Small Cognac growers taking wine approach

1st August, 2013 by Lucy Shaw

A single vintage approach is helping small Cognac producers to stand out from the might of the “big four”: Courvoisier, Rémy Martin, Martell and Hennessy.

Olivier Blanc of Leopold Gourmel takes a wine approach with his single vintage Cognacs

Olivier Blanc, co-founder of small organic producer Leopold Gourmel, only produces single vintage Cognac in order to highlight vintage variation.

“The ‘big four’ houses account for 83% of total Cognac sales, so the small guys have to stand out to be heard. I don’t blend my eaux de vie, which is unusual. I take more of a wine approach,” he told the drinks business.

For the base wine, Blanc uses grapes from the chalky soils of Grande Champagne, chosen for the minerality they impart into the final spirit.

“Minerality is key to producing good Cognac – it pushes the spirit to evolve.

“It comes from the soil. It’s not a flavour as such, more of an energy force. It’s hard to describe but you can always tell when it’s present,” he told db.

Rather than sticking to a rigid distillation process, Blanc believes it is better for small producers to adapt their approach to the particular conditions of each vintage.

“In any given year, I can be very happy with the base wine and very disappointed with the final spirit, or vice versa,” he said.

Rather than using the traditional VS, VSOP and XO age descriptors; Blanc uses the terms “Fruit”, “Flower” and “Spice”, corresponding to 10, 15 and 20-year-old Cognac respectively.

As Champagne house Dom Pérignon does with its Oenothèque series, Blanc keeps a considerable amount of Cognac from each year back in order to re-release the eaux de vie in a higher age category at a later date.

“My commitment to my consumers is to give them a significant difference in terms of aroma and flavour between the “Fruit”, “Flower” and “Spice” classifications.

“I want to talk to a younger generation and take Cognac away from fireplaces,” Blanc said.

Leopold Gourmel is distributed in the UK through Liberty Wines and is on sale in restaurants such as The Fat Duck in Bray and Le Gavroche in London.

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