T asting any of Hennessy’s exceptional cognacs should be “a moment of pure pleasure,” says Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, whose family has held the prestigious title of Master Blender at Hennessy since 1800. Renaud Fillioux de Gironde officially assumed the role of eighth Master Blender in July 2017, succeeding his uncle Yann Fillioux, Master Blender since 1966. While he is less than a year into his post, the 39-year-old Fillioux de Gironde has spent his life preparing for the role. He grew up in the vineyards of the Cognac region and has a deep appreciation for the cycles of growth and harvest. In 2002, he joined the tasting committee – a small group of experts who meet every morning to taste the eaux-de-vie that will be used to create the brand’s renowned cognacs, including Hennessy Paradis Imperial. Now he leads that elite cadre and proudly shepherds the centuries-old brand into the future. On the occasion of Hennessy’s partnership with Sotheby’s to present an original video series exploring the history and restoration of Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte, we spoke with Renaud Fillioux de Gironde about the importance of continuity, his role in a complex blending process that inspired a large-scale work of art and what he hopes will be his legacy.
HENNESSY'S MASTER BLENDER RENAUD FILLIOUX DE GIRONDE AND YANN FILLIOUX, HIS UNCLE AND PREDECESSOR.
You prepared for this role with your uncle Yann Fillioux for many years. How does one learn the craft of tasting and selecting eaux-de-vie?
The role of Master Blender has very much to do with the sense of taste, pleasure and strategy. Tasting can’t be improvised or learned in school. It is acquired over a long period of time and by training your palate and by listening to the senior members of the tasting committee. Tasting and selecting eaux-de-vie is not about learning each of them by heart, it is about understanding them and how to classify them. And of course, my uncle Yann Fillioux’s guidance and uncompromising commitment to quality and precision prepared me for this role.
What is the most important lesson you have learned from your uncle's example?
Transmission of savoir faire is essential for the role of Master Blender. My uncle has not only handed down his savoir faire of tasting, selecting and blending, but he has instilled in me a true passion about this profession. More than 15 years of training by his side have prepared me for this role and have given me the necessary courage to take on the extraordinary challenge to prepare today the legacy of the future for Hennessy.
Is selecting eaux-de-vie an art, a science or both?
The selection process is about rigor and continuity, it is something I had to learn. It never ends and I continue to seek to perfect myself.
You taste eaux-de-vie every day. What else does a Master Blender do on a typical day?
My day-to-day job is to prepare the future, understand and accompany the stock of eaux-de-vie, read tasting notes, prepare all projects with a vision of quality and of improving quality even further. This also implies meeting and exchanging with winegrowers on how to improve their everyday work.
Some people think of Cognac as an old-fashioned choice or one that demands certain knowledge to appreciate. What would you say to a younger generation who might be intimidated or unfamiliar with Cognac to demystify it?
I encourage everyone to go beyond preconceived ideas and to try different ways of drinking Hennessy, in order to arrive at their own opinion and to find their preference among the many possible choices – this can be neat, on ice, as a digestive or an aperitif, as a long drink or a cocktail.
As a grower, what are some of the challenges you and Hennessy face that previous generations did not have to consider, such as the role of technology or climate change?
Every generation has had its own changes and challenges. I see them more as opportunities to better understand the process of maturation. Technology is part of the evolution of our profession. It has allowed us to better understand and master the production processes and to make the quality of Hennessy cognacs even better. Cognac is a product of a terroir, of nature, so naturally there are climate hazards and challenges we have to deal with every year.
What is the future of Hennessy?
Continuity, to work today in order to prepare the quality for tomorrow and accompany quality into the future.
Hennessy supports the preservation of cultural history as exemplified by the de Vogüé family's ongoing restoration of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, the inspiration for Versailles. The fascinating story is explored in Treasures from Vaux-le-Vicomte, Sotheby’s original video series presented by Hennessy Paradis Impérial. Click here to watch the episodes.