Christophe Bourrie of Louis XIII - Talking to the King's Man

The smooth body and flavourful taste of Louis XIII has been enjoyed by many a great and famous personality in the past century. It's a treat to have even one glass of it, and you have to deserve it! We discover what makes it the way it is, its India journey and future plans, through Mr Christophe Bourrie, the easy-going and cheerful International Brand Ambassador of Louis XIII

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: April 10, 2011

Christophe Bourrie Louis XIIIBorn in a region near Cognac in France, Mr Christophe Bourrie loves the word ‘super’ and asks himself everyday that why was he chosen as the International Brand Ambassador of Louis XIII.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s not that he doesn’t like the job. On the contrary, he feels extremely proud to be managing Louis XIII – considered to be the king of cognacs – and wonders at his fortune. “You are in charge of the history, the heritage, of making sure that the brand does well. Four generations of cellar masters have dedicated their lives in developing the cognac. Being born and brought up among vineyards, I have a lot of respect for people who create wines and work in cellars, because it’s a full time job requiring 100 per cent dedication since it’s very difficult to be consistent in quality. And Louis XIII has been consistent for more than 100 years. So I feel very humble, very proud and very responsible as well,” he explains. 

The King’s Throne

And who wouldn’t be in awe of Louis XIII? With more than 100 years of expertise in creating the best-quality cognac possible, you know you are having the best. The Baccarat decanter in which it is bottled has a fleur-de-lis cap which very much looks like a king’s crown. But apart from the enchantment of just feasting your eyes on it, Mr Bourrie has some core reasons also to put forth on why Louis XIII is the finest. 

The first reason, as mentioned above, is their immense, 100 year experience as opposed to other cognac brands which are making cognac for the past 15, 6 or 2 years only. Secondly, grapes only from the Grande Champagne area are used to create Louis XIII, because that is the only terroir which produces a mature fruit apt for creating a good cognac. The others use grapes from a mix of regions. 

The third reason, and I suspect the toughest part of making a cognac, is the blending. Mr Bourrie explains it the best: “Just like food needs to be cooked with the right spices, oils, creams, etc, same is for cognac. You need to blend the right eaux-de-vie (water of life) to have a good cognac. We double-distill the grape (cook it twice). We blend 1200 different eaux-de-vie, which is a lot, because other brands only blend about 100, and the richness, the complexity and the deepness of flavours comes from this single fact.”

Making of Louis XIII bottle

The last reason is ageing. Louis XIII is aged from 40 to 100 years, while others age their cognac for 40 years maximum. No wonder Louis XIII is called the king – and also the most expensive. The entry level Louis XIII costs 2,000 Euros, but in India, due to taxes, it becomes 6000 Euros. The Rare Cask, which costs 10,000 Euros outside, becomes approximately 25,000 Euros in India. And the Limited Edition Black Pearl, which costs 25,000 Euros, costs around 50,000 Euros in India.

“In fact, the newly opened Leela Hotel in New Delhi has started carrying the Rare Cask limited edition bottle. They serve it by the glass in their bar, which costs around 1,600 USD per glass,” says a visibly proud Mr Bourrie. Incredibly, there are only three hotels in the world which carry this product by the glass: Hotel Lanesborough in London, a New York hotel (the name of which escapes Mr Bourrie), and now The Leela in New Delhi.

In the land of Maharajas

This brings us to a discussion on the Indian market for Louis XIII. Mr Bourrie is very excited about the Indian market, and the results have been tremendous. “Despite the high prices, hotels in New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore and Chennai, sell up to two bottles a month! That’s a lot because one bottle is about 23 glasses - so they sell about 50 glasses a month – which is far beyond our expectations!” he says. 

Mr Bourrie attributes many reasons to this success. One of them is that Indians already love bronze drinks like whiskey and single malts. The second reason, which Mr Bourrie has also observed, is that Indians now have the liberty and resources to get the finest of everything. “Indians are willing to consume the best today – the best car, the best watch, the best yacht, as well as the best spirits. So we are really focusing hard on the India market. In fact, we are going to hire more people for Louis XIII in India. I handle 20 countries, but despite that I spend one week per month in India! I will continue to work for this country, but we are going to hire a full-time brand ambassador for Louis XIII for India. We sense that India will become a massive market for Louis XIII,” he says.

Mr Bourrie has seen some new trends for cognac as well in India. Moving away from an old grand-daddy’s drink, cognac has assumed a trendier avatar. “A VSOP and VS is quite a young drink because people like to have it in cocktails, especially women, who like our Cointreaupolitan cocktail and others as well. But, yes, for Louis XIII, you have to have a mature taste.”

Louis XIII bottle tray

Another Indian trend which surprised Mr Bourrie and his team quite a lot was seeing women drink cognac. “Our cognac has 40% alcohol in them. But you don’t feel it because it is behind the aromas and flavours. That’s why we were so surprised to see that Indian women drink cognac! We have seen only two countries with this trend – India and Taiwan. For me that’s good news! It doubles the market for me!” he says enthusiastically. 

In Taiwan, in fact, the brand has built a small Louis XIII club for ladies. These women are friends and enjoy having a glass of Louis XIII together. But Mr Bourrie doesn’t promise to develop a similar club in India – not yet at least. 

Scattering the Gold

Louis XIII is quite strict about its distribution network, to keep the ‘exclusive’ tag alive. “We select certain countries, then select certain areas in these countries, and then further select a few outlets and five star hotels. We don’t want to be in every hotel,” says Mr Bourrie. He cites the example of the new Oberoi hotel which is set to open in the outskirts of New Delhi, near the airport. “That’s the kind of place we want to see ourselves in. It’s super-exclusive. It’s super well-designed as all Oberoi hotels are. It has the best of everything and is going to be the apt luxury hotel for businessmen – close to the city and close to the headquarters of big companies.” The Leela Hotels & Resorts definitely feature in their future as well. 

Besides hotels, they are also developing a network of wealthy people. They are having 14 dinners this year – one of them was right after the interview – with very selective people including Bollywood celebrities, CEOs, and “super-wealthy people”. “We put together maximum 20 people and we have a great dinner with French food and, of course, Louis XIII. We want brand awareness among the super high-end people, because the best way to market yourself, especially in India, is through word of mouth,” says Mr Bourrie wisely.

As for expanding the market beyond the super-rich, Mr Bourrie is a little cautious, since they have only limited quantities of Louis XIII which they can put up in the market for sale. “Louis XIII is very famous around the world, but we are bit behind in Asia, because we were not present in countries like India 10 or 20 years back. So now we have to really fight to keep volume for India. In fact, there is too much of demand, and we don’t have enough to satisfy it.” he says. 

Sharing Wisdom

Nobody knows luxury better than the people who nurture a quality brand which, naturally, costs a fortune. Mr Bourrie’s take on LVMH’s insatiable hunger? He is not pleased, not one whit. “The result of all this is that they (LVMH) are going to be the only ones in the market one day, because they have bought everything. There is a businessman behind, and he has a very big appetite for being the only one. What I am worried about is that these brands will lose their soul. That’s very, very dangerous,” says Mr Bourrie. 

He narrates the example of Chateau d’Yquem, an old wine brand which also used to cost a fortune, and belonged to a family since centuries. Today, 10 years after LVMH acquired it, there is no more family involved in the brand, and the level of the wine is different and not that good anymore. 

He also notices a trend of genuine luxury consumers leaving brands which are compromising on uniqueness to garner a wider base of customers. The genuine ones see their till-now favoured brands in everyone’s arms and feet. Does that mean luxury is going mass? “No, luxury is not mass, but we have to redefine ‘luxury brands’ now. We have to filter now,” answers Mr Bourrie. He counts Hermes, Chanel and Lamborghini as brands which have never compromised on anything. “They are super-expensive, because they are super-quality as well. I think brands that have become mass are not in the business of luxury anymore.” He gave an example of a very well-known global fashion brand (name can’t be disclosed) which has become mass now. He terms their mass-marketing strategies as suicide and says that he no more sees sophisticated consumers wearing its creations.

The brand ambassador, who loves skiing and wanted to become a ski instructor at one point in his life, loves to pop open a bottle of wine and enjoy it with his family and friends – that is, when he has time. He is, of course, partial towards Louis XIII, but like most of us, “I can’t afford it! It’s too expensive!” he says smilingly. 

The best way to have a Louis XIII, we ask? He says candidly, “The only and the most important condition is to share it with the one you love. You have to be in a good mood. You have to be relaxed. You don’t have to be worried by something else. You don’t have to be too tired because your body has to accept this drink. And you have to share it. Life is about sharing, and so is Louis XIII. I don’t care if you mix it with Coca Cola as long as you enjoy the drink with someone you love...” 

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