Martell in the Lead

The oldest of the great cognac houses (1715) sets itself apart with its persistence and pioneering spirit, especially in its desire to convey its heritage and exceptional know-how to its visitors. This exuberance is clear in the new multi-sensory visit 'Martell The Journey,' conceived with a set design by Nathalie Crinière.
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On May 17, emotions ran high in the heart of Cognac, when César Giron, president, and CEO of the Martell Mumm-Perrier-Jouët Group, ceremoniously cut the ribbon which marked the official inauguration of the new Martell The Journey exhibit. But was this gesture, complete with requisite rounds of applause, a simple formality? Not really, for this new stage in the array of projects that the House of Martell has chosen to undertake over the past three years has happy corollaries, urbi et orbi. It starts with the interest, rooted in company pride and visible through internal teams. And a happy employee is a serious asset to the company and to its image. Moreover, the dynamics of a new and well-thought-out exhibit, such as Martell The Journey, is a choice resource for the city of Cognac, in terms of the enhancement of its cultural richness and lifestyle, easily translatable in terms of increased visitors, whether local, French, or foreign. It's been a successful initiative, bringing about an economic windfall to which the city’s mayor has paid tribute, shown by his delighted presence alongside César Giron at the ribbon-cutting. We may recall the different stages of the transfiguration of the Maison Martell: in Autumn 2016 was the announcement of the opening of a Cultural Foundation under the energetic and passionate direction of Nathalie Viot, and established in the vast edifice of Gâtebourse (1929), which was a location for bottling until 2005. Viot has initiated multiple projects so that the Foundation—during the indispensable years of architectural restructuring of all of the spaces—can be embodied through the demonstration of works produced especially for the site. Thus, after the inaugural exhibition by Vincent Lamouroux, deployed over 600 square meters, the second exhibition highlighted Spanish architect duo SelgasCano with a large eco-responsible installation, situated in the paved inner courtyard. Then, in June 2018, to celebrate the opening of the building’s ground floor to the public, the digital and poetic work of Adrien M & Claire B, L’Ombre de la vapeur (The Shadow of the Vapor, until November 4), opened and was inspired by one of the characteristics of the aging of eaux-de-vie, namely the natural evaporation of alcohol called “la part des anges” (“the angels’ share”), which carries a yeast which, when deposited on the walls, inscribes its natural presence in black tones.

Keeping with its leitmotif of multi-sensory exploration and also illustrating its gustatory vocation, the Maison Martell has developed a place for exchange, relaxation, and delectation in all their splendor: the Indigo bar. Sitting atop the Gâtebourse tower, 24 meters from the ground, it's primarily an ode to the surrounding 360-degree Charente landscape. The 420 square meters of this rooftop terrace, full of bespoke furniture and conceived by the Foundation with the help of local artisanal experts, welcome a highly diverse clientele, who will discover ten à la carte cocktails accompanied by cheeses, cold cuts, crunchy vegetables and, in tribute to the Charente River, Gensac trout. For the end of 2019, the next stage will focus on investing in the first floor of the building in order to allow for the expression and interactions of craftsmanship through “Les Ateliers du Faire”, which is dedicated to glass, paper, fabric, and ceramic art. As part of a residency, craftsmen and designers will be able to share ideas and concepts under visitors’ watchful eyes. Ultimately, the Foundation, opening in 2021, will spread over 3,200 square meters. With no spatial limitations, it will be able to fulfill the role it has set for itself as a cultural and creative ecosystem which, while rooted in contemporary creation, calls on this location's diversity and reveals its techniques of excellence. Outside the exhibitions, a program of events and meetings—concentrated down to one day or a weekend—also spice up the calendar. Last April, for instance, the “What If” roundtable brought together local project leaders and national players in order to highlight climate issues. The following month, on the same weekend as the launch of Martell The Journey, the first edition of the MetaMusiques festival gathered together a pantheon of musicians over 72 hours, for a dozen freely accessible concerts surrounding instrumental experimentation and neo-Aquitaine folklore. This foray into music is prolonged with the support that the Foundation gives to the festival Francofolies (July 10-15) and by producing the exhibition of photographer Yann Rabanier in La Rochelle. Also active outside of the region, the Foundation has chosen this year to be a partner of the Vallauris Biennial and will host an exhibition, in the spring of 2020, of the 3D ceramist Olivier Van Herpt (from June 29th to November 4th). In this respect—and although the entities, their mission, their mode of operation, and their dedicated teams are completely distinct—we see that the four themes defined by Nathalie Viot (transmission, exploration, senses, materials) meet here with the thematic trio by which Martell The Journey is structured: heritage, know-how, and the angels’ share.

The Maison is a cohesive whole, with each component energizing the spirit and overall inspiration. This is why the house has paid careful attention to the expectations of its Discovery Center visitors and done in-depth work in order to transform the experience. Organized around the historic house, acquired in 1750 by Jean Martell, the visit thus evokes heritage—evident in the five kilometers of archives preserved in situ—but also the men and women who, over the centuries, have contributed to its durability in five key skills: viticulture, distillation, the art of assembly, barrel-making, and heritage.

“We wanted to invent a new type of visit: a temporal and spatial journey symbolized by the circulation through the three cellars where the chosen themes are expressed, and where different didactic and playful materials, both digital and mechanical, are presented,” says Laura Sileo Pavat, director of hospitality for the Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët group. Conceived in a way to remove the constraint of an obligatory direction of visit, the cellars thus deploy a staging which is paced by a vertical and horizontal vision, and which alternates digital technologies and interactive wooden devices. Videos of artisans’ testimonies, windows containing little or never-before-exposed archival documents, mechanical question/answer games via two interactive Wheels of Fortune, metal sculptures reproducing the gestures of cognac: so many “tools” whose didactic relevance, aesthetics, layout, and playful dimension offer a thorough, though never heavy, approach. It is an initiation to the world of cognac and the history of Martell, supported by expert mediators who, with their knowledge and passion, embody the human dimension at the heart of the Maison, delivering technical information and historical anecdotes. The exhibition’s didactic aim also extends to cognac’s gustatory dimension, as there is a module which highlights the different moments and ways to taste cognac, other than straight or on ice. Interactivity is here concerned with personalizing the experience: a short questionnaire delivered to the visitor will allow them to identify the appropriate cocktail, which they can then enjoy at the Indigo bar by Martell. With a ratio of 50% French visitors, and 50% international visitors (mainly British, followed by Asians and Russians), the Maison opted for a tripartite offering (Martell The Journey, associated with the visit of the Foundation or the tasting of two cognacs). It is a clever approach, which meets the diverse expectations of visitors. As a pro-active entity in a region whose qualities no longer need demonstration, the Maison Martell, by its foresight, has developed and consolidated the seductive potential of the city of Cognac. It is the beginning of a new story.


How did you approach this project for the Maison Martell?

We exchanged a lot with the teams in order to better get to know the history of the Maison and of cognac. With this material, we tried to allow a narrative to unfold that would take as its central point the house of Jean Martell, located at the heart of the site. In each of the three cellars, we wanted to give a lot of importance to testimonies and to technical know-how, by means of “direct-to-camera” videos and sculptures on a human scale, which illustrate the respect of a past which real men and women have inherited. Language was essential, as well as the sensory aspect: dreaming... all this had to be transcribed in the scenographic elements.


What were the main difficulties?

The fact that we were intervening in classified buildings, which means that we needed to take the architecture and its characteristics into account: in this case, the paved courtyard, the unevenness in places. But also the “angels’ share,” which is inherent in the activity, to such an extent that we chose materials that could withstand this environment. In addition, the configuration of the buildings, with several entrances, led us to opt for the principle of thematic routes which would be accessible without a pre-established order. The architecture induces a freedom of movement.


What do you remember from this collaboration?

The discovery of a lot of things about cognac and the pleasure of exchanges with the teams. Working in these conditions allows one, I think, to be more creative.


Martell: 16, avenue Paul-Firino-Martell, Cognac. Visit Martell The Journey every day, from May 18th to October 31st, 2019, 10 AM to 7 PM, bookings online or at the site.

Martell Corporate Foundation: from Thursday to Saturday 2 PM to 8 PM, Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM, Wednesday upon reservation. 

Bar Indigo by Martell, 2019 season: from May 2nd to September 29th, from Wednesday to Saturday 4:30 PM until 12:30 AM, Sunday from 11:30 AM until 10 PM.


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