In 1715, Jean Martell, a native of Jersey in the Channel Islands, decided to settle in Cognac. It would prove to be a visionary choice from a man just 21 years old.
He arrived alone in France and established a trading company, taking advantage of the British aristocracy’s newly acquired taste for the eaux-de-vie (distilled spirits) produced in the Cognac region. He built up a strong commercial network both in the Channel Islands and in England, and – thanks to his firm but fair business dealings – soon gained a reputation as an “honest lad”. He supplied eaux-de-vie which he selected himself, traveling the length and breadth of the region to meet winegrowers and distillers.
In 1737, he married Rachel Lallemand, the daughter of a prominent Cognac family. She was involved in managing the business, particularly from 1753 onwards, following the death of Jean Martell. True to the ethos of her husband, she continued to develop Maison Martell, and instilled the same passion and commitment to quality in her heirs. Henceforth, every generation would contribute to the local and international renown of the House.
Jean Martell was born in 1694 in Saint Brélade on the island of Jersey. His father, Thomas Martell, was a seaman and trader. The second youngest of a family of eight children, Jean Martell was apprenticed from the age of 12 to Lawrence Martin, a merchant on the neighbouring island of Guernsey, who trained him for seven years in the principles and workings of maritime trade.
At the turn of the 18th century, eaux-de-vie from Cognac were starting to be distributed more widely. Unlike wine, these distilled spirits did not turn sour during long sea voyages, and their taste and quality were increasingly appreciated, notably by English connoisseurs.
Guernsey, occupying a strategic position between France and England, benefited from the growing trade in eaux-de-vie. It was against this background that Jean Martell settled in France in 1715 as a commission merchant.
Rachel Martell was born on 2 February 1720 to Gabriel Lallemand, a doctor, and Rachel Richard, daughter of Pierre Richard, lord of Douzillet and counsel to the King. She married Jean Martell on 19 July 1737. The couple had nine children, only seven of whom survived.
When Jean Martell died in 1753, Rachel was 33 years old. She found herself managing the business and bringing up her children single-handed. Her oldest child was 14 and the youngest just 20 months old.
Rachel Martell proved to have a real head for business, and she was able to develop Maison Martell into a thriving concern, as well as guaranteeing a future for each of her children.
She continued the work of Jean Martell with “the same attention and loyalty, the same economy and equity”.
In 1750, with his business expanding, Jean Martell acquired the first plots of land on the site known as Gâtebourse. His descendants continued to buy land here until 1834. This enclosed terrain adjacent to the Cognac city walls was of strategic importance to Maison Martell: situated on a raised ground not far from the Charente river, it was sufficiently large to accommodate all the activities related to cognac production. In 1890, Gâtebourse was equipped with cellars, a distillery, a bottling plant, and a cooperage. Throughout the 20th century, the site expanded to keep pace with the growth of Maison Martell: the trading offices were extended in 1910, the bottling tower was built in 1928 and enlarged in 1950, and two wings were added to the trading offices in 1950.
Please do not share with anyone under 21. Drink responsibly.