When François Thibault, a cognac Maître de Chai – “cellar master” – announced that he intended to use his considerable spirits-making skills to create vodka, people in the region were sceptical. Today, Grey Goose is enjoyed by millions around the world.
The new home of vodka – specifically Grey Goose – is Cognac, at the company’s new Le Logis estate. I was invited by Grey Goose’s Maître de Chai, François Thibault, to discover their latest creation, Grey Goose VX: Vodka Exceptionnelle, an ultra-premium mix of 95% Grey Goose vodka finished with a hint of Cognac. I was looking forward to the opportunity to stay at the property and discover François’ passionate pursuit of quality from field to bottle, especially as Le Logis is where it also houses his research and development atelier. Local craftsmen have completely renovated every part of this 17th century country manor house and surrounding estate, resulting in a really beautiful home.
I was really looking forward to meeting the famous Cellar Master, François Thibault himself, who had thrown his fellow winegrowers into a tailspin when he announced that he was going to make vodka.
François grew up in the heart of the Cognac region and as the son of a wine grower, he was fascinated by the craft of making fine wines and spirits from an early age. It wasn’t until he met entrepreneur Sidney Frank, however, that he was able to realise his vision for quality, crafted, premium vodka. “I worked on the creation of Grey Goose in the same way as an artist creates a masterpiece,” he reveals. “I began with a blank canvas and then applied the knowledge and imagination that I have always employed as a Maître de Chai. My experiences making cognac taught me to never compromise on quality and taste, and I am very rigorous in my pursuit of both. There were many people waiting for me to fail, but I knew I could prove them wrong and create a product that tasted quite unique,” said Thibault.
To set a new quality standard for vodka, however, would require not just a revision of traditional vodka production methods, but also relentless attention to every aspect of the whole process, from the growing of the wheat to the final seal of the bottle. “There are three crucial elements that define a vodka,” François tells me, “the ingredients, the way it is made and the people who make it. Taste has always been my number one priority and it’s with that goal in mind that I selected the ingredients, the process and the team who have helped me to create an extraordinary vodka. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see someone enjoying a Grey Goose cocktail in a bar and to see this happening in different countries around the world, far, far away from the Cognac region, makes it all the more fulfilling.”
Following a tour of the vineyards surrounding Le Logis, François led us into his vodka laboratory as I called it, where he took us through the various stages of the vodka-making process. We were told that the soft winter wheat used to make Grey Goose is supplied exclusively by three local farming co-operatives in Picardie in northern France. The co-operatives not only own and manage their own farms, but are also partners in the storage, milling and distillery facility that produces the vodka, ensuring a seamless continuity of operation. The milling process is what determines the grade of flour. This process produces flour of a very specific granularity and a precise percentage of husk to aid the fermentation process (although the exact granularity is a company secret). The wheat is milled on site at the distillery, so that the flour can be used immediately and the vodka distilling process can be completed. To this day, François oversees the crafting of the vodka and personally tastes every batch, to ensure that every drop from the field to the bottle meets the Master’s approval.
The climax of our master class was the tasting session of Grey Goose’s newest spirit, Grey Goose VX – a vodka with a hint of fine cognac. It is certainly very rich and complex with hints honey, plums, citrus and apricot. It is only produced in limited quantities to maintain its superior character. Not a cognac drinker normally, I was enticed by this rather grand and innovational taste.
I had not realised how far François’s passion would stretch to perfect the ultimate tasting vodkas and therefore was surprised when he told me that to create the fruit tasting vodkas, (melon, orange and lemon flavoured vodkas), the fruits are taken to a parfumerie in Grasse where their flavours are extracted. From here, the essential oils are returned to Cognac where they are then combined with Grey Goose vodka. A flavour and colour to suit every taste and cocktail!
A highlight always at Le Logis is their Mixology Lesson in their own Grey Goose Bar, where we were able to let our creativity fly. How do you create the Ultimate Melon Mule? It was “pure chemistry” making this cocktail, when I strained the mixture of the spirit and the juice from three lime wedges into a copper mule tankard filled with crushed ice. Le Melon vodka is by far my favourite, and will don my drink shelf for years to come.
Grey Goose Melon Mule
Grey Goose Le Melon
How To Make The Melon Mule
1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add Grey Goose Le Melon and the juice from three lime wedges.
2. Shake well and strain into a copper mug filled with crushed ice.
3. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge.
As the sun set over Le Logis, there was little left to do but take a leisurely bicycle ride around the vineyards, a little pentanque boules and raise a final glass to Grey Goose, whose passion has led to extraordinary feats of inspiration in all their ranges. Their logo of a soaring bird certainly does encapsulate their spirit of inventiveness and in their words, “Fly Beyond.”