Under my byline

Vodka from wine

Posted in Q&A by Rrishi on 28 February 2009

Jean-Sébastien Robicquet (c) DiageoQ&A: Jean-Sébastien Robicquet

Despite his wine- and Cognac-making roots, Jean-Sébastien Robicquet turned to distilling fine vodka. He talks about Cîroc.

You have a long history of winemaking in your family.

It goes back to the 16th century, [with a member of the] family being mayor of Cognac, and then after the 17th century where we had one of the first cognac businesses. But now it has disappeared with the Revolution and all. We had some chaotic times!

Why vodka, from a winemaker?

The idea came from — what else, what do we do? In France everybody’s doing wine. In Cognac everybody’s doing Cognac. How can you exploit, diversify, innovate? And after all, if you are making wine and if you are a distiller, the question of going into vodka is just extending the distillation to the highest level possible.

Were your neighbours offended at the break from tradition?

It was a little funny at the very beginning. We started development in 2001 and the first release was in 2002; 2003 and 2004 were funny in that it was a shock to people: “How can you make vodka when you should be making brandy or cognac or wine?” Because they had a poor understanding of what could be vodka. France is not traditionally a country where we drink quality vodka. But in the rest of the world there are markets where [there is a] demand for a very clean, expressive, fresh, different-tasting vodka experience, and obviously that’s where we started — i.e., with the USA.

How did you select the grapes for Cîroc?

It’s not a common habit to make vodka with grapes, so we had to find the most relevant grapes to have the flavour profile we wanted. The Ugni Blanc was a given because the Ugni Blanc grape is meant to be distilled. It’s with the Ugni Blanc that we make cognac. After that we tried 35 different wines, and the Mauzac came up as being the most appropriate.

What is most distinctive about your Cîroc method?

The first is that it’s made of grapes and wine. The second is that we believe you need to have the best raw material, i.e. the best wine in the case of Cîroc, because distillation is nothing less than the concentration, so if you do concentrate non-qualitative product, you may have a non-qualitative result. And we don’t use filtration because we only work with the purest material, therefore we just distill and we don’t need to clean, filter or sweep out all the efforts made at the winemaking level to enhance the flavours and the character.

How should it be drunk?

The fuzzy question about the perfect drink is it’s a sort of alchimia between local tradition, behaviour and moment. For me I like it neat because it’s extremely smooth, velvety, fruity vodka, but also depending on the time of the day or the weather you can have a splash of sparkling water or spring water, and zest of lime. Or if you feel like being extremely creative, you can do with some fresh fruits or vegetables even that you may have handy — one of them is you take some grapes, in season, you meddle [mash?] them, you add a dash of Cîroc to increase the sugar level, ice, shake it with vodka and that’s it. It’s very good, very simple, but very pleasant.

You’re in India to judge a bartending competition. How did you learn mixology?

Mixology I’m learning every day. Talking about mixology is like talking about cooking or painting — you’ve got a palette of colour, a palette of food. Born and raised in the vineyard, we are trained to be sensitive, careful with flavours, scent, aromas, and try to match and blend.

(Yes, it’s PR. But I enjoyed it.)

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2 Responses

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  1. Er... said, on 12 March 2009 at 12:13 am

    So Cyrano de Bergerac had it all wrong. Instead of being a poet and a romanitc, and embarrassed by his nose, he should simply have followed the twitch.

  2. Rrishi Raote said, on 19 March 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I’m not sure what you mean! Wasn’t C de B proud of his nose? At least, the real-life Cyrano was. If ya got the nose, I suppose, the lesson goes, just make the mos’…


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