On hearing that Emma Watson is releasing a gin, you could be forgiven for rolling your eyes and saying, “Not another celebrity spirit launch”. But the thing with this release is that it’s actually not just another celebrity vanity project; it is a gin that has deep roots in Watsons family’s business, the French countryside and the environment that sustains it.
Called Renais, or “rebirth” (and pronounced like “Renée”), this expression is the brainchild of Watson’s younger brother Alex and utilises the grapes that are grown in their father’s vineyards in Chablis.
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Alex, who has worked with brands such as Tanqueray gin, Ketel One vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky, decided to turn waste into gin and create a spirit that is not only smooth and complex but also certified carbon-neutral.
The idea behind Renais is to take the skins of grand cru grapes that are often discarded for use as animal feed or fertiliser and instead repurpose them to flavour the gin. In other words, it is an upcycled spirit that is as much French (from the organic grapes grown on the family’s vineyards) as it is English (where the gin is distilled).
The Chablis area of France is famed for the unique mineral flavour profile of the grapes (and, subsequently, the wine produced there) due to the Kimmeridgian and Portlandian soil shelf packed full of fossilised sea life.
“My dad first planted our vineyards more than 30 years ago whilst working as a barrister in Paris”, explained Alex Watson. “It’s a nod to our production process, upcycling French wine grapes, but it also as a continuation of my family’s legacy and a new interpretation of the traditions and rituals of a region,” he continued.
The spirit is a combination of a Kimmeridgian stone distillate, which is then elevated with the use of pressed organic grape skins sourced from Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards. Additional Botanicals include linden flowers, cubeb berries and acacia honey.
‘It certainly isn’t the easiest way to go about making a gin,’ declared Alex at the intimate launch. ‘I wanted to do something that no one had ever done: to capture the essence of a specific terroir, the uniqueness of Chablis, by drawing on the traditions, techniques and ingredients from the land, and embodying those characteristics in a gin.’
With floral notes of violets and spring blossoms, the gin has an aroma of wet limestone, lemon and lime, thyme and clear juniper. The palate is soft and silky, with notes of lemon oil and a definite minerality to the finish.
And what’s Emma Watson’s role in all this? As well as being a shareholder in the business, she describes her role as a creative partner, overseeing the imagery, the design and the art direction for the brand.
‘Emma was very passionate about making it sustainable,’ Alex explained to Decanter. The gin is made using solar-powered stills and comes in biodegradable mushroom packaging. The remaining carbon emissions are offset through wind farm initiatives in India.
‘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,’ said Emma. ‘I’m particularly proud of upcycling grapes from vineyards – including my dad’s – to reduce waste and create something new.’