I've met Raphaël Grisoni, Managing Director of Mount Gay rum, on a few occasions and bugged him for an interview for some time. There are a couple of reasons why I asked him. First, because Mount Gay is a fascinating company that makes excellent rum in one of the greatest places on Earth. Second, because I've seen a lot of people writing things like "Why do we never hear from Mount Gay when it comes to the Barbados GI process?". Now you have.
Can you please provide a quick introduction of yourself?
I am Raphaël Grisoni, father of 4 children, French from Marseille living in Barbados for 12 years now. I worked in the wine and spirit industry since out of business school. From Scotch whisky to champagne, to the Remy Cointreau portfolio and Rum. I always worked in small or family companies where the vision of a man/woman and/or a family propelled the company forward. It is what I like in this industry: the people side. People with passion for their art (distilling or wine making is an art for me not only pure chemistry or purely scientifically done) and respect for nature, as wine and spirit remain agricultural products that depend on mother nature. It gives a sense of humility of what we are doing. It is also an industry that supplies pleasure and emotions to people and I like that too.
My other point of interest for this industry is the heritage and how research and development lead to better quality products. Think about the introduction of the double retort in pot still distilling in the Caribbean or the discovery of the second fermentation in the bottle in the case of champagne. For the last 5 years, fermentation and research with specialists and agronomists is what lead us to introduce our proprietary yeast coming from our direct environment of our plantation surrounding our distillery in St Lucy, Barbados.
How do you feel the rum industry has changed since you started working at Mount Gay?
I’ve joined Mount Gay Distillery in 2008 as its managing director based in Barbados. The industry changed thanks to consumers and some key players in the rum industry. First the consumption is evolving and as it happens with Single Malt, Bourbon/American Whiskey, Japanese Whisky etc.. the consumer is looking for more information and more quality on the product he drinks, how it is made, by who (literally the name of the person who makes it) etc. It pushes the industry, at least for some, to be much more transparent on those elements, as before it was never asked or very occasionally. What was a connoisseur speech became and is becoming more the norm.
This phenomena is also valid for food and everything that is touching our human bodies (cosmetic, perfumes etc..). On the other hand some rum makers, like us, were already starting to communicate on the process and the points of uniqueness of their products as well as how to drink it and enjoy it. What also changed is the scenery, with many more new rum brands and players from independent bottlers to “fabricated” brands.
There has been a lot of talk about a Geographical Indication for Barbados rum recently. Why is this GI so important for the people of Barbados and why for Mount Gay?
The Barbados Rum Geographical Indication is a good opportunity to set up rules reflecting the Barbados Rum tradition. Not all the trails that were experimented during more than 300 years by all distilleries, but by what, after those years, distillers in Barbados perfected and what Barbados rum is famous for. The GI leaves ample room for innovation and leaves room for total disruption in giving freedom to do so outside the GI. It is also important as it will give a legal framework that could be enforced in Europe leading to compliant rums and avoiding drift to products that are really far from Barbados quality standards.