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A Conversation with Christophe Valtaud, Cellar Master of the House of Martell

Christophe Valtaud

Can you describe your first experience drinking cognac?

I first drank cognac when I was 12 years old. That was just some drops then I spit that out because I was young, then I drank water to reduce the strain of the alcohol. But my best memory was when I was 5 years old. I was with my grandfather and I had a trip with him to the oldest cellar of my family called The Paradise. There, I discovered the flavors of cognac and he allowed me but then I spit it out from my nose. It was my first memory with cognac.

When you smell something, do you always know the notes? Especially because your background is in biochemistry

Yes, I have a background in biochemistry because I was very interested to understand more about why something smells like that, about chemistry and scientifical course. But to understand the notes, you have to train your nose and it’s a lot of work. You have to smell and to taste a lot to be able to recognize it.

How is the aging process of Martell? What is the uniqueness of Martell?

After the harvest, you have grape juice. Then, we do the list of our family tradition to turn it into wine, after that we distil it. For Martell, we have our distillation process. We distil only the clear wine because in other family tradition you can distil the leaves but we don’t want the leaves. We prefer only to keep the clear wine. After that, we aged it with fine grain oak. We dislike the bitterness. Martell’s taste is elegant with senses of woodiness and delicateness, so bitterness is not in our DNA. That is why we choose fine-grain oak wood because it’s less bitter. For us, it takes a longer time to get the perfect wood because we need it from 250 years old trees. We aged the wine for a long long time because we create very old cognac, so it’s a long process. The last thing, we don’t have too much woody notes, we protect the flavours from the wine to give you a different feel.

How do you feel to be a Cellar Master?

I’ve never thought that I would be a Cellar Master quickly. I was passionate about cognac and the work inside the team, but not to become a Cellar Master. For me, I already knew what I was able to create but it is another thing when I’m the Cellar Master. This is a new job for me to explain, to share with you our passion. The other thing is to be able to say no because when you are a Cellar Master, you are like a keeper. Sometimes you have to say no and foresee if something is possible for the future or not.

Do you think that in the future the younger generation will be interested to become a cellar master?

Yes and I’ve already prepared my successor. Straight away after I became a Cellar Master, I decided to have more people in my team to be sure that we will have the next generation because I don’t know what can happen. I’ve already had 6 persons in my team and this year will be 7 because we are coaching annually. Not all of them from Cognac because I would love to have people from other countries. For me, if you love cognac, have the ability to smell and to taste, we will give you the technical information. Perhaps, it needs 10 years to truly recognize the taste of our cognac. It takes three years to taste all our cognac in our cellar and you need to repeat three times to be sure and to recognize our cognac.