It's been a over year since we arrived in this famous area and we had yet to visit a Cognac House. With a good friend visiting from Calgary, we finally made a go of it and it was well worth the afternoon.
Of course all the big Cognac houses offer elaborate tours of their property and museum like set ups, which usually draw huge crowds in the summer season. Bus loads of tour groups. When you live here though, inevitably you run into someone who knows someone in the industry in some form of capacity who will give you a more personalized tour.
You can also follow the road signs when driving around to smaller distilleries and get exciting insight into this world famous industry. We took up our trusted realtor's offer from a year ago to show us a couple of places to see how the product is made and brought to market.
First off, we went to see his brother in law, who is a contract distiller for Hennessy. Since four generations. Let me spare you the technical details, but tell you more about the passion of these smaller producers. M. Mitterrand spoke very very fast, but overall I got the story which was peppered with comments about Catholics and Protestants in the area, how 97% of Cognac is exported (over 2 Billion....), how and where it all started and his family's contribution to it all.
Pure passion, as he explained the technical details and the chain of production.
You won't get that speech at Courvoisier......
Since Mister Mitterrand is a distiller only, we had to go to another place to actually see the process of ageing the Cognac and the all important tasting of it.
Monsieur Lave's brother happens to be another fourth generation Cognac maker, who used to produce it all himself from grapes to bottle as he explained, but as he is nearing retirement he since sold his vines, however he still has 5 Chais full of Cognacs of various ages that he now sells by the bottle. His "true pension", he called it.
If I thought the distiller was passionate, I was in for another level of enthusiasm, as M. Lave was telling us how when he was very very young he filled some special barrels with his father that he made us taste.
A Cognac, that was put into oak barrels in 1942, then bottled some 60 years later in 2003. That's 22 years older than me. He explained the special way he prefers to distill his grape juice, which makes it more subtle, less aggressive than many other distillers who focus on volume, volume, volume. All makes sense. Small batch production.
My taste buds are not refined and experienced enough to give you a full lowdown of the notes and flavors of his 60 year old Cognac, but I can tell you that it did not burn my throat as so many other pure alcohols do.
So when you come to the area, try to find a smaller producer for a better tour and needless to say, a much more attractive price on premium products. While you won't get a Baccarat bottle with your 60 year old Cognac, or won't be able to brag that this is P. Diddy's favorite Cognac, you will save the equivalent of a couple of transatlantic air line tickets by buying from a smaller Cognac House. In Business class.....
TWO FAMOUS NAMES IN THE AREA
NICE SET UP
FIRE IN THE HOLE
THE PERCENTAGE MEASURE THINGY
CHARTS AND NUMBERS
EAU DE VIE FROM VARIOUS DATES FOR QUALITY CONTROL
GIANT UNDERGROUND TANKS
CAN I BUY THIS?
MONSIEUR MITTERrAND AND HIS BARRELS
USED WINE STORAGE FOR RECYCLING
48 HECTOLITER OF AGING COGNAC IN EACH BIG BARREL
BREAKDOWN OF WHO GETS WHAT PER BOTTLE
MONSIEUR LAVENAT AND HIS PRODUCTS
BARREL AGED COGNAC SINCE 1942, PUT IN DEMI JOHNS IN 2003
CHAD AND THE COGNAC MAKER