François Thibault is the man who created Grey Goose vodka. And that sentence alone stands for a lifetime’s achievement. Yet it took him less than a year to fully develop the idea (presented to him by Sidney Frank, Founder & CEO of the company) and give birth to their very first bottle – back in 1997. And within another year, Grey Goose was named the best tasting vodka in the world by the Beverage Testing Institute.
The son of a wine grower, François Thibault developed his passion for blending extraordinary spirits early on, joining a leading Cognac house where he received his formal instruction and apprenticed for seven years under the tutelage of a maître de chai (cellar master) until he earned the same title in 1992.
Like all the world’s greatest creators, Thibault was not content with traditional titles or existing standards. He was restless. His eye wandered from grape to grain, from the vineyards of his beloved country to the fields that had given rise to the most internationally celebrated breads and pastries, until he found inspiration for a new kind of spirit in an unlikely source: the superior wheat from the Picardie Region, known as the “bread basket” of France.
And he wanted to create the world’s best-tasting vodka. So he did. As simple as that.
“In the beginning, I was considered a maverick, even an eccentric, for trying to make vodka in historic Cognac, France, and from wheat, no less,” says Thibault. “There were many skeptics and all were waiting for me to fail, but I knew I could prove them wrong and create a product that tasted unlike anything available. Culturally, vodka was perceived as negative, a white alcohol with no soul, no face and often made from the lowly potato.”
To this day, Thibault oversees the crafting of Grey Goose vodka and personally tastes every batch. His exacting standards and artisanal touch, combined with more than 550 daily quality checks, ensure an uncompromising process from field to bottle, so that wherever it’s served, Grey Goose lives up to its reputation for exceptional quality.
“I’ve worked hard to create a spirit of outstanding quality and character,” he says. “It is the world’s best because it is made like no other and feels exceptionally smooth in a dry martini and other cocktails. People always ask me what the most important step is in the process,” he says. “And I always say, ‘All of them.’ If you want very high quality like this, every step is the most important.”
And since he invited me to Le Logis, to spend some time at the House of Grey Goose, in the Cognac region, I had the chance to not only take long strolls in the vineyards and cellars with him, but to also chat with him over lunch – about everything that has to do with his precious “baby”. And much, much more.
What is your favorite drink?
The one I consume the most is wine – over lunch and dinner. And preferrably red. Cognac is excellent as a digestive. But my favorite cocktail is Dry Martini. And Grey Goose expresses itself best in it.
With how many olives?
Oh, with one olive, please. By the way, Lucques olives (grown primarily in Languedoc, France) are my absolute favorites – they are not too salty, so they are the perfect match to Vermouth.
Imagine you were to host a private cocktail party for only five unique guests. Who would they ideally be?
I wouldn’t go for superstars – they can be too demanding and capricious. But I would love to enjoy the company of one University student, one unknown painter, one musician and two great, old friends of mine.
If Grey Goose was a woman, what would she look like?
She’d definitely be a French artist, very passionate and feminine, very elegant.
Who would you ideally collaborate with next for Grey Goose?
We have already experimented with a chef (Ducasse). We have a strong presence at all major global Film Festivals… And yet, it’s the universe of paintings and music that fascinates me. Remember that question with the private cocktail party at my house? Remember that musician and that painter? I’d love to approach them, have long talks with them, see if we have anything in common and try and work together on this project. I wonder what this would give birth to. We’d all be people who pay great attention to each tiny detail. We’d all love what we do passionately. And it’d be so inspirational…
Your favorite colour?
Green. The colour of hope.
Favorite artist of all times?
Claude Nougaro, a Toulouse born jazz songwriter and singer.
Favorite travel destination?
Because of Grey Goose, I have travelled the world, seen all continents and seas. But I am mostly fascinated by the Indian culture. And the Japanese lifestyle and cuisine. But the city I have visited the most and could actually imagine myself living there, would be San Francisco.
And where would you ideally be in –say- 20 years from now?
On a cloud. See, most of my time is spent on airplanes. And I never sleep during a flight, instead I’m usually watching out of the window, the skies. And wonder what it would feel like if I could just rest upon a cloud, maybe even throw one as a blanket on me. And sleep. And I hope that in 20 years from now I will be able to enjoy my life in a different way and that Grey Goose will be even more successful than now – but still as authentic and sincere.
[A big thank you goes out to Jean- Sébastien Mélot and his wife Nadia, the managers of Le Logis. As well as to François Thibault. For trusting me. And for making me feel at home. Looking forward to our next adventure!]