Vodka. It’s an under appreciated spirit throughout most of the cocktail world. By design, it lacks taste and odor. Devoid of the fine complexities of a whiskey or cognac. And, in some cases, it comes in flavors like whipped cream or bubblegum. Hardly something to be taken seriously, right? Luckily, this is not the case for all vodkas. I was fortunate enough to spend the past week in the French countryside with some of America’s most influential writers and mixologists as a part of the Grey Goose Le Voyage; an excursion that completely immersed us in the brand to learn the full story of how the product is made. From the wheat fields of Picardy, to the bottling plant in Cognac.
After arriving in Paris, we hopped in our van for the two hour journey north to Picardy. Despite the jet lag, I found it necessary to keep my eyes open and take in the scenery which consisted of small villages, wheat fields and an establishment that made me think of home for a brief moment called Buffalo Grill, a popular American-style steakhouse.
We eventually turned down a long, unmarked (and very unpaved) road to our destination in Picardy, the lovely Chateau de Barive. We were greeted at the door by Grey Goose brand ambassador Ludovic Miazga. Ludo wasted little time in providing beverages, our first of which was a Grey Goose Le Fizz. The light and bubbly drink was simple and a welcome refresher after a long day of travel. Credit the use of elderflower and a splash of seltzer in giving the drink its effervescence. Basically, you’ll never see me order a vodka and Sprite again.
1 part Grey Goose Vodka: 1 Part
1/2 part Elderflower liqueur or cordial: ½ Part
1/2 part Freshly squeezed lime juice: ½ Part
Combine first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a champagne flute. Top with seltzer.
After enjoying a drink or three on the Chateau’s patio with its sweeping view of trees and lawn art, we donned our comfortable shoes and made way for the birthplace of Grey Goose vodka: the wheat fields. It was there, with our feet firmly planted in the soft soil, that we were introduced to Grey Goose Maitre de Chai Francois Thibault. Maitre de Chai means “cellar master” and is a title only given after decades of apprenticeship. It is the highest level of spirits-making expertise.
With Ludo as his translator, Francois, a former cognac maker and the honorable gent credited with the creation of Grey Goose, spoke of the importance of the superior bread-making wheat found in what is referred to as “the breadbasket of France.” This would explain the faint aroma of a patisserie that was floating in the air.
Despite the language barrier, there was no mistaking the passion for the process that Thibault possesses. They rely on strong relationships with local farmers to provide the necessary high quality grain. One such farmer, Marc Egret, was kind enough to have us over to his nearby home for refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. There we sat at a wooden picnic bench in Egret’s large backyard under the French sky, while Ludo whipped up a few cocktails that featured fresh, muddled raspberries and homemade simple syrup. Side note: colors seem much more vivid in France. The sky is a deeper blue, the clouds are fluffier. But that could just be the booze talking.
1 part Grey Goose Vodka
2 parts lemonade
1/2 part simple syrup
Muddle fresh raspberries and combine ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Serve in a tall glass over ice and garnish with a raspberry.
Thus concluded our first day on Le Voyage. We returned to the Chateau to eat, imbibe and rest up for our next full day of adventuring. So… stay tuned for that.