The whole cognac industry began with the little guy, tending his vines and creating outstanding eau-de-vie. Today these small cognac producers, often family run houses, struggle to remain in business, such is the competition they face from the ‘Big 4’. These 4 companies are now so large that each has a brand ambassador, presumably to reflect their core values. Interestingly, Hennessy, Courvoisier and Remy Martin have all chosen a trendy rap star, clearly trying to appeal to the younger market. Martell, on the other hand, has gone for a more stylish, feminine image by choosing Diane Kruger. But what about the smaller cognac producers who use their generations of knowledge to produce the very best, single estate, vintage cognacs – who should they choose? Surely it must be royalty – rare, elegantly presented and steeped in history. Or do you have a better idea?
Across our website we have very special gifts and present ideas for all years of birth but these latest vintage cognacs to arrive in the Hermitage range will be perfect for those celebrating 50, 70 or 80 years in 2020.
From the top cru, Grande Champagne, comes Hermitage 1940 Cognac. A beautifully balanced amber nectar, with aromas of chestnuts and truffles, it was produced in the year Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister and ordered the Dunkirk Evacuation. Also from Grande Champagne comes Hermitage 1950 Cognac - a real joy to taste with flavours including plum crumble with a blood orange peel finish.
Hermitage 1970 Fins Bois Cognac was harvested in the year Concorde made its first supersonic flight. It is rare to find cognacs from the Fins Bois in the Hermitage range but this one is really very special.
There are said to be 5000 cognac producers in the Charente, the vast majority make cognac for the big cognac houses and sell it to them within a couple of years. But some, perhaps around 10%, have learnt to wait until their heavenly nectars have matured for longer. Locked away in dark cellars they gradually develop the individual and very personal qualities of their makers. When you buy a specifically aged or vintage cognac, you are buying the makers’ skills and experiences that have been honed over generations into a single taste experience. Every cognac distillation is different. The very finest come from Grande Champagne and those kept as vintage stock will age for much longer than any generic blend and will develop far greater natural flavours during their long sleep in oak casks.
Blended cognacs are produced to feed the insatiable greed for mass volume sales. The big cognac houses produce very little of their own cognac. More than 99% of the cognacs used in their blends are supplied by the thousands of small growers and distillers in the Charente region. Not only are these cognacs young and still relatively tasteless, when they are mixed with up to 2000 others to provide one generic blend it is impossible to distinguish individual flavours. A blend, even in its finest form (XO), needs only to have been aged in a barrel for 6 ½ years. It is therefore little surprise that every generically blended cognac relies heavily on the addition of sugar syrup and caramel to obscure the fiery and tasteless spirits.
Jean Monnet, the famous cognac producer and politician, once said “The great thing about making cognac is that it teaches you above everything else to wait, but time and God and the seasons have got to be on your side”. I would add to that by saying “Very few know where to find the finest and most individual Premier Cru Cognacs and Hermitage is one of them”.
Frapin has launched a 25 year old vintage cognac, laid down in 1988 and bottled at 41.5% abv. With style characteristic of a Grande Champagne cognac, just 1000 bottles have been produced retailing at £160 a bottle. Compare this with our own award winning Grande Champagne cognacs – Hermitage Chez Richon 1988 which retails for just under £100 and Hermitage Segonzac 25 year old priced at just over £100.
The first release from their recently acquired Domaines vineyards in Bonneuil, Hine 2005 is a single estate, Grande Champagne cognac retailing at £73.95. Quite a price for such a young cognac – compare it with our award winning Hermitage 2000 (£38.62) and Hermitage 10 year old (£48.67) – both more mature Grande Champagne cognacs, also from single estates.
Many of the established growers and merchants recognised the need to establish a body to control and manage the quality and sale of cognac. Much of the preliminary work had been done before the Second World War and a great deal of de facto independence from the government had already been gained - the Charente region had been divided into crus in 1909, as a natural consequence of the system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, and the geographical areas had been delimited by government in 1936. During the War a wine and eaux de vie bureau was created to try and protect the cognac stocks. After the War this organisation was made official and The Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac or BNIC was established. The existing Station Viticole’s cognac research laboratories were also placed under its wing and so the BNIC’s role of managing every aspect of cognac production and sales began.
Our Hermitage 1947 is a classic vintage cognac from the post war era, produced at the outset of the BNIC's establishment.
Cognac expert Ed Bates, speaking at a tasting in London recently, highlighted the stylistic and commercial stranglehold that the big four houses have on the industry (they have 80% of the cognac market). In order to compete, most of the other houses “try to copy Hennessy XO because the world, or Asia, thinks that cognac tastes like Hennessy XO”. They do have another option though, he says, which in the longer term could be more beneficial. Making the individuality of their terroir (which includes factors such as the skill of the distiller, still, casks, cellar etc.) their unique selling point (USP) would set them apart from the competition. As the Chinese market, which thrives on the blended generic labels, slows down the more opportunity unique products will have to gain wider recognition. Ed Bates is convinced that concentrating on quality and what sets your cognac apart is the way ahead as this ensures that the maître de chai is in charge of style not the marketing director. Here at Hermitage Cognacs we couldn’t agree more, we have always been clear about our USP – exceptional cognac from single estates, each with a ‘number on the bottle’ to confirm its provenance.