Early in the 16th century, the Warrior Pope, Julius II, commissioned Donato Bramante to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Julius died in 1513 and Bramante a year later, with the church’s foundations in their infancy. It took several popes, generations of able architects, hundreds of stonemasons, and 120 years until the majestic building was complete.
The thought of mirroring Bramante today, and attempting to create something so grand and awe-inspiring that you’d never see it finished, is unfathomable with modern-day technology. However, one can draw a comparison to the cognac Louis XIII, and the dedication and sense of commitment of those involved, not to mention the house’s respect for the terroir, its savoir-faire, and, most importantly, the fact that each decanter is the lifetime achievement of generations of Cellar Masters
Founded in 1874, Louis XIII resides beneath the House of Rémy Martin umbrella, and through an amalgamation with the Cointreau family it is the Rémy Cointreau group’s most superior product and sans pareil in the cognac world. However, the house does not view Louis XIII as a cognac; rather, “it’s just Louis”. Akin to a champagne, a cognac can only be labelled cognac if it’s made in Cognac, a region in Charente, south-west France. This hallowed land, which caters to a gentle, rolling green, sun-kissed mirage of vineyards, is fed by the river of the same name. The area is split into six crus, which have been graded by the French government to determine the production of cognac’s quality.
Louis XIII is built from grapes sourced from Grande Champagne — the bullseye-cru that contains four per cent of Cognac’s vineyards — whereas Rémy Martin sources its grapes from a mixture of Grande Champagne and Petit Champagne, for its varying expressions. The terroir of Grande Champagne is sacred, and the soft, limestone-based soil allows the Ugni blanc (or Trebbiano grape) vines’ roots to dive deep into the Earth and retrieve the vital nutrients. The result is a grape that is perfect for distillation and maturation. Following harvest in November, the method to make cognac is fairly straightforward, with the wine going through a double distillation in copper pot stills that are smaller than traditional ones. “We know that with smaller pot stills you have a better concentration of aromas,” Baptiste Loiseau, the Cellar Master at Louis XIII, tells The Rake. The result of this is concentrated; double distillation is a clear, fruity and acidic eau de vie. Thousands of eaux de vie then go through a stage of selection, whereby less than five per cent pass the test carried out by the Cellar Master. This is an indication of Louis XIII’s standards, of maintaining quality with an almost draconian culling process.