Anne-Claire Delamarre has been in the wine industry for almost half her life. She started in 2001 within the Hennessy house, in charge of a cognac. Then she moved to the New York and was part of the team that sold two million cases—a milestone in those circles. She then moved to France, then to Latin America, Middle East and now Africa as the general manager for Eastern Africa and Arabian Gulf for Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (LVMH), the french multinational luxury goods conglomerate. She met JACKSON BIKO at Adlife Plaza, a small cozy and artsy office lined with an impressive collection of bottles upon bottles of Dom Perignon, Moët & Chandon, Hennessy, Krug, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.
I didn’t know Glenmorangie is part of your brands. Quinta Ruban is easily my favourite.
Ah, Glenmorangie is one of our brands and is a fine whisky.
Tell me something I don’t know about it.
They were one of the first distilleries to create a special concept around the cask for aging whisky. The distillers went to the US to find the best oak to age this whisky and it took them many years to get the right one. Also they are the first distilleries to finish aging in a different cask from the traditional cask.
What have you learnt about selling these drinks in Africa?
I’ve learnt that we need to educate people. This market has a strong imagery associated to shopping. There is need to break down the different drinks and why they are the way they are.
Talking of education; I can never tell the difference between sparkling wine and champagne. How can you make sure that you aren’t served sparkling wine when you ordered for a glass of champagne?
It’s palate. But first, of course, champagne only comes from a very small region in France. So it’s quite a rare product. You cannot find it as often as you do with sparkling wine. Champagne has the finest of taste, it has the aroma and the after-taste that you can keep in your mouth for much longer than any sparkling wine. But also, there are some very good sparkling wines.
So none is superior to the other?
Well, you have sparkling wine produced the same way as champagne. However, the difference comes from the region. Champagne comes from north of France, a region with very cold weather, making it very crisp and fruity. You don’t find all these characteristics in sparkling wine. Also, champagne has to be the aged for a minimum of two years. But sparkling wine is never aged.
You are 40 now, what’s been your most uplifting moment so far?
(Pause) I would say the birth of my three children. But I have also had a lot of achievements in my career. It’s been adventurous.
After seven months in Kenya, what would you describe as the spirit of Kenya?
I had read a lot about Nairobi before coming, but I was surprised at the spirit in this city. It’s full of energy, you actually feel like people want to prosper, they just seem to want to move forward fast. And Kenyans are very educated.
Kids love it here?
Yes. Back in Paris we used to live in a tiny place, but now we have a big house. They love nature, it’s relaxing and the neighbourhood is good. I really like it.
They say that the expatriate life in Kenya is one of the best...
Because you get a garden and a cook and a driver and stuff…
(Laughs) It’s a lovely place. But let me say that in France we don’t have enough information on Kenya, I guess because it’s not a Francophone. Maybe that can change and more of us will come down for holiday or whatever, because indeed it’s a surprisingly beautiful place.
Did you grow up in a small town in France or you are a city girl?
I grew up in the farm in Brittany. I grew up in the house where my dad was born...and he also grew up there. (Laughs). He still lives there. My father really never left France and I wanted to see the world, to travel since I was 10. At 16, I went to the US for a summer job. I wanted a job I could travel. My father is very proud of what his children have done, moving around, you know. He didn’t want us to have the same life.
They is an adage that travel opens your eyes, your mind and your thinking. Do you find it true?
(Pause) I think it’s the willingness to learn. It’s how you want to adapt with the people and your surrounding.
Because you can live in a country and be so closed up you remain completely clueless about that country…
Exactly. It’s curiosity. How curious are you to unlearn what you think you know?
I’m a curious person so naturally when I go somewhere I will want to know.
How much drink is too much?
As long as you are still behaving normally and control yourself. Of course when you party, you want to uplift a little bit, but then you have to be responsible for what you do.
Who is the one person you would like to meet for drink?
What would you ask him?
I think he probably didn’t do all he wanted to do because of politics. I would ask him what he would do differently if he was to be given a second chance. I would like to hear his mistakes and what he learnt from them.
When was the last time you got drunk?
(Laughs) When I was in college.
How do you unwind?
I run. I do a collective of 10 kilometres in a week. In fact, I’m going for Lewa Marathon. I can’t wait.
Is there a difference between cognac and brandy?
They both come from grapes, but cognac can only be produced in Cognac, a region in France. Brandy can be produced anywhere else and it has no legislation in production. For cognac, you have to use French oak and it has more regulations.
What’s the one thing you would want your kids to learn from you?
To be open minded and hard work.
What do you fear the most?