“There are three crucial elements that define a vodka: the ingredients, the way it is made and the people who make it,”François Thibault, Maître de Chai (or cellar master) of Grey Goose Vodka tells visitors at Le Logis, the newly restored distillery and research atelier which is situated in a 17th century mansion in the Cognac region of France.

However, after an extensive tour, it is clear that there is a fourth crucial element that defines thisparticular vodka brand, the cellar master himself.

Thibault leads his visitors through the story of Grey Goose, providing samples of the different aged vodkas and explaining the process utilized to make the product. But it’s not until he places grey ‘Wellies’ on his feet, matching his impeccably tailored grey suit,and leads the way outside, to show the vineyards of grapes harvested in the regionon an overcast day, that the man comes to life.

Here is this incredibly busy gentleman, taking time out of his schedule to go trampling through the mud, to showhow it is done. Thibault, being a third-generation native to the region, exudes love and passion as he speaks about his homeland. He mentions his father, a wine grower, who inspires him to make cognac, and his son, who also works in the industry. He refers to them both as inspirations to create a cognac ‘to be made by a father for the enjoyment of his son.’

At that moment, it is visible to everyonethat Thibault himself is the secret ingredient to the company’s success. Developed in 1996 by businessman Sidney Frank, Grey Goose was named the best tasting vodka in the world by the Beverage Testing Institute In 1998.The company was eventually sold to Bacardi for US $2.2 billion in August 2004.

Grey Goose is the first vodka to be produced in the Maître de Chai tradition, which allows aromas to be produced in the distillation process specific to Grey Goose vodka. It is made from 100% French ingredients, including flavored versions of the vodka. For instance, Grey Goose La Poire was the result of Thibault's relationship with a Parisian pastry chef, whose pear tarte inspired the recipe for the new vodka flavor.

Thibault has refused to abandon his values, believing in the artistry and craftsmanship traditionally used in creating fine spirits. “Grey Goose could only have been conceived in France. It is where I have spent my entire working life and it is where I draw my inspiration. My experience making cognac taught me to never compromise on quality and taste and I am very rigorous in my pursuit of both,” Thibault told Hi-Europe.

The Maître believes that without the best ingredients, he would not be able to make his vodka. So, instead of using potatoes like traditional Russian vodkas, he decided to use the soft winter wheat from the Picardie region, using only the whole grain. He distills it only once,and then blends it with spring waterfrom the village of Gensac-La-Pallue, which is naturally filtered throughlimestone.

Thibault is so involved in the daily production of Grey Goose, that he must taste-test each batch of vodka before it leaves the distillery to be mixed. If it does not meet his standards, the entire vat is discarded. In the master’swords, "I can't remember the last time a batch didn't pass, but it could happen. At this point, the individuals making the vodka are experts in their field and it runs very smoothly, but one can never be too certain. Like I said, there are other elements out of my control that could effect the final product, like an ingredient that has been effected by Mother Nature. These are not things I can control, so that is why I taste every batch."

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