Hine’s impeccable taste and tradition23rd September, 2013 by Patrick Schmitt - This article is over multiple pages: 1 2 3
After 250 years of renowned Cognac production Hine is about to change hands once more.
Hine is for sale, as the drinks business reported in April this year. For those living among the vineyards of Cognac, such news probably failed to surprise.
Although the brand was recently placed on the market, speculation surrounding the label’s future has existed since its owner, CL Financial Limited – parent company of CL World Brands – came under the management of the Trinidad and Tobago government following a bailout in 2009.
And in the past three years CL has divested much of its drinks business, having sold its Scotch whisky arm Burn Stewart Distillers to Distell, and a majority stake of Lascelles deMercado, owner of Appleton Estate Rum, to Campari.
But now CL’s Cognac business is officially for sale, what would tempt the prospective purchaser? Well, Hine has long been considered a prized brand by those in the drinks trade, respected for its long history, consistent and distinctive style, as well as valued for its extensive aged stocks, Grande Champagne vineyards and broad product range that does without an image cheapening VS. It may not be big – with annual case sales of just under 100,000 – but it’s certainly profitable.
Founded in 1763, Hine is 250 years old this year, an anniversary celebrated with two new Cognacs, one specifically for the UK (see box-out) and another called Hine 250, which, in keeping with the number of years since the house was founded, has a production run of just 250.
The latter launch, unveiled at Vinexpo Bordeaux in June, comprises a specially designed Baccarat crystal decanter containing a 60-year-old vintage Cognac which Hine cellar master Eric Forget describes as “the most exquisite Cognac that I have ever tasted since I have been at Hine.” Despite Hine’s steady and traditional image, centred on the subtle oak influence in its Cognacs, vintage concept, red and cream branding, regardant stag emblem, and, to some extent, Britishness, the brand has actually seen no fewer than three owners within the last 40 years.
The first major change came when the Hine family sold the company to the Distillers Company (DCL) in 1971. Then, when Guinness bought DCL in 1987, Hine was sold to Moët-Hennessy, which, in turn sold the Cognac to CL World Brands in 2003, where it has remained until now.
Key to Hine’s continuity in quality and presentation throughout this period can be traced to one powerful personality, Bernard Hine – a sixth-generation family member. Bernard has remained within the company throughout these changes having worked at the house for 50 years – his first day at Hine was 1 August 1963, when he was 24. As he says, “I have worked hard to keep Hine as it is.”
Consequently, Hine has enjoyed continuity when it comes to both the projection of its image but also, crucially, the character of its Cognacs. In particular, Bernard, who took on sole responsibility for blending Hine in 1974, looks for little wood influence on the spirit and a fruity and floral character.
Acknowledging the following for Hine among wine enthusiasts in particular, he explains, “Hine is loved by the wine drinker because the character of the wine is in the Cognac; Hine is just a concentration of wine’s aromas.” However, Bernard admits that he has stepped away from the day-to-day blending duties, but has passed on hisknow-how to current cellar master Eric Forget.
Indeed, in an interview with Hine managing director François Le Grelle back in 2010, the relationship between Bernard and Eric was described as like father and son in terms of the transmission of knowledge.