After 3 very relaxing days in Dompierre-sur-Charente, enjoying the sun and the necessary refreshing swims in the river, we thought it would be a good idea to soak up a bit of culture and go and discover what this region is world famous for: Cognac.
We set off after breakfast this morning to put air in the tyres and stock up on beer and made it to Cognac just after 10 am. We’d decided to visit the Hennessy cellars after reading in the guide book that it included a trip on a boat across the river and a short film. Finding parking was extremely easy just about everywhere, but we chose a totally empty car park just up the road from Hennessy under the shade of a large tree, as it was already very hot even that early in the morning.
We bought tickets for the English tour at 11.30 am, which included a glass of Cognac, and the price of the ticket was according to the type of Cognac you wanted to try. We settled for the €9 entry, which included the V.S. (Very Special Cognac).
While we waited for the tour, as we had a whole hour to spare, we gently strolled up to the old part of the town and had a coffee and a bitter lemon (€6 in total, which I thought was a bit pricey) by the statue and Hotel of Franҫois I.
The town was very lovely with an open street market and we wandered around making time to go back for the start of the tour.
The tour itself started promptly at 11.30 am and it was taken by a very friendly and jolly French young lady who spoke perfect English. We learned how Richard Hennessy, an Irishman who had come over to fight alongside Louis XV, laid the foundations of his company on Rue de la Richonne, which would in time become the greatest Cognac producer in the world. We also learned about the four different wine-growing areas selected by Hennessy to produce his Cognac: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois, special for their chalky soil, which gives the right flavour to this wonderful drink.
The tour took us through the whole process, from the bare vineyards in the winter, the first leaves in May, the harvest in September, the production of Eau-de-Vie by a double distillation of the selected wines, the blendings of the Eaux-de-Vie, the making of the French oak barrels by the Master Cooper, the storage of the barrels in the ageing warehouses and the evaporation of the eaux-de-vie from the barrels, known as Angels’ share, which gives life to the fungus growing on the warehouse walls, giving it a black appearance.
The creation of Hennessy Cognacs has been entrusted to the same family of Master blender over seven generations – the Fillioux family.
Finally, we were taken across the river again back to the Hennessy Visitors’ Centre and saw all the various types of Cognac in their special pretty bottles, from the pear-shaped XO and Paradis to the more humble V.S. We were given the promised glass of V.S. and finally settled for a bottle of VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) for €25.95. Needless to say we were extremely pleased with the subtle flavours of our chosen Cognac, that can be drunk neat, with ice or other mixers, but I think we are looking forward to enjoying our bottle in the winter sat in front of our log fire when the winter blues set in and we’ll need something to cheer us up. We will then remember our most enjoyable visit today and think about the sun, the heat, the grapes and the marvellous Charente river and climate.