Last week, we ventured to New York City to hear the untold story of Grey Goose vodka as part of the brand’s global, multi-platform Fly Beyond campaign. We had a chance to sit down with François Thibault, the man who created the coveted recipe behind the beloved vodka of choice for young professionals (YPs) around the world. It was US entrepreneur Sidney Frank of NYC who first identified a growing demand for premium quality spirits. He recognized the opportunity to create a unique, new super-premium vodka that would establish a benchmark in quality and taste, and sought out Thibault in this task.
François Thibault, the son of a wine grower in France, immersed himself at an early age in the craft of fine wine and spirit making. He later joined a leading Cognac house, where he received his formal instruction and began an apprenticeship of seven years under the tutelage of a Maitre de Chai, until he earned the same title in 1992.
In his quest to create “The World’s Best Tasting Vodka,” Thibault devised a recipe that would set the standard of luxury in the super premium category, something unlike anything else on the market. Something we now all know and love. His fleet, however, was met with backlash and amusement from the start from many who were critical of his attempt to create vodka from an unlikely source – soft winter wheat from the Picardie Region, or the “Bread Basket,” of France. The naysayers saw vodka as a negative alcohol made from the simple potato and Thibault, frankly, as a fool.
We caught up with the French-speaking Thibault via a translator (he tells us he is working on his English) to find out a little more about his story…
When you embarked on the creation of Grey Goose vodka, you were met with controversy and unfavourable reactions from the naysayers. How did you handle this, and was there a defining moment when you realized you had won the skeptics over?
I have to admit, at the beginning it was difficult but I didn’t care or pay attention to what they were saying about me, or how they were making fun of me – I kept going ahead with my clear objective in mind. I didn’t worry about my reputation; there was no time for that. There was a time where I felt my luck was starting to change, especially when people began to hear about the success of the brand in the United States, and would visit the Cognac region and ask specifically where the Grey Goose house was located. Now, the former skeptics cross the street and shake my hand when they see me; and this shows that my commitment has paid off. The story has a happy ending.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
I never look back – my philosophy is to look forward. The one who looks back has doubt, the one looking ahead is sure of himself and his choices.
With that said, what advice do you give your kids from a personal and professional standpoint?
I tell them to trust their instincts and to follow their heart and passions in whatever they do. No matter the career path, when you are sure about yourself and those choices, you can then trust yourself and the rest will be fine. Those who doubt their capabilities will never achieve excellence in their final objectives.
What is the most important element in maintaining the calibre of the Grey Goose brand?
It’s about attention to details, every element is important. It’s in the smallest details that make the biggest difference. The work needs to be consistent. Always. We also need to be inspired in our daily goals. We are incredibly familiar with the brand and what it represents and know what we want, and won’t compromise what it takes to get there. We don’t cut corners when it comes to preserving the calibre of the brand, or the Fly Beyond campaign for that matter.
With a background in both wine and cognac, is there ever a time that you prefer those to Grey Goose? Do different life situations call for different beverage choices?
It’s like music; when you are passionate about music in general, nothing will stop you from playing other instruments other than the one you’re the most trained at. I feel the same way about alcohol. I am passionate about wine, and definitely enjoy a good glass from time to time, but my heart is with Grey Goose. My role in quality control means I taste every batch to maintain consistency, but I couldn’t get sick of it. I have no problem with enjoying wine or other spirits though; it depends on my mood and the circumstance. I am passionate about what I do and travel a lot and in each new place I am open and curious. I want to try a bunch of wine, cocktails and spirits to develop my craft and knowledge further.
Why, in your opinion, does the Grey Goose brand resonate with young professionals?
Today’s generation of young people really impresses me because they are confident with their tastes and choices – and in what they like and don’t. They like beyond ordinary, in everything from their daily life to their travels, and crave choice and discovery. Grey Goose corresponds with what they represent. It’s reliable. We don’t have to convince the younger generation that much; through their life experiences, they realize that the brand fits. That’s why preserving the consistency of the brand is so important.
If Grey Goose were a car, what would it be?
Hmmm. I’ve never been asked that. Well, I will stay away from mentioning a brand, but it would have to be a car that represents trust and comfort.
Can you offer any parting advice for young professionals?
Trust yourself and your instincts and follow your hearts.
Images courtesy of: Grey Goose