The cognac house lies on the banks of the Charente in Jarnac since the beginning of the 19th Century. Probably the most typically French of all the great Cognac houses chooses only the best ingredients at each state of its fabrication and ageing.
Felix Courvoisier, originally from Paris, relocates to Jarnac in 1843 where he creates his first Cognac company in partnership with the Gallois family based in Berzy, important wholesalers in wine and spirits at the time. As loyal suppliers to the Imperial Court, the Gallois had been honoured with Napoleon’s visit in 1811. It is said to have been Napoleon’s favourite drink. Apparently he took several barrels with him to his exile on the island Saint Helena. The Cognac therefore also goes by the nickname of “Le cognac de Napoleon”.
In 1909 Courvoisier gets bought by the Simon brothers from England, who started building the brand identity with a very innovative Marketing strategy such as Napoleon’s silhouette on the bottle, which is now renowned worldwide.
Since 1993 the company belongs to Allied Domecq, which ranks second in the international spirit industry.
At Courvoisier, one can find ancient items that are supposedly relics once owned by Napoleon. Among these the hat he wore during the Friedland Battle of 1807, a shirt and even a lock of his hair. And one can see a letter written by Napoleon to his generals demanding Cognac supplies for this troops and soldiers.
The Courvoisier botte is easily recognisable, but has changed throughout the decades. Very early on, one would have thought it to be a wine bottle – very straight. Then the Simon brothers created a new face for the product and designed the “Josephine Bottle”, one with a narrow bottleneck and a big rounded base. They also innovated by creating the elegant satin-like bottle with opaque glass for their Napoleon Cognac, which was to be reproduced by many other cognac houses.
The oldest Cognac of Courvoisier dates back to 1789. These cognacs are stored in what is called a “paradise chai”. This means that the old cognacs are not stored in barrels anymore, but in bottles, in order to stop the ageing process. In this “chai” the bottles are standing upright to avoid any contact between the Cognac and the cork and are stored in the dark.
So if you have an old bottle of Cognac at home, always keep it in a dark place and the bottleneck facing up!
The “crus” are classified in six zones of distinct qualities. (See also our article The 6 parts of the Cognac Region: An overview about soils and aroma.) The highest one is in the fields bordering the Charente river, called Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, then comes the Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires. Several criteria determine the quality of the “crus”, the main criteria being altitude, the soil and the proximity of the ocean.
Courvoisier exclusively uses the four finest “crus” of the region: from the Grande Champagne to Fins Bois. In Grande Champagne, the chalky soil gives very fine Cognac. The Petite Champagne is similar but will give a little less elegant tastes.
In Borderies we have a soil which is clayey and sandy, which gives delicate violet aromas. And in the Fins Bois, fruits and flower aromas are common. For the Cognac Courvoisier use a white variety of grapes, usually the Ugni Blanc, which is very productive. IN the old days, they cut the grapes by hand, however nowadays this method is very rare and likely to disappear soon (only 2% of Cognac producers work the vines in the old-fashioned way).
Courvoisier has contracts with more than 1000 wine growers. If the wine grower owns a still, he will distillate his production by himself. Otherwise Courvoisier has a professional distiller to the job. They work with eleven distillers in the region and owns two distilleries in Chateauneuf.
The Cognac house exclusively uses French Limousin oak for its barrels, the preferred wood for spirit producers worldwide. Aged 100-200 years, the fine grain woods add superb complexity and finesse, and their tannin gives rich colour to the liquor.
The brand Courvoisier has become immensely popular amongst the afro-american US Hip-Hop and Rap Scenes, Busta Rhymes even called one of his songs afer the drink: “Pass the Courvoisier”. Its liquors range from old vintage Cognacs to young spirit used for popular cocktails.
Having said this, Courvoisier is also is highly acknowledged by serious Cognac specialists. Especially the Cognac “L’Esprit de Courvoisier”, which is made up partly of 200-year old eaux-de-vie, has become a status symbol due to its extremely high price of several thousands of dollars.
Its products are numerous:
- Courvoisier VS
- Courvoisier VSOP Fine Champagne
- Courvoisier VSOP Exclusif
- Courvoisier Napoleon Fine Champagne
- Courvoisier XO Imperial
- Courvoisier Initiale Extra
- Courvoisier Succession JS
- L’Esprit de Courvoisier
The distribution of Courvoisier is international, which makes it one of the most successful Cognac houses worldwide.