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The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Martell

Martell is the oldest of Cognacs big four firms. It was started in 1715 when Jean Martell arrived in Cognac from his native Jersey, which was in those days a centre for smuggling brandy into Britain. He married (in succession), the daughters of two Cognac merchants. The second, Rachel Lallemand, was descended from one of the earliest brandy merchants in Cognac. After Jeans death she carried on under the name of Verve Martell-Lallemand. Martell became the leading firm in Cognac during the revolutionary period and is still one of the two largest.

In the mid 19th century control passed to the Firino-Martells who had married into the Martell family and continued to control the business for 150 years. The firm reasserted its dominance after the phylloxera and built magnificent new distilleries, many warehouses and bottling lines. The firm flourished by hard, painstaking selling of its brandies to pubs and cafés in France and Britain (incidentally, Martell pioneered the half bottle, still to be found in many homes today).

In 1922 the Martell’s struck up a 25 year deal with Maurice Hennessy, who were friends. This helped the firm gain dominance in Britain and Hennessy in Ireland. Martell also built up considerable land holdings in Grande and Petite Champagne as well as the Borderies, from where much of its wines originate. In all they had about 270 hectares, but today only a small percentage of that is still owned by the company, producing only one or two percent of their needs.

The firm are firm believers in blending and buy their brandies from around 2600 producers in the main cru’s. The cognacs are stored mainly in Tronçais oak - it is a more tightly grained wood which allows them to mature more slowly. It is often well suited to cognacs from the Borderies, much preferred by Martell, and providing a nutty style to their cognacs.