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Just off the grapevine

Wine has not just been a drink for Jean Sébastien, but a way of life. French winemaker Jean Sébastien makes vodka from grapes and tells Vidhi Bhargava how...

india Updated: Mar 17, 2009 21:30 IST
Vidhi Bhargava
Vidhi Bhargava
Hindustan Times

Wine has not just been a drink for Jean Sébastien, but a way of life. Hailing from a family at the helm of a wine business, the 42-year-old grew up in the vineyards between Bordeaux and Cognac in France.

So when the Frenchman decided to make vodka, many eyebrows were raised. But then the vodka he made was not just another vodka, it was a vodka that uses grapes for production. We chatted with Sébastien about vodka, wine and fruit based vodka.

In a wine drinking country like France wasn’t it a big risk to introduce a French vodka, specially since France is not a traditional vodka drinking nation?
Well, yes. Making vodka from grapes was seen as a maverick, bold, innovative move on my part and an unusual thing to do. France is renowned the world over for its wine legacy, preciously nurtured over the centuries with the best skills, traditional craftsmanship and a laborious production process. Taking a step further from wine-making, creating vodka from grapes was groundbreaking, challenging, complex and expensive.

Since both wine and your vodka are made from grapes, what is the difference in the process and the quality and type of grapes used for both?
There is no difference, as the wine process is an intermediate stage in the creation of the grape-made vodka. The grapes are first converted into wine and further distilled to make vodka. The fifth and final distillation takes place in a copper pot still affectionately called ‘Suzie’, in a beautiful family-owned distillery deep in the Cognac countryside.

Which other spirits can be made using grapes?
Brandy, Cognac, Gin and Liqueur. Except for Brandy and Cognac, which is governed by certain regulations, all other spirits begin with the wine stage first and are distilled further to complete the process.

How different is grape flavoured vodka from regular vodka and flavoured vodka?
In flavoured vodka, flavours like cherry or orange are added to the distillation process and not made from the ingredients themselves. Cîroc is not grape flavoured vodka, but vodka made from grapes. The grapes widening the taste spectrum. Grape-made vodka delivers a citrusy, fresh, fruity, perfumed, juicy, velvety, rounded smoothness and depth quality as against grain made from vodka that is earthier and can be slightly abrasive.

Are there any advantages of using fruit based vodkas in cocktail mixes. What mixes do they go best with?
Being fruitier, fruit based vodkas have freshness built into their DNA that add textural depth, which is best amplified by using only the freshest ingredients in cocktail mixes — be it fruit or vegetable juice.

What are the various factors one needs to remember to appreciate vodka?

When vodka has a clean, pure, fresh taste, it is the best way to appreciate it. Also, a 40% alcohol content makes the experience ideal.

Is there a market for fruit-based vodkas?
Since the time of our global launch, we have received a phenomenal response from consumers. Being the only global fruit based vodka brand, I would say that there is definitely high commercial viability involved.

Your views on the Indian vodka market?
The Indian vodka market is highly dynamic and one of the fastest growing markets for the super-premium vodka segment, though it will be a while till it reaches its maturity period.

First Published: Mar 17, 2009 21:27 IST