What does it take to be the Heritage Director of a brand that has over 300 years of heritage?
Well, for Jacques Menier of the House of Martell, it took decades of experience, an undeniable love for the brand, and the ability to see the link between the brand and its consumers.
Menier has been with Martell for over 38 years, and is in charge of representing the Martell cognac brands in-market worldwide. He isn’t just Martell’s heritage director, he IS an indelible part of Martell’s heritage.
Menier was in town recently for a series of Heritage Dinners across Malaysia that celebrate not just the House of Martell, but its legacy in Asia as well. He was here with members of the Martell Heritage Team, which included Amaury and Thierry Firino-Martell, who are ninth generation members of the Martell family.
The series kicked off with a specially-curated dinner at Rumah Tangsi in Kuala Lumpur before moving on to other locations in the Klang Valley, Ipoh, Penang, Batu Pahat and Johor Bahru.
Before the event, we took the chance to sit down with Menier for a quick chat with him about his job, his legacy, and what the future holds for Martell.
Menier joined Martell & Co in 1984, initially to look after the duty-free business in Europe. “When I started with Martell, I was in charge of the duty free market in Europe,” he recalled.
In 1988, he was given the chance to become the Export Manager Asia Pacific in charge of Martell business in both duty free and duty paid throughout the numerous countries of the region.
“I jumped on the offer for the Asia Pacific because it was always a dream for me to travel around Asia. In a small town like Cognac, you meet people who are in the same industry, and hear stories about Malaysia, Singapore, China ... but I was still eager to see (these places) for myself.
So it was that Menier made his first trip to Singapore and Malaysia in 1990, alongside Patrick Matell, the company’s president at that time. He only spent one weekend in Singapore and two weeks in Malaysia, but it was an experience that really opened his eyes.
“I remember driving from Singapore up to Penang, and along the way, every night there was a big party!” he recalled. “I was surprised because we were invited to weddings, some of them had over 1,000 people, and they were all drinking Martell!
“For me, it was a really big surprise, especially the famous ‘yum seng’, which is now something very well known in Cognac!”
Later on, Pernod Ricard took over the Martell brand, and after an organisational restructuring, Menier became part of a ‘Heritage Team’ whose jobs were essentially to be brand ambassadors for Martell all over the world.
“We created a team of all the old commercial directors and sales directors around the world, so we had a group of nine senior brand ambassadors traveling to events and launches all around the world.”
According to him, the role of a Heritage Director is to stay in touch with Martell’s local structures and consumers.
“We come here to support the local market and make sure consumers are happy,” he said. “I think it's very important to keep the direct link between the brand, the market and the consumers, and to listen to consumers.”
Menier said that Malaysia is currently the second largest cognac market in Asia Pacific after China, and that there has been a vast shift in the way cognac is consumed here.
“When I started in Malaysia, the first visits were to a lot of dark bars which do not exist anymore!” He said with a laugh. “Now, Malaysian consumers are getting more and more sophisticated, and the category itself is going more and more into the luxury segment.”
However, there is still a certain prestigious image and status attached to the consumption of Martell cognac, which he says will be key to the future of Martell.
“Cognac requires years of aging, and right now you see the market moving more towards XO and XXO expressions. So you need a large stock of old cognacs,” he said. “So that's why if you come to Cognac, you will see a huge number of aging warehouses, as we try to respond to the future sales of those expensive cognac.”
Menier says that the growth in higher grade cognac is going to carry on, and on the other end of the market, more accessible and easy drinking products like Martell Noblige are appealing more to younger drinkers.
“We have a young cellarmaster (Christophe Valtaud) now who is always open to trying new things. So the goal of the brand now is to try to do something different, like what he did for the VSOP, where he used old ‘red barrels’ that have been used for three years, so he doesn’t get the bitterness from the wood or just the vanilla taste.”
Now, it is safe to assume that after 38 years being in charge of the heritage of Martell, Menier himself has also become an indelible part of the brand’s heritage as well. So what does he think is his most significant contribution to the legacy to the heritage of Martell?
“I think most importantly, it was to maintain this link with the consumers and to emphasize on the fact that we are a Cognac company with over 300 years of age,” he mused. “This in itself is a guarantee of quality and continuity in terms of taste of each of Martell’s products.”
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