Cellar Master Christophe Valtaud On Crafting Martell Chanteloup XXO
Auspicious Number 9
Did you know that in the past 300 years there have been 23 popes but only 9 cellar masters? Only 9 individuals have devoted their lives to discovering the secrets of Martell.
A Cellar Master’s Sacrifice
Rather like the pope, cellar masters too, must renounce certain things in life. I never drink coffee or eat foods that are too spicy. Neither do I smoke. Rinsing my mouth out with salt water helps to keep my palate pristine.
Of Private Pleasures
I love reading historical tomes. Two of my more private hobbies are playing the piano and painting, but these are for my ears and my eyes only.
A Reflection Of The Maker
Martell Chanteloup XXO is truly a part of myself, as it was my choice to have pronounced flavours from the Grand Champagne cru, which is where I was born. I guess you could say that Chanteloup XXO blends my story and Martell’s rich history to birth legacy.
Water Of Life
Chanteloup XXO is extraordinary in that it contains a blend of 450 different Cognacs (maybe more in the future). Each eaux-de-vie vintage has its own style due to the weather and other factors. I was only able to create this Cognac because my predecessor protected previous batches of eaux-de-vie. I must now pave the pathway for the future generation of cellar masters.
Secret Recipe Or Savoir-Faire?
For our competitors who would like to know our ‘secret recipe,’ here’s the truth: of course my predecessor gave me the recipe—it’s a percentage of this eaux-de-vie and a bit of that one, et cetera, et cetera—but when you’re working with a very old Cognac, you have to forget all formulations. It mostly comes down to savoir-faire: it is a cellar master’s olfactory and gustatory ability that enables him to recreate a Cognac blend.
Lessons For His Successor
The most important secret about Cognac that we cellar masters must pass on entails ‘sensation’—how to describe or to feel an eaux-de-vie. If I were to pronounce an eaux-de-vie very acidic and too intense but my heir felt otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to recreate it.
Another tip is to devote time to tasting. I taste Cognac almost every day in order to memorise Martell’s entire production. The memory of taste is enough to fill a library, and if you haven’t read all the books in that library, you won’t have the materials to create your story. And the best way to keep a Cognac in your mind is to feel something for each one because it holds something special for you.
The memory of taste is enough to fill a library, and if you haven’t read all the books in that library, you won’t have the materials to create your story.
An Expression Of Time
I associate the extra, extra old Cognac with precision, a quality that only comes with time. Think of your favourite sport. Now picture practicing it tirelessly every day. Say you participate in a championship and take home the trophy—such victories are only possible with a thing called Time.
With 450 different eaux-de-vies, the Martell Chanteloup XXO truly is the equation of time—time taken to age it, time spent concocting the recipe, and taking the time off to enjoy it.
- Photography Martell / Pernod Ricard