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As clear as crystal Enfant terrible or one of the new innovative standard bearers of the Irish whiskey industry?   Mark Reynier’s characteristic bluntness and ability to ruffle feathers both in Scotland and now here in Ireland have set him apart from his contemporaries for years but just what is it that drives this man to eschew the accepted norm in an industry which has remained unchanged for decades now on both sides of the Irish Sea? Sometimes in life, to fully understand where somebody is going, one needs first to explore where they have come from and what influences have shaped them during the course of their lifetime, and this is certainly true of Waterford distillery’s new owner. Mark Reynier’s grandfather immigrated to London from the South of France in 1902 and took in barrels of wine from the region so that he would have something from home to drink in a foreign land and this took off as a business based in Pimlico. His enterprise was located around the French wine houses and restaurants such as Chez Solange and Beau Destagne which he dealt with on a wholesale basis and it grew from that point. London, and Soho in particular, were very Bohemian at that time; there was a lot of political upheaval in Europe and he tapped into the needs of the émigrés who were making the area their home. He imported the wine in casks and bottled this himself and became a ‘wine shipper’ or importer. In 1947, Mark’s father took over the business after the war under the name of J. B. Reynier. During the 1950s and early 60s, the strength of London bottling grew as the French didn’t bottle wine themselves. A sort of independent bottler in the wine industry at that time. However, in the 1960s, there were a couple of wine scandals in London where companies were bottling and labelling stuff (the wrong wine in the right bottle, the addition of unsuitable ingredients, unreliable labelling, etc.) and so at this time, the French decided to start bottling their own wine to ensure quality control, and to export this. Not a whole lot different to what happened in the whiskey industry here with regard to whiskey bonders in Ireland in reality. At that point, London wine bottling ‘fell out the window’. In the 1970s and 80s, the whole wine trade was changing and when Mark left school at 18, he joined a struggling enterprise and became heavily involved in the wine business and started out labelling and cleaning bottles and vatting the wines which they owned. The business was eventually sold to a brewery company called Eldridge Pope & Co. around 1982. Interestingly, Eldridge Pope was a regional business in Dorset who had their own cellars and used to blend their own whiskey, some of which included Highland Park and Clynelish. Mark worked with them for a period vatting the whiskey but eventually left and set up his own wine company in 1985 where he  shipped wine from the Burgundy region. Mark had visited the vineyards previously with his father and they would have tasted and then ‘chalked up’ the barrels they wanted and had them shipped back to London. He noticed a significant change at this time as all of the small producers were now bottling their own wine which they hadn’t done before. This was previously done by 6 or 7 large operations. This was part of a transformation of the whole vineyard sector. It was at this point that Mark realised the whole significance of barrels and their impact on what they contained. Winemakers started adapting barrels and wood types to the types of wine which they were producing and also experimented with the different yeasts available to them. This would be the beginning of his understanding of terroir. At this moment in time, the famous wine critic, Robert Parker encouraged people to make wine properly and Burgundy in particular. It was also coincidentally enough at this time that single malt whiskey really started to take off with organisations like the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society (SMWS) pushing the growth with their single cask, cask strength releases. As a result, Mark also wanted to sell spirits, but this would have put him in direct competition with everyone else who was doing this. He then discovered an independent bottling firm called Cadenhead and stocked their whiskey for a while. During the first oil crisis in the 1970s, a lot of smaller distilleries had closed as it was more efficient to keep the bigger ones open and then the second oil crisis arrived in 1979 and lasting into the mid-eighties, was possibly a catalyst for the single malt whiskey trade and independent whiskey bottlers. Glenfiddich and Macallan had led the way selling single malt whiskey for some time but other distilleries had more stock than they could now use and disposed of some of this from previously closed distilleries from the 1960s and 70s. Mark had decided to set up his own independent whiskey bottler and called this Murray McDavid, named after his Scottish grandparents. According to Mark, this time period was ‘like Christmas with distilleries falling over themselves’ to get rid of excellent stock which was 15/20 years old. In 1985 single malt whiskey accounted for 0.1% of whiskey sales, now that figure is 16%. Interestingly, Mark doesn’t believe in single cask releases. He makes the argument that one doesn’t buy a single barrel wine but instead buys a wine which has been ‘vatted’ with other similar barrels.   - "A single barrel is a snapshot and is not representative…a piece of film equals a bottling, one frame equals a single cask,’ is his motto" -      Indeed, the only single casks ever made available in Bruichladdich distillery (his previous enterprise) are the valinches (50cl bottles) which visitors fill on-site from a cask themselves. He also reckons that with the current demand for whiskey and the distilleries need to hold onto the whiskey themselves to meet that demand, the chances of getting a ‘duff’ single cask are getting ever higher. Waterford distillery will not be selling single casks to anyone.     The newly formed Murray McDavid acquired a lot of this single malt whiskey which the distilleries were getting rid of and vatted and bottled it themselves. This whiskey was initially put on the market by the large distilleries in parcels of perhaps 100 casks and the purchasers took what they wanted from it and then put the remainder back on the market again. This turned out to be a success and led him, together with his partners to purchase Bruichladdich distillery in 2000. Reynier had first tasted Bruichladdich as a result of a strange quirk of fortune. He was visiting the London Wine Fair in 1985 just prior to starting Murray McDavid and was fortunate to win a bottle of Balvenie 50-year-old worth 1,000stg (the current incarnation of this bottle costs 27,500stg) in a tombola from a man called Jack Milroy who owned Milroy’s of Soho. When Mark went to claim his prize a couple of days later, he was offered a few cask samples to taste. He wasn’t a whiskey drinker at that time but felt obliged to try what was on offer. He felt that a lot of them were nothing special but then tasted a Bruichladdich sample. This whiskey had elegance, finesse, balance and harmony and everything one would look for in a great wine’. At this point, he resolved to find out who made this spirit. Nobody at that time was selling Bruichladdich and he finally discovered that the distillery was owned by Invergordon who hardly knew that had it in their portfolio. He managed to acquire some cases and sold them over a period of time up to 1989. At this point, he decided that he had to visit the distillery on Islay and convinced his brother to come with him under the guise of playing golf on all of the islands in West Scotland and to do so by bicycle. They started in Troon with 5 golf clubs each tied to the crossbar and eventually arrived on Islay. The distillery was shut down, rust everywhere, plants growing out of gutters with a big padlock and chain and a sign saying, ‘Plant Closed No Visitors!’. Reynier was deflated as this wasn’t what he expected at all. He had envisioned an experience similar to the ones he had at the vineyards in France, a warm welcome with open arms and the sign with ‘Plant’ as opposed to the distillery was a nail in the coffin. He was spotted by a security guard who gruffly inquired what he wanted and when Mark responded that he wanted to take a look around and take some pictures, he was told to F*** off in no uncertain terms. Discouraged, he went back to London and was going to forget the whole thing. However, he then decided to try further and write to Invergordon to assure himself that he had tried to do all that he could to acquire the distillery. He did this every January for ten years and during that time, Invergordon was acquired by White & MacKay who were themselves acquired by Beam International. Having submitted his first request to Beam, one can imagine his surprise when they responded in the affirmative by stating that ‘if you can prove that you have the wherewithal, go ahead and make us an offer.’ Essentially, the bank and his partners loaned him the money based on the value of the stock of whiskey in storage there and so they acquired the whiskey with the distillery thrown in for free. On December 19, 2000, he acquired 1.1m litres of Bruichladdich whiskey and paid market value for it. He then subsequently proceeded ‘to take an independent bottler’s philosophy to the whiskey stock.’ He describes the day when the sale closed as the best and worst in his life. The worst because he was 3 minutes from losing the deal and the best because his son Ruari was born that afternoon! The rest is history. So, what brings Mark Reynier to Waterford? Mark Reynier’s vision for his new distillery in Waterford, located on the banks of the
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