There are good years and bad when it comes to producing cognac. “When it comes to a good year for cognac and its harvest,” said Hennessy ambassador Cyrille Gautier-Auriol, pointing to the sky, “the answer is always from God. God decides.”
Remy Martin, maker of the signature champagne cognac, was our next stop. Here, you can take part in its Rendez-Vous program, which takes you to the estate, the vineyards, and cellar tastings complete with three meals.
“Many, many things will remain exactly the same a hundred years from now, just as they were a hundred years ago,” said our guide as he led us through the essentially unchanged process of making cognac.
In Jarnac, we visited Courvoisier, the cognac of Napoleon, and were treated to a tour of the Chateau Courvoisier Museum, where the emperor’s greatcoat, one of his hats, and even a lock of his hair are on display.
Courvoisier offers several tours, including Cognac and Truffles, a day-long treat that includes lunch and tastings.
One of the oldest major cognac houses is Martell, three centuries old. More than 20,000 guests a year come through its visitor center, where the story of cognac is told through exhibits and handwritten archives.
It was at Martell where I learned paradise, instead of angels and fluffy clouds, is dusty and dirty.
Paradis is more of dark, damp cellars where the oldest and best cognacs are kept for aging. Instead of brushing against gossamer wings, you’re more likely to encounter cobwebs and mold.
“That’s the angel’s share,” our guide explained in good-enough-but-not-perfect English and pointing to the inky mold. “It feeds from the fumes, the alcohol that evaporates from the cognac as it ages. It’s like black velvet.”
Gathered around cognac aging in oak casks, we raised a glass of cognac to France’s happy angels.