Mastering the art and science of the perfect blend of St. Rémy brandy is a truly complex, artistic and sophisticated task. Cécile Roudaut was born in Saumur in the Loire Valley France (the same place as Coco Chanel) and is the mother of two boys. She lives in a small town of 3,000 inhabitants, in an old post office surrounded by vineyards. Cécile is the Master Blender for the iconic and historic St. Rémy distillery and she’s a real legend. I was lucky enough to receive a signed bottle of St. Rémy Signature, a classic brandy that is smooth and oaky by Cécile Roudaut and I had to interview her after taking one sip!
Cécile joined Rémy Cointreau in July 1997 in research and development, and then in June 2016 she was appointed Master Blender, following the retirement of Martine Pain. She brilliantly helped with the creation of limited editions of St. Rémy. Originally from the Loire Valley, Cécile has a fascinating and extensive background. Cécile originally wanted to be an archaeologist and studied biology and completed her internship in the field of cosmetics. As she continued her career path, she joined a Saumur winery, where she was responsible for quality control. She took courses in oenology, and learned winemaking and blending techniques from the winemaker. Cécile Roudaut also teaches courses at the University of Angers, in the Loire Valley and has for the past 15 years, in sensory analysis and food biochemistry.
“I work on selecting eaux-de-vies and looking after them whilst they are aging in oak barrels; then I evaluate them and blend them, create “assemblages”, that will become St-Rémy brandy.” says Cécile Roudaut “St-Rémy has strong roots – a tradition, a history, a real elegance. My role is to ensure that the brand retains its authenticity.”
St. Rémy is a French producing distillery operating since 1886. St. Rémy has always been a pioneer in the industry by creating unique and authentic brandy. Brandy is a distilled spirit that is the result of fermented fruit juice. Most often, the fruit that is used is grapes, making brandy distilled wine. However, fruits like apples, peaches, and apricots, as well as other fruits can also be used. It’s produced around the world as Cognac, Armagnac, pisco, eau-de-vie, and other styles.
When in your life did you know you were destined to be a master distiller?
For years I had been working on the St-Rémy brand, close to Martine Pain, particularly on limited editions. I knew the product perfectly, I was used to tasting it for years. I had the desire and the passion for the product.
So when, in 2016, when Martine Pain, the previous cellar master retired, the Rémy Cointreau group suggested that I take this position, it was a great honor and a magnificent opportunity. This is how I became the master assembler for St Rémy. And that today I maintain the tradition, I make sure that VSOP and XO are always of constant quality to satisfy our consumers of St Rémy. Today, my role is also to create, to innovate what I do with so much pleasure, it’s fantastic to always discover new emotions in brandy.
What about Brandy Inspires you?
When we think of brandy today we might imagine a connoisseur who enjoys all the incredible flavours that this spirit provides.
But let’s not forget that this product, due to its incredible versatility, can be a wonderful ingredient in many cocktails. Brandy has a long, rich history of being enjoyed in classic cocktails. These traditional drinks have been the driving force behind the current mixology culture, and that has both restored Brandy’s place in the cocktail world and garnered it a younger fan base. In fact, brandy-based classic cocktails are now back in the spotlight.
This product, because of its composition, is a particularly versatile spirit, easy to appreciate by the vast majority of consumers and is becoming something of a craze. The possibilities for drinking Brandy, either neat or mixed, are endless.
What makes the grapes used in St. Rémy the perfect ingredient?
Complexity is important but finesse and subtlety are essential. We need a nice balance to provide harmony. The perfect composition is the effect obtained after blending several eaux-de-vie from various regions together.
For example Champagne, gives eaux-de-vie with consistency, structure, vegetable notes, smoothness on the palate, with power and fruit on the nose. From the Bordeaux region eaux-de-vie has a palate smooth, silky and velvety especially by the presence of red grape varietals and eaux-de-vie from Loire Valley gives delightful, fruity and floral notes, subtlety and sweetness, and so it is for each region, each French vineyard. It comes about because the smell and the taste stem from the different terroirs which have been used.
What is your secret when it comes to the use of oak?
St-Rémy eaux-de-vie matures in oak barrels and as time passes acquire their amber color, body & roundness, and their fruity & harmonious style and light spicy notes. The unique blend of St-Rémy is exclusively and historically made in small French-oak barrels for a smooth taste.
Indeed the bouquet mellows and then the eaux-de-vie matures in small, oak barrels impacting the authentic aromas of St-Rémy brandy. As time passes, the eaux-de-vie absorbs the flavors of vanilla, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg…), and the surrounding wood especially because the oak has been burned. Because of this mysterious exchange – it is said that the aging process is one in which “the alcohol marries the oak”.
St-Rémy is unique in its use of small casks. Managing such a large number of small casks is more complicated, but that is the way things have always been done at St Rémy. Small casks provide greater contact between the spirit and the wood. This provides a more intense spirit. Wood exchanges and faster higher quality maturation.
Tell us more about sustainability at St. Rémy?
As you know St-Rémy brandy is part of the Rémy Cointreau group and Rémy Cointreau has a centuries-long history of working to preserve and pass on the terroirs that are the cradle of its exceptional wines and spirits. From vines to orange trees and from cereals to sugar cane, the Group committed very early on to securing certification for its terroirs in pursuit of responsible and sustainable farming. In fact, the Group is targeting to have 100% of its ingredients coming from terroirs which are certified for their sustainable and responsible agriculture practices by 2025 (64% in 20/21). St-Rémy is actively contributing to this Group’s target, by increasingly sourcing its wines from certified vineyards (Organic, Terra Vitis, HVE, ..).
Beyond sustainable farming practices, the Group also wants to promote its terroirs as “a solution” in the fight against climate warming. To that end, it wants to ensure that its living soils play their full part in combating global warming by maximizing their potential for carbon sequestration. In order to measure the potential and track the achievement or our terroirs as carbon sinks, Rémy Cointreau recently announced a partnership with Genesis (formerly Greenback SAS), which uses a combination of soil samples and metadata to measure the impact of farming practices on soil based on three key indicators: pollution, biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
This project will help drive forward Rémy Cointreau’s Research and Development strategy in the areas of wine growing and cereal crops, enabling the Group to help wine growers and farmers adopt increasingly climate- and biodiversity-friendly practices.
Lastly, the Group contributes to climate actions in its two key markets: the US and China. Beyond helping to avoid or sequestrate carbon, these actions also support initiatives to protect the territories (such as water conservation) and communities most vulnerable to climate change (by promoting diversity and savoir-faire transmission for instance) in keeping with the Group’s values. In southern China, the Group will notably contribute to reforest the Karst region, which is part of the UNESCO’s World Heritage list and which is undergoing desertification, with the planting of 33,000 hectares of native species. Besides, within the local community, some 30,000 people will be trained in the planting and maintenance of these trees. In the United States, the Group participates in improved forest management projects in the Washington state and in the southern Appalachians.
Overall, Group’s efforts to promote sustainable agriculture and protect biodiversity is regularly recognized : for the 2nd year in a row, Rémy Cointreau is on the podium of the most responsible French companies in the Food & Beverage sector, according to a study published by French magazine Le Point in partnership with Statista, an independent institute. Ranked number 2 on the overall list, the Group is by far number 1 on the Environment criterion.
This amazing result confirms our commitment and is a great reward for our teams, who are resolutely committed to “The Sustainable Exception”, dear to Rémy Cointreau.
What is your favourite moment in your workday?
My favorite moments are the conclusions after long tasting sessions. I find myself with my small team, 2 assistants and we proceed to consolidate our tasting comments, we then receive the consensus, I then make the decisions on the next steps, what do we do? What is positive, what is acceptable, what is wrong, what needs to be improved. It is a real moment of exchange but a strong and unavoidable moment for the decision-making which will then reveal the quality of Brandy Saint-Rémy.
Do you have a favourite way to drink St. Rémy?
Of course I would first like to point out that any consumption of St-Rémy must always be done in moderation.
As an aperitif, my favorite cocktail with St-Rémy is the sidecar: this cocktail allows you to mix 2 products that I particularly appreciate, St-Rémy of course and also the famous Cointreau liqueur, with lemon, the sugar balance / acid / aromatic power is fabulous.
After a good dinner, I enjoy tasting an XO brandy and the complexity of our St. Rémy XO with its warm notes, its tones of wood, ripe fruits, nuts and sweet spices leading to an explosion of flavours which leaves a lasting impression full of both strength and gentleness at the same time.