Profile: The House of Martell

Martell's history is long and storied - it is, after all, the oldest of the old cognac houses. With the imminent Asian launch of the new Millésimes Collection, we pause to leaf through the rich chronicles

One of the great pleasures of uncorking a bottle of cognac is ruminating over the history, culture and artisanship that went into producing your quaff. Every bottle of Martell you hold in your hand is the result of years of masterful blending and careful, quiet aging in the best oaken barrels. So pour yourself a generous drink and step into our virtual time machine for a brief retrospective of Martell and Company S.A.

In 1715, Jean Martell, a young, entrepreneurial merchant from Jersey, made history when he founded the first of the major cognac houses at Gatebourse, along the banks of the Charente River in the Cognac region of France. The riverside distillery's damp air, coupled with the house's exacting standards - Martell preferred using grapes from the vineyards in the Borderie subregion, and insisted on the use of Tronçais oak for its casks - made for a canny combination that resulted in an exceptionally smooth cognac.

When the businessman died in 1753, the House of Martell had already established itself as a preemminent producer and exporter of the finest cognac: by 1721, Martell was already exporting more than 200,000 liters of their signature blend to connoisseurs in Great Britain.

Martell The Oldest Of The Great Cognacs 2 1

Martell The Oldest Of The Great Cognacs 3 1


Jean Martell's legacy continued with his widow Rachel and two sons, Jean and Frédéric, who expanded upon their father's good work by buying over new cellars, warehouses and vineyards, and by cultivating the company's ever-growing selection of eau-de-vie.The solid foundation built by Martell's first generation meant that it was soon the leading international exporter of cognac.

In an especially prescient move, the mid to late 19th century saw Martell setting their sights on the lucrative Far East market, namely the British-dominated China and Hong Kong markets. By 1868, aristocrats could be seen sipping glasses of Martell in countries as far-flung and diverse as Japan.

Martell The Oldest Of The Great Cognacs 4 1

Martell's position in the luxury cognac industry was sealed in 1912, when Edouard Martell introduced the iconic Cordon Bleu, now considered a classic and firm favorite among the pantheon of great cognacs. The Cordon Bleu's extraordinarily rich, smooth taste was a distillation, so to speak, of all of Martell's know-how thus far, being a complex blend of more than 150 eau-de-vie.

Not content to sit on its laurels, the House of Martell continued to evolve and refine its knowlege of spirit-making. In 1968, Martell's cellar master Benoit Fil oversaw the casking of a rare, single cru cognac from Grande Champagne with eau-de-vie hailing from the Chais de la Coquille. Forty-two years later, the fruits of his labor can be savored in the soon-to-be-released Millésimes 1968 Vintage Cognac collection.

Martell The Oldest Of The Great Cognacs 5 1


Copyright © is part of the SPH Magazines Luxury Network