Mon | Nov 12, 2018

Jean-Sebastien Robicquet: The genius behind CîROC Vodka

Published:Friday | May 31, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Jean-Sebastien Robicquet, master distiller/conceptualiser of CîROC Vodka, sheds his corporate persona to play host/bartender of the three CîROC flavours for journalists. - Barbara Ellington/Photographer
Jean-Sebastien Robicquet, creator of CîROC Vodka. - Contributed
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Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor

Creator of the world-famous CîROC Vodka, Jean-Sebastien Robicquet's family roots extend into the renowned French wine region of Bordeaux, France, and date back to the 17th century. Influenced by his strong cultural background, Robicquet pursued his passion for wine, gaining degrees in law, economics and management of the wine industry.

He is also recognised by the Great Council of Bordeaux Wines as 'Commandeur of Bordeaux,' in acknowledgement of his strong demand for high quality and superb, honest products. But it's his charming personality that permeates the atmosphere upon meeting him.

And what an unforgettable meeting it was! Mid-morning on May 23, the private jet bearing this journalist and others from Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, landed on an army base in Cognac, France. A convoy of vintage (close to 30 years old) Citroens and Peugeots, driven by proud owners, arrives to park in a queue on the tarmac adjacent to the aircraft. Like the star of a Bond movie, Robiquet emerges from a more modern set of wheels, hands outstretched greeting his guests who are busy grabbing their cameras to capture the moment.

It was the second leg of the Diageo-sponsored media tour which had taken us that morning from the home of Ketel One Vodka in Amsterdam. We selected the cars of our fancy and travel along narrow roads, reminiscent of those in Brown's Town, St Ann, and through miles of lush, green countryside bordering hundreds of hectares of vineyards. The houses are of concrete, with wooden shutters, burglar bars and wrought iron gates, and as far as the eyes can see, they, too, are similar in design and appeal to many across Jamaica. Robicquet said he owns only 35 of the 60,000 hectares under grape cultivation in Cognac.

We arrive at the gravelled driveway of the House of CîROC, and quickly enter the stone building that houses the bar where exotic CîROC cocktails are being mixed by an affable bartender. After the formalities, we were invited to try our hand. I christened mine 'Screwdriver for Virgins' with:

Ingredients:

  • 3 slices crushed cucumbers (blended would be ideal)
  • 60ml CîROC Vodka
  • 40ml June Esprit
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • A hearty dash of bitters
  • Ice

Method

Place all the above in a martini shaker and give it a good shaking, then strain into martini glasses. Garnish with a green grape.

CîROC, now the drink of choice for the stars and the trendy, places you immediately in the 'in' crowd. It is a unique vodka conceptualised, distilled and produced from French grapes - not the traditional potatoes of wheat.

Robicquet was the perfect choice to give it life, having been previously invited to join one of Mo't-Hennessy's joint ventures in Singapore to develop the wine and champagne. As the only winemaker in the country at that time, he contributed greatly to its development of wine culture and consciousness. In return for his dedication, he received the title of 'Commander of Bordeaux' from the Grand Council of Bordeaux Wines, in recognition of his "defence and glorification of the wines of Bordeaux".

Combat counterfeiting

Putting his legal know-how into gear, Robicquet implemented scientific ways and structures to combat counterfeiting, a common phenomenon with negative implications for health in the region. Naturally, the spin-off of these efforts is now evident in CîROC 's high quality.

Speaking with The Gleaner, Robicquet said he understands the wines-and-spirits business, but he also knows that, without a corresponding understanding of how the market works, one will become arrogant. "As a designer of this premier product, I had to create a credible product," he said, adding that he was not nervous of the competition and that Diageo had confidence in his abilities.

"The teamwork was vital, we had created something that other brands and products don't have. We are a winning brand, but I still have to keep on capitalising on the popularity to make more people aware of CîROC," he emphasised.

A typical day finds the busy Robicquet up at 6 a.m. and taking his youngest son to school before going to the plant and then to the office to test and taste the product. He manages a small team, visits the vineyards, often skipping lunch, but always interacting with the market. Spare time finds the judo enthusiast engaged in a little rugby and golf. He is usually home by 8 p.m.

The future of CîROC will see it as, "the iconic celebration brand, still made from grapes and with more flavours to come," he said, closely guarding the secret of what those will be.

The Beginning

Robicquet's extensive experience with these leading companies worldwide, from 1990 to 2001, led to his competitiveness and contributed to his global vision in the wine-and-spirits industry.

That led to Robicquet's decision to apply his expertise in the manufacturing and distillation of wine and his ability to understand consumer trends across several markets, and to the founding of EWG Spirits & Wines in 2001 in Cognac, in partnership with Bruno Roux Reilhac. He surrounded himself with a flexible, proactive and professional team of 15 people, who came from various industry backgrounds, including wine and spirits, perfumes and cosmetics, and food engineering.

EWG's unique concept, blending the traditions of wine and culture with the creation of innovative ultra-premium spirits, Robicquet's technical skills and experience caught the eye of Diageo, the world's leading premium drinks company. Their charge: develop and produce a unique vodka from French grapes; the result is CîROC.

Robicquet is married to Isabelle and is the father of three sons aged 21, 18 and 11.

Barbara Ellington's trip to France was sponsored by Diageo.


 Jean-Sebastien Robicquet: What is CîROC?

  • CîROC is velvety and
    juicy, fresh, fruity and complex and has lots of character. CîROC uses
    modern technology combined with traditional 10th-century preservation
    methods, established by the Benedictine monks in the Abbey of St Michel,
    to procure the distinctive grape vodka. Its production includes the
    innovative cold fermentation and maceration techniques usually found in
    winemaking.
  • The grapes are grown at elevations just above
    300 metres, essentially in their own special microclimate. They are left
    on the vine for an extended period of ripening before being harvested,
    which is done late in the season when the temperatures are lower, making
    the grapes firmer and easier to pick.
  • The subsequent
    fermented liquid contains a higher sugar content and unique body, which
    make up its distinctive elements. CîROC is distilled five times - the
    fifth time using specially designed, yet traditional copper pot-still
    methods to ensure the highest quality.
  • It is this process
    that contributes to the refined citrus-like nose, smooth taste and
    crisp, clean finish that is characteristic of CîROC.


barbara.ellington@gleanerjm.com