France – Day 7: The Way Forward
Today we had two final appointments in Cognac; the first was with a negociant (independent bottler) in the town of Saintes called Grosperrin. We were impressed from the moment we walked in to their downtown retail store and saw their carefully curated selection of fine spirits. In France, you can be a retailer, and a distributor, and an independent bottler -- there are no legal restrictions separating these parties. Therefore, Grosperrin has its finger in a number of pies. One of them is the new forward-thinking Cognac market -- a collection of producers and bottlers who are exploring new varietals, brut de fut (cask strength), less caramel coloring, and more modern marketing.
Walking down the stairs and underneath the main store, you'll find a number of casks and demijohns full of various Cognac expressions, purchased from various estates and warehouses across the region. Grosperrin puts the name of the appellation, producer, vintage, and varietal on each of their independent bottlings, making them one of the first of their kind in the business. We tasted a few very appealing selections and we think at least two or three of them will make it into K&L. The pricing was quite fair for such intriguing spirits.
Our last appointment was with a larger Bon Bois producer called Vallein, who has multiple stills and sells much of its liquid to Courvoisier. We had run the Grand Champagne and Petit Champagne gambit as far as possible. It was time to venture out further into the outer regions of Cognac, despite our disappointing experience yesterday. There had to be some quality hooch out in the countryside.
The estate at Vallein was rustic and beautiful, almost gothic. We almost got the feeling we were in a vampire movie while traversing the property.
Stephane added to that feeling. He has piercing, sky-blue eyes, intensely-dark pupils, and some very-defined incisors. He could have been the next Christopher Lee, but he decided to marry into a large Cognac-distilling family and take up a quiet existence making fine spirits. We sampled a large number of brandies from various properties owned by Vallein, which had been distilled and matured separately into different expressions.
After two days of driving for hours on end, I realized one important fact about Cognac: it's very, very big! There are so many producers distilling brandy that we've barely scratched the surface of what's available. The orange and yellow-colored sections of the above map are Grand and Petit Champagne; the smaller off-white section above them is the Borderies. The rest of the outer blue region is all Fins Bois and Bon Bois, and I learned there are even islands off the coast of the Atlantic that also count as Cognac-producing regions.
We're seeing an increased awareness from a new generation of producers towards the expanding, boutique spirits market and a number of young distillers that are looking to reach those customers. I think the work we've done over the past few days will allow us to bring in some of those Cognacs for the K&L consumer base. We were very impressed with much of what we tasted and we think you'll be excited by what they have to offer -- especially for the prices we're looking at.
That's it! We're done. We've got two late flights tomorrow, which means we can sleep in for once! Then we can mosey our way over to CdG airport, catch the connector to Heathrow, and fly our behinds back to the west coast. I'll be back in the store this Saturday if anyone wants to talk shop.
We hope you've enjoyed following along with our journey. Now we hope you'll enjoy the fruits of this labor.