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Actress Emma Watson’s French gin is ‘love letter to Burgundy’

We spoke to her brother and cofounder Alex about how they are following in their father’s footsteps by producing gin in Chablis

Emma and Alex Watson were born in Paris; they use Chablis grape skins to make their gin Renais, some come from their father’s own vineyard Pic: Renais

These days it is easier to list the celebrities who haven’t launched their own brand of alcohol.

From Danny DeVito’s limoncello to Snoop Dogg’s California wine, it is lucrative business... but for actress and activist Emma Watson and brother Alex, it is deeply personal.

They recently launched Renais, a gin made using grape skins from Burgundy vineyards, “It is a love letter to Chablis and Burgundy from our family,” Mr Watson told The Connexion during a video call from his home in Oxford.

Father has produced Chablis for 30 years

Both he and his sister were born in Paris, where their father was posted to work as a barrister in the 1980s.

“My godfather – his best friend – was also working as a barrister in Paris, but was from a village called Chablis,” Mr Watson said.

“My dad was already obsessed with wine, but I think he fell even more in love with it and would spend his weekends in Chablis, fly-fishing and drinking wine. 

“After five or six years, he was able to persuade the locals he was a force for good and formed a special connection with the place.” 

It was with the help of locals that Chris Watson was able to obtain and plant his first vineyard. 

He has since acquired additional parcels and spent the last 30 years producing Chablis and, more recently, Irancy red wine at Domaine Watson.

He was even appointed one of the Piliers Chablisiens – a small group of winegrowers tasked with promoting Chablis – and is the group’s ambassador to the UK.

Read more: What you need to know before producing your own wine in France

Ritual and traditions are important

Although the family returned to the UK when Alex and Emma were children, they continued to visit Chablis two or three times a year, including for La Saint Vincent, the annual celebration of the patron saint of winemakers. 

“It’s one of those things that has always drawn me to the drinks industry. What does a drink say about the people who made it? What are their rituals and traditions? I couldn’t think of a better expression of that than the people of Burgundy.”

Alex went into the drinks industry not acting

For his sister, those visits are also a form of escapism, he said. 

“My dad is the famous one in Burgundy. Me and Ems have literally been walking down the street in Chablis and have had someone stop us and ask to take a picture of them with my dad.”

There were, of course, those who expected him to follow in his older sister’s footsteps. He did a bit of modelling as a teenager, and if you look closely during the fifth Harry Potter film, you will see him eating cereal in the Great Hall. 

“I had a brief foray into the limelight and quite quickly decided it wasn’t for me,” he said.

Instead, he went to university, and then as a fresh graduate wondering what to do with his life, returned to work on the vineyards for the summer.

Having worked in bars and restaurants as a teenager, this was the push he needed to turn his passion into a career. He has since spent a decade working in the drinks industry, most recently at multinational Diageo.

Launching Renais, then, was both a dream come true and a nod to his family’s story. 

By-product grape skins used to make gin

The base alcohol is made with by-products from the wine-making industry in Burgundy. Part of its flavour comes from pressed Chablis grand cru grapes.

“I was attracted to the passion the people display for their craft there, the pride they take in what they do.

“There is so much care and attention to detail over centuries of tradition and perfecting the way they grow the grapes, it seemed such a shame that that would be the end of the journey.”

The two siblings are co-founders, with Mr Watson more focused on the day-to-day running of the business and brand, he said.

“Ems has been amazing from a creative perspective, in terms of directing the video shoot we did, helping with the brand’s look and feel, and championing our sustainability agenda.”

Read more: What is the future of organic wine in France and do consumers care?

Emma proud of sustainable credentials

Emma Watson said: “Renais is a family project – not only does the Chablis region evoke very special memories of growing up, I’ve loved having the opportunity to create something with my brother Alex. 

“I’m particularly proud of upcycling grapes from vineyards (including my dad’s) to reduce waste and create something new.”

As well as re-using grape skins, the gin is delivered in packaging made from mushrooms and is therefore biodegradable. 

The company also offsets its carbon footprint by supporting wind farm initiatives in India, meaning the product is carbon-neutral.

The gin is available online throughout the EU, but due to greater than expected demand from France, Mr Watson said they are looking at ways to make it more widely available.

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