I've been asked by numerous customers so far which distilleries in France we'll be visiting. Technically, the answer is pretty close to zero. While Scotch single malt whisky is the practice of large corporations or independent companies, the brandy we're searching for is not. That's not to say that large distilleries aren't making Cognac, Armagnac, or Calvados, it's just that we won't be visiting any of them. That's not the goal. That's not why we went to Charles Neal for help.
We're heading to France in search of the producteur agricole, the farmer who harvests his own fruit, makes his own wine or cider, and distills, ages, and bottles the resulting spirit himself. Why are we limiting ourselves to this type of producer? Well, first and foremost, because large companies are not in the business of working out special deals with American retailers. However, that being said, we're also not flying all the way to France just to taste brandy that we could already purchase here. Look at it this way - if a friend went to France and brought you back some French cheese, would you be more excited if he bought it at a small farm in the countryside, or at a grocery store in the airport? Even if the latter tastes better, I'm guessing it's the former.
Most of the reason we're interested in meeting the small farmers, however, is because of their unique, small production flavor. The mass production of booze that goes on at the larger distilleries simply isn't as interesting - technically and flavorwise. It may be smooth, but we got over "smooth" about three years ago. As many of you witnessed with our first ever Faultline Spirits single barrel Cognac, the good stuff isn't sitting in a factory warehouse - it's in some small farmer's basement. There's a significant boutique factor here, but we've all tasted the difference. Walking outside one's door, harvesting grapes from one's own backyard, making wine from these grapes, distilling brandy from this wine on a still in one's barn, and then transfering it into barrels which are then rolled into one's own house is simply more intriguing and, from our tasting experience, seems to yield brandies with significant character.
According to Charles Neal, the producteurs agricoles feel that many of the industrial products lack authenticity while their own products are completely attached to the terroir. If a wine maker buys some Napa grapes and then trucks them over to Modesto for the actual winemaking process in a large industrial complex, is that really still a Napa wine? We're going to find out if the same analogy holds true for French spirits. Maybe we're overblowing the importance of small producers and their antiquated methods, or maybe we'll find the most heavenly elixer known to man.