Our Meet the People series continues with Emmanuel Delafon, President Directeur Général of Chartreuse.
During his visit to Sydney, we spoke with Emmanuel Delafon about his connection with Chartreuse before he was appointed as President, the relationship with the Carthusian monks and the new distillery currently being built in Aiguenoire.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I joined Chartreuse in 2011 after a classic path for a French man which is business school. Then I went to London for 5 years in the auditing world at PWC then went for a luxury experience within Gucci. I was very happy and was going to spend many years then after 3 years Chartreuse came into my life.
How did the opportunity arise for you to join Chartreuse?
Chartreuse is part of my roots. My parents still live 10 kilometres from the distillery. It’s totally engraved in my blood. My father was non-executive Director of the Board for 35 years and was best friends with Jean-Marc Roget, my predecessor. It was not a surprise when Jean-Marc approached me and was looking for a replacement before his retirement. He was not looking for the perfect technical guy but someone who understands the spirit and the peculiarity of Chartreuse which is time.
After a process of 18 months, I was selected. Part of my application was being able to do a long transition with them. I joined in 2011 and spent the first three years listening, watching, understanding the business and practically doing nothing which is a luxury. No other company can afford this. In 2012, I was back at the distillery spending three months within the distillery, three months in the bottling facility and a lot on the on the road with the sales reps in France visiting the markets. In October 2013, I was made president.
You are the head of a company that is over 400 years old with an internationally renowned liqueur that’s over 250 years old. To what do you attribute that longevity?
I would say the main aspect is the uniqueness of Chartreuse. It’s a category by itself. The uniqueness also comes from the fact that it has been made by monks since 1605. I would link that to the land. Chartreuse in French means three things: the Chartreuse mountains where Saint Bruno first came in 1084 to settle the order, the order Chartreux/Carthusians and the liqueur. You can’t put one element away, that’s why we’re so unique and so lasting because we have stayed and the monks have stayed in the same mountains, and they have always made the liqueur. If tomorrow the brand is sold to someone and it becomes industrial, it will lose its soul and will probably die.
You have two guardians of the secret recipe. What is the relationship like between the Carthusian monks and the world of Chartreuse?
Dom Benoit and Frère Jean-Jacques hold the secret and they work together. It’s one Father and one Brother, and it can be two Brothers. The passing on of the message to the next generation is done orally because nothing is written down. It’s very important because it’s the best way to keep a secret.
It’s not such an easy way in terms of day to day life. Theirs is possibly the toughest order in the Catholic world whereas the liqueur industry is far from their reality. But it’s a beautiful link of trust. They trust us to make sure Chartreuse is put in bars and restaurants in the most appropriate way, yes it’s alcohol and they know alcohol can be mean if used too much. At the same time, they understand that we put it in a qualitative way and be very respectful of them, and we trust them to make the best liqueur in the world.
Tell us a little about the new distillery and why you’re moving to a new site.
The decision was made in June 2014 as an answer to regulations and safety hazards in France and Europe. Distilling was fine but we have 2 million litres sitting in the cellars which can be a fire hazard. From that regulatory context, we decided build a new project that would put Chartreuse easily in the next 200 years. The choice of the land is most arguably the safest. Voiron is like a city with 20,000 inhabitants while Aiguenoire is in the middle of the Chartreuse Mountains. We built it with the best technical set up and it will last for a very long time. It’s a long project but we were able to change the destination of the land from agricultural to economic in one year. We are now at the end of the building phase and the alembics will arrive in one month and the first casks in two months.
Has distillation begun in the new distillery and if so, when can we expect the first bottlings?
We begin distilling in October-November 2017. As long as the bottling stays in Voiron, it is considered as a Voiron bottle even if it’s made in Aiguenoire. There are several years of ageing to follow, so by the time the bottling arrives to Aiguenoire, let’s say by 2020-2021, we will get the new Aiguenoire bottlings. My advice is to pile on Voiron stock as we are reaching the end of the Voiron bottlings.
How will the production and administration be split between Voiron and Aiguenoire?
It is fifty-fifty in terms of employees. The vision is to get 35 people on each site. Aiguenoire is totally production and when the stages are completed, we will have the distillery, cellars, bottling and shipment. Voiron will keep the commercial activities, the sales rep, the boutique, and visitor centre. We have many projects to develop the site as part of the dismantling of the production. We will upgrade it for hosting seminars, art and gastronomy as we have links with great chefs in France.
Are there any other plans or innovations you can share with us?
The main innovation is to last so we are not an innovative company in the sense. It has been years of innovations of in terms of how we can grab the best of this world without touching our traditions. In terms of product, we have a few new products like Reine des Liqueurs, the name given to the yellow Chartreuse when it was first released in 1838. It had 43% ABV but in 1972, for tax reasons they decreased it. It is a way to get back to the real yellow Chartreuse which is much better and the balance between sugar, plants and botanicals is spectacular.
Any closing comments?
It’s a good journey. We are very confident today to grow at our pace. We would like to last and not do short term wins. The most important thing about Chartreuse is to let the product shine brighter than the personalities within the teams. We don’t do anything flashy. That’s the bottle and it will last. As I often say, the iPhone will die before Chartreuse.
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In partnership with Spirits Platform, distributors of Chartreuse in Australia.
Photo Credit: Supplied