When we were in Charente visiting M&D for New Year we wanted to do something one day that wasn’t weather dependent but that we would all enjoy – so we decided to arrange a tour of the most famous and successful Cognac maker in the region – Hennessy.
My parents live about 20km from Cognac and even though they have lived there since April 09 had not yet been on one of the tours of the various houses since doing so in the 70s.
We arrived by the river Charente at the House of Hennessy and were met by Sabine who was to be our tour guide. As it’s winter they do not have a timetable of tours but you can phone up to arrange a tour at any time during their opening hours – from April to October then run tours throughout the day and you can book them on line. We chose to tour Hennessy for two reasons: firstly it is right on the river in Cognac and secondly it is the largest.
Hennessy was created by Irishman Richard Hennessy in 1765 after serving as a mercenary for King Louis XV. Hennessy now have over 40% of the world market share of Cognac and is part of the luxury good group LVMH.We took a short boat ride across the Charente and entered the tour museum. Sabine explained, in perfect English, where the grapes came from, how they were picked and then distilled into Eau de Vie. How the barrels were made and how they could be used and how long for. We then went into a second warehouse that was full to the brim of barrels from different years, going back to the 1800s. The first thing you notice when you enter the warehouse is the smell, that sweet alcohol really hits you but you soon get used to it.
Sabine went on to explain that 2 to 3% of each barrel evaporates each year – they say that this is for the Angels, they pay to watch over the Eau de Vie and keep it safe. We saw barrels from many different vineyards (Hennessy only actually produce 2% of the grapes that they use) and the different years, including some from the year I was born. Apparently a very good year and going to be used for the Paradis blend. Also there was some from the year Mum was born.
The different Cognacs are then made from different blends as chosen by the Master Blender, Monsieur Fillioux. The Master Blenders at Hennessy have come from the same family for 7 generations. Blends such as VS, VSOP, XO and Paradis are made up with the XO (for example) being made of 60different Eau de Vie aged between 4 and 10 years. After the tour we went back over the river and into the main museum building and shop, we learnt a little of the history of the company and then had a tasting session. We tasted the XO with Dark Chocolate and the Paradis with Milk – they recommend drinking Brandy before you eat as your taste buds are at their best.
We did a little shopping afterwards but in that very French way we had to leave because they were closing for lunch – we didn’t buy one of the Bacarac Crystal bottles as it was more than €1,650.
More details of the tours can be found here http://www.cognacwinetours.com/hennessy.htm