Emma Watson debuts Chablis-inspired gin
Actress Emma Watson and her brother Alex Watson have launched a new gin that promises to bring ‘an elegant taste of the Chablis wine region’ to the UK.
The gin, called Renais, has been designed to capture the essence of the Chablis region’s terroir by drawing on the traditions, techniques and ingredients of the land.
Company CEO Alex, who previously held the position of on-trade customer marketing manager at Diageo, led the brand’s production process.
The siblings chose to launch the gin after being inspired by childhood trips to the family’s vineyard, Domaine Watson, in Chablis, France, which their father has operated for more than 30 years.
Speaking to The Spirits Business, Alex said: “Chablis is famed for its mineral quality provided by the Kimmeridgian and Portlandian soil shelf that it sits on top of. They’re essentially packed full of fossilised sea life which helps impart that unique mineral flavour profile to the wine.”
Renais’ base spirit is made with ‘up-cycled’ grapes – by-products from the vineyard’s wine-making process – which are distilled in small batches for quality.
“We steep the spirit in Kimmeridgian rock to create a distillate, which is then blended into our liquid and supplemented with a pinch of rock salt to help replicate that mineral and slightly saline flavour you’d pick up from a Chablis wine. It’s completely mad, and when we first tried the spirit that had been blended with the terroir, we were amazed by how much flavour it actually imparts.”
The neat spirit is then combined with the Kimmeridgian stone distillate, and then elevated with pressed organic grapes sourced from Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards, which “account for just 1% of the wine produced in the region,” Alex noted.
“We’ve also sourced our grapes from one of the only organic producers in the region, Domaine Des Malandes, which is even more important when using it as a botanical,” he added. “We collect our grapes just after they’ve been pressed for wine making — a lot of the sugar has been extracted from the grape, but it still has some incredible qualities and provides some of those middle earthy notes you can taste in Renais.”
In addition, natural botanicals such as linden flowers, cubeb berries and acacia honey are added to elevate the gin with notes of fresh citrus, white grape, garden herbs, flowers and juniper, alongside the desired minerality of Chablis.
Alex noted that Renais offers some parallels to the wines of Domaine Watson, which have “all the qualities you’d expect from a classic Chablis wine: crisp, mineral, fresh”.
“These are some of the top notes we’ve replicated in Renais,” he explained. “The special part for me is that in each bottle of Renais, we actually up-cycle some of the grapes from the vineyards my dad planted himself more than 30 years ago — so there is a very literal and direct connection to Domaine Watson, which is lovely.”
Renais has been made to be sipped over ice as well as mixed in cocktails. It is said to suit stirred-down classics such as Martinis, as well as long and refreshing Spritzes and G&Ts.
A family project
“I think [working with my family] is partly what motivated me to start a deeply personal project like Renais,” Alex explained. “Missing the connection to family, history and culture, and that’s really what drew me to working in drinks in the first place.”
While Alex has drawn on his decade-long experience working within the drinks industry to manage the brand, Emma has been “involved with everything creative”.
The Little Women actress commented: “To me, Renais is a family project – not only does the Chablis region evoke very special memories of growing up, I’ve loved having the opportunity to create something with my brother Alex.”
Alex noted how “Emma has been great at pushing us to do things as mindfully as possible, thinking about our values and our impact”.
The brand has therefore launched with sustainability at its forefront, with a commitment to caring for the land. Renais has used multiple sustainability initiatives in its production process including the use of solar-powered stills at the distillery, and utilising biodegradable mushroom packaging from the Magical Mushroom Company.
Each element has been implemented to minimise Renais’ environmental impact, and the remainder of carbon emissions are offset through the support of wind farm initiatives in India via Climate Partner, which has certified Renais as a carbon-neutral product after evaluating every step of its production process.
Emma added: “I’m particularly proud of up-cycling grapes from vineyards (including my dad’s) to reduce waste and create something new, being one of the only gins on the market using mushroom packaging, and our carbon-neutral product status. We will continue to challenge ourselves as much as possible here because this is such a passion of mine.”
Despite Alex’s drinks industry credentials, alongside his family’s 30-year tenure in the wine sector, he is aware that having his sister on board may mean Renais is regarded as ‘just another celebrity-backed spirits brand’.
“Of course I get it,” he said. “I think any time a celebrity is involved with any brand, or in this case a spirits brand, there will be an avenue of criticism that will open up. What I hope to be able to communicate is that this is something that our family has actually been doing for more than 30 years, and something I’ve made my career out of this past decade.
“Emma and I were born in France, and both did our first grape harvest when we were probably just six and four years old respectively — so this really is a lot more than skin deep.
“I also believe that it’s evident in the product itself, though. So much care and attention to detail has gone into developing the liquid with some of the best talent in the industry, so I believe that when people taste it, they will recognise how much love and thought has gone into it.”
Renais will launch its first batch in May, with only 4,000 bottles available.
The subsequent batch will follow in June, and will be available directly from www.renais.co.uk for £45 (US$56).
Furthermore, Renais will be available to order at Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London from June.