Monday, July 22, 2013

Habitation Clément: A Journey to the Center of the Agricole World part 1 cont.

Habitation Clément and Clément X.O. 
Shortly after leaving Rhumerie Du Simon, we arrive at Habitation Clément. As I step onto the grounds of  Domaine de l'Acajou, its grandeur and historic significance become clear. Perhaps it was the tall, arching trees offering shaded pathways to take in the scene under the Martinique sun. The visitor friendly, open design is welcoming and unsurfaces the urge for quiet exploration and reflection. Perhaps I was taken back by simply knowing that this is the birthplace of Rhum Clément and a place called home by the father of Rhum Agricole, Homère Clément. Perhaps it was both, considering the propensity for truth telling after taking Dékolaj earlier this morning. Regardless, a perfect start to any morning in Martinique!

Sculpture Park
Habitation Clément is the only Créole home recognized as a Historical Monument in Martinique. In 1887, Homère Clément
purchased this 300 acre plantation and pioneered Rhum Agricole from its sugar cane fields. Today this site has transformed into another sort of enjoyable experience. Botanical gardens, a sculpture park and contemporary art galleries can now be sampled in addition to the various fine rhums offered in their boutique. Although our tour provided only a brief view of the new additions, a full day here is justifiable.

I become giddy with excitement as I pass by a few beautifully ripe stalks of blue sugar cane (canne bleue) on the way to...

Canne Bleue

...a private tasting with Robert Peronet, Cellar Master for Clément Rhums.
Alright, if I must!
Clément Tasting
Left to right: Clément 6yr GR, Clément 10yr GR, Clément Single Cask, Clément Cuvee Homère
Inside the aging warehouse, the bouquet of aromas is heavenly.
Clément Tasting
We taste through the Clément 6yr and 10yr Grand Reserve first, followed by the Clément Single Cask finishing with the Cuvée Homère Clément and finally the Clément X.O. Robert discusses the different casks used in the aging of each expression. He describes the flavors introduced into the rhums from the new French Oak and re-charred once used American Oak (ex-bourbon cask). We learn that their aged rhums are bottled at 44% with good reason; the family has always preferred it that way. Who doesn't respect this sort of tradition?! The humidity and consistent temperature of 29-30 degrees Celsius (85-86 F) year round lead to a 8-9 percent loss annually (angels' share). He notes the importance of this natural process in the rhum's overall character. A perfect setting for such an intimate and informative tasting. Awesome!

Holding Vats
We pass by the location of the original distillery, old machinery relics included, en route to view the other aging cellars. There is a bust of one of the Clément family at the opening of each Chai or cellar. All but one of them are filled with oak casks aging rhum. I learn, there are 7000 barrels, each holding 200 liters, aging at present. One cellar, unlike the others, contains large oak holding vats full of rhum resting before bottling. I learn the alcohol strength of the rhum is reduced each month prior to reaching bottling proof. A gradual reduction is done to ensure the unique aromas and smoky flavors remain in the end product. Also, there is also no caramel or sugar added to the rhum per the AOC regulations. Yes, this is Rhum Agricole folks!
Paying respects to the founder!
Bust of Homère Clément


The view is as stunning as it is peaceful on our walk up to the old Créole house rising above. The sugar cane that is used to make their rhum is still grown in the fields in the distance. Also, note the banana trees (see photo) which adds to the microclimate and sustainability of the soil. Before moving on, I stop to enjoy nature's symphony coming from the gentle breeze rolling off the hills and through the leaves of palm trees and sugar cane fields. I could stay longer, but....
It's 'Ti Punch O'Clock!!!
'Ti Punch Rude

In addition to being a heritage site, important political meetings have transpired here. On March 14, 1991, French President François Mitterand hosted US President George H.W. Bush at Habitation Clément for the signing of treaties towards the end of the first Persian Gulf War. A small video detailing the meeting can be viewed here. A place of peace and good spirits indeed!

Clément V.S.O.P. inside the House of Masters 
After a few lessons in proper 'Ti Punch preparation, we visited the infamous Créole home featured on the bottles of Rhum Clément. Formally known as the House of Masters, it is filled with antiques and well worth a visit to gain appreciation for all of her colonial charm. I notice an old lamp and side table piece portraying an opened bottle of Clément V.S.O.P. and snifter giving the room a warm feeling as though people still lived there. What a fine place to have called home.

 Outside the house, under the gazebo, it became time to indulge in a digestif.
A most lovely Clément Rhum and Panatela cigar pairing!!
Clément 10yr Grand Reserve, Clément Tres Vieux 1976, Clément X.O.
 We took our time and enjoyed each moment at Habitation Clément. The 1976 Vintage is reported to be one of the finest years of Martinique. However, I could not think of a better time to taste it than with present company on this day. Island time at its best!
Clément Tres Vieux 1976 and Benjamin Mélin-Jones
To all the staff at Habitation Clément that made for a truly memorable visit,
Je vous adresse mes plus vifs remerciements!

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