Times have rapidly changed in the space of the past decade. I remember speaking to a chemical supplier in Australia some years ago about my aspirations to launch a perfume range and the supplier told me point blank I couldn’t do it, “It’s very difficult, you will fail” he said. Many cultural analysts tell us we are now living in an age of the ‘betapreneur’; a new generation of entrepreneurs that are daring, risk-friendly, small-scale, highly responsive and in continual development.
Emerald Vintners Parfums (EVP) is a new Australian perfume brand that has responded to their calling amidst a rising increase in niche perfumery. Speaking with Brendan and Samuel the brand founders, I could see there has always been inkling towards aromas. The EVP perfumers began their journey in winemaking, a science that overlaps the realm of olfaction much more than one would think.
What I enjoyed about their story was that they were simply a couple of guys, winemakers living in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia and they wanted to share their story with the world through the medium of perfume. Instead of going the normal route of submitting a perfume brief to a marketing team and a perfumer, they learnt to create perfumes themselves.
The result is a newly launched line of three perfumes available at:
WMSSL: So take me back to the start of your story. What came first in your mind? Winemaking or perfumery?
EVP: We began studying Viticulture and Oenology (Winemaking) before branching out into Perfumery in our second year of study. However, Brendan had some prior experience with the fragrance industry in France. It is though, a prerequisite that budding young winemakers have an interest in all things olfactory prior to commencing studies, so it may be more of a ‘chicken or egg’ situation. We’d like to think perfumery in its widest definition, determined our path to pursue winemaking.
WMSSL: What are the links between winemaking and perfumery, is there any cross over of skills?
EVP: How long is a piece of string?! There are multiple parallels that may be drawn between Winemaking and Perfumery. In fact, for 6 months, we both sat in a classroom learning about Alpha ionone, Beta-demascenone and Phenethyl Alcohol, all incredibly common aroma molecules in perfumery. The ability to create accurate descriptors that reflect the distribution of aroma molecules in a wine, is critical for the winemaker to properly conduct impartial evaluation. The difficulty becomes compounded when dealing with very complex scents, created through the interaction of multiple precursors. To date, this ’cause and effect’ of aroma molecule complexes are largely misunderstood in the wine industry.
This is where we’ve ‘cross-pollinated’ our education with the skills of perfumery, an industry that has spent many generations studying these intricate complexes. Creating scents that do not occur in nature, but reflect a place, memory or emotion. This has drastically complemented our skill set as winemakers. We are now working towards being able to impartially evaluate complex scents in wine and be able to identify what ‘mix’ of aroma molecules, in their varying amounts causes that scent, on the fly. Unfortunately, a GCMS machine can only get you so far. The next step is seeking how to achieve control (emphasise or diminish) these aromas in wine, through viticultural or oenological technique.
WMSSL: This is an interesting point. I visited M. Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley last year and they had us tasting wine and matching it to perfume samples. I found it intriguing how a peach could end up in a bottle of wine, but your explanation puts it all into perspective; winemakers use their perfume vocabulary to interpret a molecule that naturally exists in the wine, connecting it to something in the world, the person reading the label would understand. Is the way you evaluate wine very different from the way you evaluate perfume?
EVP: Well we use the same equipment! It’s very similar. Winemakers are often given some strange looks when evaluating wines, describing them by similar scents (Strawberry, Mocha, Violet). Then we often get asked whether these things are actually in the wine. Surprisingly, the answer is ‘kind of’. If someone smells bruised apple in their wine (often in Riesling/Gewurtztraminer/Aged Semillon), they’re usually smelling beta-demascenone. This molecule also happens to occur in high concentrations in the airspace around an actual bruised apple. Human beings are all ‘wired’ the same, it’s simply a memory-descriptor-molecule association. This is where perfumery seems to have an edge on winemaking, because perfumery lends itself to an impartial evaluation of the building blocks of scent, as opposed to the ‘this reminds me of’ loose evaluation in the wine industry.
Of course, evaluation of fragrance and perfume has different logistics, you consider different notes, and specify right through the dry-down in fragrance. There are also different mediums, ethanol as a carrier solvent, oil-based, solid perfume, candles…or (one of our favorites) infused agar wood chips! Different delivery methods achieve different goals.
Regarding wine, you also need to consider the palate, which allows you to jump the wine up a few degrees in the mouth, and aerate it, causing a different spread of volatile aromas to be detected retro-nasally (the passage from the back of your mouth, to your nose, passes the olfactory bulb). Do yourself a favour and find yourself a really strong mint (Fisherman’s Friend), hold your nose whilst putting it in your mouth. Swirl it around for 10 seconds, taste anything? Let your nose go whilst keeping the mint in your mouth…fragrance IS flavour. Evaluation of fragrance allows us to better understand flavour too!
Furthermore, the design of the glass also impacts how the volatiles are detected, and at what concentration. Have a look through the Riedel catalogue, different glasses for different styles/varieties of wine. This is comparable to choosing what sprayer, the dosage and the atomisation we use in fragrances. The delivery method is paramount.
WMSSL: I have heard a number of sales people sell perfume on the premise that the perfume will work with a person’s body chemistry and magically change to become the buyer’s own individual scent. I think this is where your comment on different delivery methods comes in to play. I’m still not a believer that a perfume will change based on it’s wearer. I prefer to see it from the perspective that perfumes are complex things, filled with many facets. Different delivery systems and vessels, i.e skin, bring out different facets creating the illusion the fragrance has changed… some one is simply observing the perfume from a different angle. What motivated you and both to join forces and create a perfume range?
EVP: When we first began exploring the world of perfumery, it became apparent that we stumbled across a way to convey our experiences and memories in fragrance-form. It was the purest form of olfactory artistic expression. We get one chance a year to use our noses to directly impact the quality of wine (sometimes two times a year if you’re lucky). We get to challenge our noses on a daily basis, in front of a perfumery organ.
One of the overarching concepts in wine is to be able to convey a ‘sense of place’ in the resultant product. Have the wine speak of where it comes and set it apart from wines from other areas. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, and some of the best wines are great expressions of their place (Henschke’s Hill of Grace, Wendouree, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – La Tache). The French know this as ‘Terroir’
We found that we could express our sense of place, the Adelaide Hills, with reverence and inspiration from wine regions around the world, in fragrances. The chief motivation for our Inception Range was to challenge ourselves, and also showcase our beautiful part of the world. It has helped us really understand our own ‘Terroir’ and how to properly express it.
Now, we’re drawing on other, more artistic expressions for other fragrances in the pipeline!
WMSSL: Terroir, what a great concept for a fragrance! Tell me about Brix, Baume and Dosage. What do these perfumes say and how did you envisage them being appreciated by their wearers? Did you have a target audience in mind?
EVP: First and foremost we believe that scent, by nature, is unisex. We’ve tried to avoid masculine vs feminine with our fragrances. Although there are some scents that may fit the stereotype, we certainly wish them to be enjoyed for the scent primarily, and its artistic expression.
Brix really conveys the experience of walking through the citrus trees in the Adelaide Hills, during a summer’s day. This is the area that Sam grew up in. Brendan had spent a lot of time on the Amalfi, around the Isle of Capri, inspiration was also drawn from the Citrus trees of this area, something that one of our favourite fragrance houses, Carthusia, also utilise. We really wanted to create a citrus with a confectionary, almost caramelised feel. We were thinking ‘limoncello’ on this one. Sweet, yet sharp. We really envisioned this as a morning scent, to be enjoyed before going to work, perhaps in the office, fresh yet not offensive. It is a bright scent with intensity.
Baumé was inspired by brisk strolls through the cherry farms in the Adelaide Hills in a springtime morning, whilst the mist diffused through the blossoming branches. This scent was our ‘statement of intent’. Not fitting into any individual ‘mould’ or ‘category’ of fragrance, our aim was to scientifically approach the concept of sillage in perfumery. We studied the chemistry behind the creation of sillage in various perfumes with an aim to create a ‘sillage monster’, whilst still conveying the specific experience we were targeting. This required much re-blending, as the creation of sillage can often come at the detriment of the perfume’s attaque. We’re envisioning this enjoyed before a day out in the woods, frolicking along the seaside or taking an open-top drive through the Alps. It’s a scent of adventure. Of all the fragrances, this lends itself to a ‘feminine’ category, being a stronger white floral.
Dosage was inspired by autumn in the Adelaide Hills, the late blooming florals, the deeper amber-like intensity indicated by the yellow-orange of the surrounding woods and the natural musk generated by the elevated humidity. We find that in many parts of Australia, the changing of the seasons goes by unnoticed. The Adelaide Hills is one of those places where spring and autumn seem to drag on, and on. We wanted a fragrance that conveyed the intensity, of colour, of fragrance and substantivity of this particular season. We see this as being appreciated by the middle-aged male, in the evening of a cold, wet night, coupled with the warmth of a cigar and the vanilla-drive of a fine scotch. The musk also lends itself to a more refined mature woman. This is a true unisex scent. We’ve had all demographics go for this fragrance, even some we never considered!
WMSSL: It was certainly an ambitious project. From the point of creation, this I am sure was no easy task to do. Were there any technical challenges that arose during the creation phase and if so, how did you overcome them?
EVP: Absolutely, being one of the select luxury perfumers in Australia, we’re faced with issues of sourcing ingredients, packaging, processing equipment etc. There are also issues of quality control. In many cases, we simply had to pay the premium to get things from Europe or direct from the source (UAE, Egypt etc).
There’s also issues of knowledge base, being winemakers didn’t necessarily qualify us as perfumers. It just gives us a sound chemistry background in sensory science. The logistics of artistic fragrance creation are much more complex than any chemical concept. The only way to overcome this is through numerous trials undertaking a scientific approach. This is precisely why it has taken almost 2 years to craft three individual scents.
Baumé was a prime example of how we utilised our chemistry background to emphasis a single perfumery concept. This doesn’t necessarily mean we were creating something that was appealing to a consumer, nor did it come close to conveying our emotions and experiences. Much time was spent on Baumé to ensure we were achieving our original goal.
Then there are all the logistical challenges that every perfumer has: Atomizer size, dosage rate, regulatory guidelines, skin type, universal acceptance of scent quality. The list is seemingly never-ending. It certainly helps to have a mate side-by-side enjoying the trials and tribulations with you! I think this is largely why there are so little dedicated perfumers, it’s a big job following a fragrance from concept to final product.
WMSSL: To be this driven to complete the project I am sure you must have had a point of reference. Have you always had an interest in perfume? Are there any perfumes or perfumers you identify as influential on your style as a perfumer?
EVP: We believe that you have to have some interest in the olfactory arts before possibly wishing to pursue a four-year degree in Winemaking. We certainly had an interest in perfume and fragrance. We were even attuned to the broader sense of fragrance in the world around us; food, wine, the natural world etc. As inspirations, we’ve always enjoyed the works of Jean-Claude Elena (the Citrus King in our books), Maurice Roucel (Confectionary Genius), Ben Gorham’s Minimalist Style and Andy Tauer for his non-conformity.
WMSSL: How would you describe your style at this point in time?
EVP: Expressive and Classic. Although, we’ll be ‘mixing’ it up in the near future!
WMSSL: Are there plans to launch a men’s fragrance?
EVP: Not to be contrary to our previous statements regarding fragrance as a naturally unisex concept, we are releasing a very ‘masculine’ scent in the next two weeks! A limited release, only 40 signed bottles named ‘Terroir’…a frankincense, earthy, oak moss-drive enveloped with cedar and vetiver!
WMSSL: Sounds earthy indeed! What should men smell like?
EVP: Confidence in Honour. Any scent that inspires this in a man, is a scent worth wearing. Be it Rose, Lavender, Oudh or Oak Moss.