Emma Watson may have made her name as an actress and activist, however she has now returned to the family business and launched a gin with her brother Alex. Called Renais, the spirit’s roots are firmly set in Chablis, where their father Chris has owned vineyards for over 30 years.
The base spirit of Renais is made through the distillation of wine grape skins and lees, with some sourced from the family’s own Domaine Watson. Kimmeridgian limestone – the basis of the ground in Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru vineyards – has been distilled and combined with the grape distillate, with the intention of expressing the appellation’s terroir. Botanicals include pressed Chablis Grand Cru grapes, 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.’
The result is a thoroughly modern gin, with floral notes of violets and spring blossom jumping out of the glass, accompanied by aromas of wet limestone, lemon and lime, thyme and clear juniper. The palate is initially soft and silky, with a clear lemon oil note before a slightly grippy, dry texture comes in on the mid-palate. Juniper, pine tree, violets and spicy black pepper are all present, before a mineral kick comes in on the finish.
It works well in a number of serves, from an aromatic G&T, through to delicate spritzes and Negronis.
The name Renais means rebirth, with a nod to sustainability through the use of salvaged grape skins. ‘Emma was very passionate about making it sustainable,’ explained Alex, with the gin also being made using solar-powered stills and coming in biodegradable mushroom packaging. 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.’
Domaine Watson consists of seven vineyards that total five hectares, with the land bought slowly by Chris with the help of his Burgundian friends. ‘I would go fishing with one of my friends all over the region, and eventually he said, “We need to find you a vineyard!” I bought my first one in 1991. My friends in the region would say to me “You’re a Burgundian who was unlucky enough to be born English!”’.
An inaugural special release of the gin is now available. The next batch will be on sale in June (£45, 70cl, 40% abv). See the Renais website.