There are worse things a wine-and-spirits writer could be doing at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning than drinking Pisco cocktails in the elegant conference room of the American headquarters of Marnier Lapostolle on Madison Avenue in New York.
As I talk with the sixth and seventh generations of the family-run business, Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her son, Charles de Bournet, I am also sipping on a delicious Grand Kappa Sour. Through the glass wall, I can see the bartender preparing our next drink – a Kappa Punch – in the round bar that’s the centerpiece of the office lobby. I must keep up!
Marnier Lapostolle’s primary products have historically been the famous Cognac-based Grand Marnier and the equally famous Lapostolle Chilean wines. The family-owned business prefers to develop its own brands based on their experiences and expertise, rather than buying other companies, so there has not been rampant product proliferation.
Which is the reason they are so excited about their new Kappa Pisco, which they began pouring last year in San Francisco and which has now shaken and stirred its way east to New York.
“I studied to be an engineer,” de Bournet says, “and then became part of the worldwide leader in perfumes. But I wanted a change, so I joined a small IS company in Chile. Then my parents had a problem, and they needed my help with at the winery…” Soon he was working on a new project - Pisco.
Pisco is the big, big brandy in Chile (with a slightly different version in Peru), so it caught de Bournet’s attention as a possible product. “Eventually, we decided to apply our Cognac distilling knowledge and our knowledge of winemaking to this Chilean terroir,” he says, as well as contributing their classic Cognac pot still. “We asked what could we bring to the category?”
Five years later, Kappa was launched. It’s a beautiful Pisco, drunk neat, on the rocks or in any of the cocktails that keep showing up beside my notebook. De Bournet credits double distillation and the two grapes used to make the base wine, the Pink Muscat and the Alexandra Muscat, for its fragrance and smoothness.
The name and the bottle design (vertical black panels alternating with panels exposing clear liquid) are inspired by the Elqui Valley in northern Chile where the grapes are grown and the brandy is made. The evening skies there are so clear that several observatories are in the region, and the stars – especially the Southern Cross – are vivid to the naked eye. One of the sparklers in the Cross is Kappa Crucis, actually a star cluster known by astronomers, de Bournet explains, as the “jewel box.”
De Bournet and Lapostolle won’t say what is next, but it is reported a large number of aging barrels have been seen around the Kappa distillery.
For the moment, though, the two would be happy making Kappa the Alpha of Piscos.