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Famous Cognac Houses

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Larsen

    The Larsen brand of is probably known in every cognac drinking country for their Viking Ship logo. The firm was established in 1926 by Jens Reidar Larsen who came from Tromso, north of the arctic circle in Norway. The firm are quick to point out that the term Viking refers to a state of mind rather than the plundering race of warriors searching many countries for wealth!

    Jens Larsen was a cognac connoisseur and became charmed by the inimitable atmosphere and people of Cognac. Jens was a businessman and after a while bought a small cognac company belonging to a Joseph Gautier. There were many difficulties, but he eventually managed to change the name to Larsen, which quickly became recognisable to the Scandinavian markets.

    He married a local girl and had two children. Jean, the eldest took over the business in the 1960’s and was largely responsible for building up the prosperity of the Larsen brand throughout the world. The present generation, Frédéric, Nicolas and Anne now control the reins of the family business, utilising the trademark “Drakkar” - symbol of its Norseman history.

    Originally the firm sold most of its cognacs in casks mainly to the state monopolies of its native Scandinavia, before it widened its trade throughout Europe, which nowadays buys more than 75% of its cognacs. It buys its cognacs mainly from the Fins Bois and the Champagnes - but less than a fifth of its sales go to the top end of the markets and they concentrate on the cheaper end of the market. They often distinctive bottles and decanters, including ceramic Viking Ships and Norseman Warriors, which have been successful in the Far East. Larsen pride themselves on the lightness of their cognacs but in truth many have to be reduced - sugar syrups are used to reduce the aggressiveness of their character. The firm still have a few vintage cognacs including an interesting 1973.

     

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Hine

    Hine is one of the most venerable and deservedly respected names in Cognac. It was founded by an immigrant from Dorset, Thomas Hine, who settled in Jarnac in 1791 and married into the Delamain family and became a partner.

    The Hine company was founded in 1817 by Thomas who died aged 47. He was succeeded by Isaac Georges (1843-1902), Georges Thomas (1881-1940), Francois Thomas,(1908-1983), Robert (1912-1994) and Bernard Thomas Hine 1939 the current Hine family member.  The firm became well known for the cognacs it shipped in cask to British Wine Merchants, for bottling under its name for sale to the aristocracy (the firm still supplies the Royal Family).

    With reluctance Hine accepted the necessity for its own trademark, the stag (this may be a pun, since a hind is a female deer), and only introduced after the Second World War. In 1971 Hine was bought by the Distillers company, which was itself taken over by Guinness in 1986, and was then sold by them to Hennessy. The firm is still run by the cousins Jacques and Bernard Hine, the founder’s great-great-great-grandsons.

    Bernard Hine, a well known taster still blends Hines Cognacs to maintain the family’s tradition of elegance and lightness. Hine has neither stills nor vines of its own, buying half its cognacs young, the other half old. They use only small Limousin casks to store their cognacs.

    The Hine style excludes cognacs from the Borderies, so the cognacs are only from the Champagnes and the premier Fins Bois. At their best Hines cognacs have a rare balance of warmth, depth and elegance. But their necessary and newer dependence on younger eaux de vie has reduced the minimum ages of their blended cognacs, which tends to affect their balance. Hine has always sold cognacs to be matured in Britain, many of which have a fine elegance as a result of their long ageing and proving that vintages do matter in Cognac.

     

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - A Hardy

    Perhaps we best know of Hardy Cognacs for their very old pre-phylloxera cognacs such as the famous 1805, but the firm has prospered in America with more generic cognacs and some special presentations bottles.

    The firm was started in 1863 by Anthony Hardy, a wines and spirits trader in London. He moved to the Charente region and changed his name to Antoine after high taxes in the UK forced him to close his UK business. He had bought land, vines and learnt to distil the wines, but in 1878 the phylloxera had destroyed much of his estate. Fortunately he had made many good cognacs and his cellars had bountiful stocks, which he was able to sell to the cognac negoçiants.

    Much of his market was in Russia and an alliance celebrating the trade between the countries was established.  Antoine’s son Valère joined the business around 1900 and between them tried to develop the Eastern European markets, a mission that was not entirely successful. Valère died early, but one of his five children, Armand, took over as president of the firm where he remained until he died in 1957. During the difficult war years Armand played a part in preserving the cognac stocks from the Germans, by buying and storing cognacs from the growers, and ageing them in his cellars.

    Armand had six children - the four boys, Philippe, Jacques, Francis and Jean-Antoine, all who joined the firm and helped to increase the sales to North and South America. When Armand died Jacques Hardy took over the role of president. He was a collector of old cognacs and built up a cellar of fine vintages which he stored in the cellars of Merinville, then owned by his old friend Jacques Boursard. Unfortunately the heavy stocks and economic difficulties in the 1990’s meant the firm was sold, but the name still continues. Jacques died in 2006 and his two daughters work for the new owners and maintain sales in America and Northern Europe.

    Brandyclassics have 3 exceptionally old cognacs from 1805 for sale, including an A. Hardy 1805 Grande Champagne. The scarcity of these rare vintage cognacs makes them extremely sought after by cognac connoisseurs and hence are not just "reassuringly expensive", but very expensive...


  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Otard

    Otard is one of Cognacs most famous names, thanks partly to it’s ownership of the 16th century Château de Cognac, which deservedly is the town's most famous historic monument, as well as being ideal for the maturing brandy.

    The firm was founded in 1795 by Jean Dupuy, a local grower and Jean-Antoine Otard de la Grange, a local land owner who had to be rescued by his tenants from the Revolutionary Terror. He was the descendant of a leading Scottish family devoted to the failing fortunes of the House of Stuart, whom they followed into exile in France. Otard and Dupuy flourished sufficiently to buy the château and become one of Cognac's 'Big Three' in the early 19th century (M Otard's town house is now the town hall).

    In the early 20th century the family “became more interested in public and social life than in Business” according to M de Ramefort, whose family bought the firm in 1930. His predecessors had relied too heavily on the Latin American market, and when their competitors began to sell their brandies in bottles under their own names, they declared “we are not grocers”. The firm has never owned any vineyards or stills: however, it’s VSOP Baron Otard helped its reputation in the 1970’s with its distinctive black bottle. In 1975 they bought Exshaw, a well know firm which was founded in 1805 but had dwindled into insignificance by 1945 and whose main markets were in the UK.

    Otard was bought in 1986 by Bass, the British Brewing Company after a period in which the Rameforts shared control with St Raphael (the aperitif company controlled by Martini which bought back the company in 1989). Since then Otard has acted as the spearhead of the group's various cognac interests, which also include Exshaw and Chateau de la Grange - a cognac which is sold mainly in the Asian markets and Far East. The current cognac range now contains considerable levels of sugar syrup to help hide their youthfulness.

     

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Jean Fillioux

    Perhaps the name of Jean Fillioux is not quite in the same league as Delamain or Hine, but whatever one wants to believe they do have a history which can be associated with equally great esteem.

    They were founded in 1880 by Honoré Fillioux, who had in the past blended cognacs for Hennessy, a tradition which has continued and which is still the case today. The firm is not large; they own about 20 hectares at La Pouyade at Juillac-le-Coq in Grande Champagne and is run today by Pascal Fillioux. His style is said to prefer well rounded blended cognacs which may include some additives, perhaps through his connections with the Hennessy style. The firm also distils cognacs from two other estates.

    Pascal’s skills and experience however, strongly suggest that his families traditions have also been associated with those of ageing, and his knowledge and use of oak is one of the greatest accumulated by any cellar master. His knowledge of different oaks and their relationship on his cognacs is one that can only be created by generations of experience, gained from his family’s deep understanding of the ageing process, the effects of tannins and the formation of congeners in the barrels. Indeed, most of his cognacs are aged slightly longer in new oak than is average. But where dilution is required it is added at an early stage soon after distillation, which means that the effect of the cognac on the wood is less severe than those which are diluted at a later stage.

    Whilst most of the Fillioux cognacs are blended, there are two exceptional single estate offerings. The eight year old La Pouyade is a masterpiece of distillation excellence at 42% and more recently a 1990 vintage has found its way onto his list, both exhibit a rare taste of what can really be achieved.

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses- A E Dor

    The house of A.E. Dor was created In 1858 by Amédée Edourard Dor, a collector of fine old cognacs mainly from the Grande Champagne area. The cognacs were bought in their casks and aged in Dors cellars until they were deemed ready for drinking and then stored in large bonbonnes, where their quality remained intact.

    The house is situated in Jarnac, about 13 km east of Cognac. They have recently moved into a new purpose built warehouse, but they still retain their old Paradis in the town where some of the finest of their cognacs are stored. The Paradis is probably one of the best know pictures in the Charente and its wrought iron gates protect many demi-johns of fine old cognacs. Probably their most venerable cognac is the 1805 (which they refuse to sell), but one of the nicest is the 1840 which still retains much richness and flavour even though it is only 37% by volume.

    There have been a number of names associated with the firm including the brother of the ex President of France, François Mitterand, a cognac lover and purveyor of the spirit. The house survives on it’s range of blended cognacs and is today owned by Jacques Riviere, a fervent believer of blending who took over the running of the firm from his wife, Odile.  She was sadly killed in a motor accident in the early 1990s and was regarded as one of the finest blenders in the industry. Unfortunately since then some of the blending has not been the same quality as those of the pre Odile days, but some of the older A.E. Dor cognacs, namely the Hors d’Age No 9 and the remaining pre-phylloxera vintages still remain in the original condition, as well as a remarkably good VSOP, an 8 year old cognac with remarkable freshness. Jacques Riviere is still the firms president but much is now done by his son.

    Brandyclassics have carefully selected a number of A.E. Dor's superior vintage cognacs for sale on our online store.

     

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses- Augier Frere

    It is probably appropriate that in looking at the finest and great cognac houses that we should start with what is claimed to be the oldest cognac firm, that of Augier Freres & Co, established in 1643.

    However, all that can be said with any certainty was that an Augier was already in business in the 1680’s. Another house called Ransons was said to have been in dispute with Augier over a brandy monopoly in 1604 but Ranson, later to become Ransons Delamain had worked with Augier in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Other early names included Richard, Guérinet, Brunet and Lallemand, a relation of the early Martells.

    Two members of the Augier family, Emile and Philppe appear in the records but their early history is unclear. What is rather less clear though is the passage of Augier through time. They appear to have moved from buyers to Negoçiant's and traded cognacs to and from Ireland, Holland and Germany but as the passage of time passed, they became involved with other cognac houses initially with Briand and eventually they were sold to Seagram in 1966 .

    Martell bought Seagram in 1987 who had bought out the Firino Martell family stake and had also acquired the firm of Jules Robin. By the end of the 20th Century Seagram’s Martell was failing badly and Seagram decided to sell off it’s drinks portfolio to Pernod Ricard, who placed Martell in their luxury goods markets and since then the firm has expanded.

    Regrettably Augier exists in name only today and bottles bearing the name have gained in value. The Augier cognacs were all distilled in traditional Charentais stills and were aged naturally making them of good quality. Many of the grapes came from the Champagnes and Borderies. Very few bottles still remain today, but a bottle of 1820 was recently sold at auction for about £4000.

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Camus

    The Good & Great Cognac Houses

    Camus is said to be Cognacs fifth largest producer  and the biggest still in the hands of an individual family. Nearly 90% of all it’s sales are outside France and much goes to the duty free markets.

    The firm was founded in 1863 by a consortium of growers headed by Jean-Baptist Camus who added his name to that of the group before his death in 1898. Camus depended largely on sales to Russia during the 19th century and was the exclusive supplier to the Tsar where sales were in barrels. The Russian revolution put a stop to all that and the firm had to refocus on bottle sales to restaurants. Michel Camus, the grandson of the founder built the firm up after he took over in 1934 at the tender age of 23 but after the war the firm was in a bad way and sales dropped considerably.

    However, in the 1960’s the firm was approached by two young Americans who wanted to sell their cognacs to the duty free markets at airports. The Americans found it difficult to obtain credit and M Camus was the only Cognaçais who offered to help. The firm was called Duty Free Shoppers (DFS), who now control more than half of all the duty free sales at the worlds airports and as a result of  M Camus’s early support have stayed loyal to Camus ever since. Michel Camus rebuilt the trade with the Russians, they did a deal to market exclusively a Russian vodka in France and their sales have gradually increased.

    The family still own 125 hectares of vine at Château d’Uffaut at Bonneuil in Grande Champagne. The domain produces only about 6% of the firms needs and the rest has to be brought in from other producers. The firm has never been cash rich and hold very little stock themselves. Today the firm is run by the 5th generation son, Cyril Camus who became marketing director in 1998 and president in 2004.

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Chateau de Beaulon

    Certainly not one of the biggest houses, but this delightful chateau which is situated close to the Gironde has to be one of the prettiest and certainly one of the best, albeit in a part of the Charente not associated with fine cognacs. The firm which is situated at Saint-Dizant-du-Gua sits on a particularly fine strata of chalk which allows the vine roots to penetrate deep.

    Beaulon claims to have records dating back to 1712 when references to grape distillation appear but the Chateau is even older dating from 1480 in the reign of King Louis XI, the de Beaulon family moved in, in 1510. Between 1543 and 1574 the estate belonged to François Beaulon counsel to Henry II who of course was married to Eleanor of Aquataine. The history is indeed magnificent.

    Tradition is very much part of the splendour of the Chateau for the grape varieties also include Folle Blanche and Colombard for their cognacs, the Folle being the pre-phylloxera variety used extensively before the plague. The estate extends to 90 hectares (220 acres), but some is planted with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for red Pineau des Charente and  Sémillons and Sauvignon for white Pineau for which the firm has won many awards.

    The estate is now owned by Christian Thomas whose green credentials are noted as cognacs most ecological distiller. He uses only fish meal as fertiliser and has recently installed large purification tanks but perhaps most importantly M Thomas is most emphatic that they never use additives of any sort. The firm, has progressed a long way over the centuries and is now regarded as one of the finest producers in Fins Bois. Indeed the small sector of land that this cognac house occupies is hotly contested since ecology of the area is said to be of higher quality than the Borderies to the north of Cognac.

    Cognacs for sale by Chateau de Beaulon

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Croizet

    The firm was founded in 1805 and probably has one of the most intriguing histories of all the old houses. The Croizet family have been growing grapes since the 17th century and has always been important. Léon Croizet was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for the part he played in helping to replant the vineyards after the Phylloxera. He went to America and found resistant root stock onto which all modern cognac vines are now grafted. In 1892 a Mlle Croizet married a M Eymard (the reserve des Héritiers still carries the wedding photograph), the firm was run by Eymards  from that date until recently when it was bought by a Russian Oligarch.

    The firm has around 150 hectares of vineyard mostly based in Grande Champagne but it did have some vineyards which it sold in the Borderies. It produced some of the loveliest cognacs tasted, unfortunately they were sold to develop more in the top cru. What perhaps is the most impressive aspect of  the firm is their collection of old pre-phylloxera cognacs which at one time was greater than 4000 bottles, many dating from around 1858. One of their great cognacs was the 1928 which was produced from the greatly favoured corner of Fins Bois just north of their headquarters in St Même-les-Carrières an area which several of their cognacs were based upon but not owned by the the firm. Indeed it requires to buy in nearly half of its eaux de vie from other producers.

    It is said that the French authorities were so impressed with the firms bookkeeping that they were allowed to sell some of their cognacs as coming from specific vintages. This unfortunately was only good in the mid 20th century since by the 1990’s the paperwork for a large consignment of cognac sent to Russia went missing and resulted in a big fine of millions of euro’s.

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