Luxury hotels are wooing guests with exclusive wines and spirits
Ed. note: This story was reported, written, and edited prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luxury hotels know that proprietary touches establish an elevated experience for guests. From signature robes to custom-scented bath products, these exclusive amenities make a guest feel pampered. Now, some accommodations are taking this approach to the hotel bar.
Unlike a house wine, which is often an existing cuvée purchased in large quantities, or a winery’s creation that gets a special label designed for the client, these hotels have worked side-by-side with winemakers and distillers to produce a signature beverage to their exact specifications.
German Ghelfi, the executive chef at the new Mandarin Oriental in Santiago first fell in love with Chilean wine while living in Panama. When he took his new post at the Mandarin Oriental, Ghelfi saw an opportunity to make something unique from the wines that caught his attention. “We thought it was the perfect occasion to show the local culture through an exclusive Chilean wine,” he says.
Lapostolle—a Chilean winery founded in 1994 by Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle, of the family that created Grand Marnier—was his first choice for a winery partner. “I loved the philosophy and the work done there, both in the harvesting of the grapes and the complete winemaking process,” he explains. Ghelfi approached the winery with the proposal, and a partnership was formed.
As the first—and only—Mandarin Oriental hotel with its own proprietary still wine (although the Milan location has a sparkling wine as well as a craft beer), Ghelfi took a hands-on approach to the wine’s creation. “The process lasted from six to seven months until the final concept was created,” he says. “Then, we went to the vineyard to begin the proper creation of our wine. Together with the Lapostolle enologist, we made different [blends], including more than 14 varieties of wines from different years and strains, in order to arrive at the final product that was our wine.”
The small inaugural release in December 2019—which coincided with the hotel’s opening—is comprised of 8,000 bottles of Carménère red wine and 2,000 bottles of a white blend. “Given that it’s our first wine, we also wanted to see how it would do in terms of sales, so we have a better idea how to scale for future productions,” says Ghelfi.
The historic five-star Britannia Hotel in Trondheim, Norway uses an exclusive Champagne to tie the hotel’s history with its current iteration. While undergoing renovations over the last few years, the Britannia team took the time to go through archives and find elements to bring to the modern guest experience. “We found a menu from 1898 where Champagne from Maison Ayala was served as an aperitif,” explains Peter André Gjerde, director of marketing and communications for the hotel. “A small family-owned heritage Champagne house opened in 1860, Maison Ayala was one of most popular Champagnes in the United Kingdom around the time the Britannia Hotel opened.” As many of the hotel’s first guest were British lords, Ayala retained a place on the menu.
However, over time, Ayala lost its footing and production dramatically dropped in the 1990s. Big investments into the house by new owners the Bollinger family of Bollinger Champagne starting in the mid-2000s soon turned the flailing estate around. Today, Caroline Latrive—one of only three female cellar masters in Champagne—oversees all the winemaking.
“In every grand five-star hotel you want to serve a preferred house Champagne,” explains Gjedre. As the hotel, which closed in 2016 for renovations, sourced partners for other bespoke items, such as toiletries, the concept of a house Champagne took hold. Ayala’s revival dovetailed with the hotel’s transformation and given the Champagne’s presence in the hotel’s early years, the sparkling winemaker seemed a likely partner for the project.
The Champagne collaboration began in 2017, nearly two years before the hotel reopened. Gjerde, along with two other members of Britannia went to Champagne to work on blends. Seeking something that was “fresh yet delicate,” according to Gjerde, they landed on a cuvée comprised of 48% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 12% Pinot Meunier. Approximately 5,000 bottles of the inaugural Champagne were produced. Gjerde says the project has been such a success that they are currently working on a Britannia rosé Champagne together.
While a specialty cocktail is far from novel—virtually every occasion, from corporate holiday parties to weddings, has its own boozy namesake creation—a bespoke liquor is more unusual. In 2015, the Capella Singapore resort introduced its own rum.
Like Britannia’s Champagne, history played a large part in the creation. “Capella Singapore was built in the 1880s to accommodate the British officers of the Royal Artillery Coastal Defense Command based on the island,” explains Jesiah Fernando Selvarajan, supervisor and bartender at Bob’s Bar in the hotel. “Rum was served daily to the sailors as a long-standing tradition of the Navy.”
The hotel enlisted the expertise of master distiller Richard Seale of the Foursquare distillery in Barbados to aid with the creation, dubbed Navegante (Spanish for navigator).
“The drink itself is categorized as a single-blended rum, where the traditional pot still distillation method is combined with the modern-day coffey still system to produce a single distillate rum,” says Selvarajan. It’s then aged for three years in bourbon oak casks followed by five in cognac French oaks, which Selvarajan says, “creates a textured and rich flavors with fruity notes from the blending of caramel, vanilla, and peach.”
Inspired by the hotel’s history with the spirit, rum was a natural fit for the bar as well as the tropical climate.
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