somebody, not alone. Amitié.