Distillery Focus

The Fruits of Ingenuity

Gin was not the predominant alcoholic beverage in history of the Robicquet family. For Jean-Sébastien Robicquet, Cognac had been the most important in his life from a young age, coming from a family that had been heavily involved in the industry for hundreds of years. His professional introduction to the world of spirits came at Hennessy, one of the global leaders in Cognac, helping the brand’s growth in the Singapore market. 

Robicquet founded spirits producer Maison Villevert in 2001, named after the 16th-century manor house in the Charente region in south-west France where it is based. At the request of Diageo, the first venture for the company was to produce a French grape-based vodka, Cîroc. Since then, Maison Villevert has produced and packaged not only Cognac and vodka, but also Tequila, vermouth, liqueurs, and gin. 

“Creative boldness is in our DNA at Maison Villevert, for gin as for all our
other creations,” says Robicquet. “We’re not just looking for a product in each category of spirits. We revisit each category to bring something different, surprising, innovative. 

“To do this, we must have strong convictions and also have a framework that allows us to feel and measure what is happening on the market – go out, travel, be curious, [and] open to everything. This is how our gins,
but also our vodkas, our Cognacs, our whiskies, our vermouths, and our Tequila
are different from other spirits that can be found on the market.”

G’Vine launched in 2006 under the Maison Villevert umbrella. The gin made waves early on as one of the first on the market to be produced from a grape-based spirit, rather than using grain. This innovative decision is said to have not only enhanced the flavours, but also emphasised the gin’s French roots. 

The first expression from the brand, G’Vine Floraison, is considered the mother of all G’Vine gins. The grape spirit – distilled from Ugni Blanc grapes, a popular Cognac variety nodding to Maison Villevert’s and the Robicquet family’s roots – is complemented with nine other botanicals including juniper, nutmeg, cubeb berries, ginger root, liquorice, lime, coriander, green cardamom, and cassia bark.

The use of vine flowers is considered to be the secret to G’Vine’s success by the brand itself. The delicately scented vine flowers are handpicked and distilled into a fragrant alcohol, before a final distillation in a still called Lily-Fleur.

The expression was previously described by Gin Magazine tasters as having aromas of sweet pear, white grape, and gooseberries, with notes of pear and white grape predominant on the palate, and a lengthy, drying finish.

For Robicquet, the production isn’t unique for the sake of it – it must also produce a unique liquid. “The first thing I try to define when designing a product is the olfactory and taste emotions that I want to create.  This is the determining factor. I categorically refuse to address the aspect of strength. I like round, subtle, and versatile products. “Secondly, I want emotion. This is what I look for. Also, I want it to have a reason, a purpose, and to be easily identified in the competitive world we live in today. I expect a spirit to be unique. It has to be differentiated from the others.”

Since G’Vine Floraison’s launch, the acclaim for the brand’s expressions has continued. Nouaison, a contemporary-style gin released in 2009 and re-launched in 2017 at a higher ABV, and the June Wild Peach and Summer Fruit liqueur are among those held in the highest regard.

When asked to choose a favourite among the G’Vine range, Robicquet is hard pressed to pick only one: “All of them. They all serve a purpose. I may favour one over the other from time to time; it very much depends on the mood, the company, and the environment you are in. Our G’Vine adventure has been an extraordinary experience for Maison Villevert… and G’Vine has inspired us to create other grape-based gins which have gone on to achieve wide acclaim – Nouaison gin, the June flavoured gins with pear and peach flavours, and more recently, we launched Nouaison Réserve gin which is aged in Cognac barrels.”

The challenge in producing new expressions for the brand has been the overall category’s enormous growth in the years since G’Vine launched. Not only are there more gins
than ever before, but more are being distributed internationally, meaning that brands such as G’Vine are competing in a variety of markets, with gins from all around the world, to stand out. 

Finding new flavour combinations while still maintaining the brand’s identity is a challenge, but Robicquet and the team are more than up for it. “When I started G’Vine over 15 years ago there were about 700 gins on the market. Today there are over 7,000,” Robicquet notes. 

“It’s very exciting, of course, but it obviously makes the competition tougher, harsher, and more motivating. Creating a product, launching it, selling it, whether it’s tasted and enjoyed, is a challenge. But the real success is durability – and that’s another challenge. In this world where everything moves quickly, our first strength is to have been – and still be today – disruptive by being the first and only gin in the world made from grapes and the vine flower. This allowed us, for example, to enter the top ultra-premium gins in the world and to take the leadership in Spain, a country that is a benchmark for gin consumption, because we brought something elegant and different.”

G’Vine’s ingenuity has been deservedly recognised in the industry through the years. In 2021, Robicquet was inducted into the Gin Magazine Hall of Fame (its first French inductee); it’s an honour reserved for those who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the gin industry and an achievement he is very proud of. A few years prior, in 2013, he was inducted into the Gin Guild, taking an oath at the industry body’s annual event in London. Both honours are a symbol of just how revolutionary G’Vine and its methods have been.

In September 2022, G’Vine took a big step into the British market with the appointment of TV personality Fred Sirieix as the brand’s first UK ambassador. Known for his appearances in Channel 4’s First Dates and one-off roles in Celebrity Gogglebox and Strictly Come Dancing, Sirieix is a familiar face in many households, and featuring in G’Vine’s advertising campaign was a great opportunity for further exposure. Upon joining the brand as ambassador, Sirieix likened himself to G’Vine, describing the gin as “smooth, also like me. I am G’Vine in a bottle!”

The appointment of Sirieix, whose natural charisma and charm make him
an incredibly popular figure, is another genius move from a brand that has almost become numb to the word. Robicquet is delighted to have Sirieix on board: “It was an obvious choice for us. There are two key connections between Fred and our objectives for G’Vine. Firstly, Fred is known for sharing high-quality food and drink products with British viewers, which is key for our awareness, and secondly, the sharing comes from a genuine passion for the south-west of France, which is both where he was born and where G’Vine is created.”

Part of Sirieix’s role with G’Vine is to create drinking experiences for its consumers as part of the brand’s wider marketing campaign Gin Your Way, designed to offer new methods to enjoy gin. For example, the Frenchman conjured up a romantic Valentine’s Day cocktail, Amour, combining G’Vine Floraison with lemon juice, red grapes, sugar, and sweet vermouth. Robicquet continues: “G’Vine offers excellence ‘à la française’ and Fred Sirieix is obviously the most well-known Frenchman in the UK on that subject. In a very busy and crowed market like the UK gin market, this partnership will give G’Vine a fantastic opportunity to be more visible and break through the variety of choice the consumer is faced with.” 

Currently the brand is on course to mark 100,000 cases, a feat which now appears comfortably achievable given the popularity and ever-growing demand across various markets. It is also the only gin currently available on the airline Air France.

While Robicquet remains tight-lipped on the product pipeline, it doesn’t take a
person of his innovation to know that whatever is next will be just daring as the expressions before it. As he concludes, the company as a whole is brimming with creativity at the moment, and there’s no limit to imagination. “G’Vine has been, for almost 20 years, a revolution in the gin category and has inspired many entrepreneurs in our industry. G’Vine is definitely part of the history of gin and as such it will last and will remain the reference of the ‘Gin de France’.”  

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