On our recent visit to Cognac country, which was also tied in with the exhibition opening of renowned German artist Michael Krebber at CAPC musée d’art contemporain in Bordeaux, we had the great pleasure of getting a tour through Baron Otard’s headquarters – the medieval Chateau de Cognac.
It really is worth a visit, and if you can manage, a guided tour through the castle and Baron Otard’s cellars.
After a beautiful dinner the previous night, which was of course followed by some serious Cognac drinking, we were exhilarated to find ourselves in this incredible setting, smelling from cellar to roof of the aromatic “angels’ share” – evaporated eau-de-vie. Another sunny day in Charente could begin…
We were greeted by our guide, Karine, on arrival, and commenced our tour. A bit of history: The Chateau de Cognac’s oldest part was built in the 10th century. To be precise, it was constructed in 950 by one Hélie de Villebois. The medieval castle has a history of the most famous royal visitors, starting with Richard the Lionheart, who married off his son Philipp with the heir of the Chateau, Amélie de Cognac. During the Hundred Years’ War, which lasted from 1337 until 1453 (actually over 100 years!), the owners of the castle changed numerous times.
The castle is also referred to as Chateau Francois I, since it is the birthplace of Francois the 1st, who would later on in his life become the King of France. Much later on, in the 17th century, King Charles X took over the Chateau, and rebuilt it entirely. One crucial moment in the Chateau’s history was when it was declared a national property and ready to be destroyed. Luckily, at that moment, in 1795, two heroic winegrowers – Monsieurs Otard and Dupuy – understood this potential disaster, and purchased this treasure to save it from demolition. And, of course, to secure the most ideal place to age cognac in: the damp, dark cellars of a medieval castle…
One thing we found fascinating were the wall carvings inside the castle. Apparently this section had been used as a prison at some point during the cruel French war history. The prisoners carved their names and images of boats and other objects into the limestone of the walls. Almost reminiscent of cave paintings, or some kind of ancient graffiti.
So, Cognac Baron Otard has been housed in this exceptional setting for over 200 years. Its legacy goes back to a King of France, which is pretty incredible when you think of it. However, it must be said that although there exists such an important tradition, Baron Otard has never shied away from being a modern cognac brand. The advertising campaigns, which are presented in one of the beautiful arched halls, tell a story of intelligent marketing and moving with modern times. One of our favorites of course being “BARON OTARD COGNAC: Taste acquired through time”, which was published in a 1979 edition of Playboy Magazine, believe it or not.
In this section, there was also a printed article, listing the first cognac houses exporting to the Port of New York in 1881. To our surprise, the no. 1 exporter to the US was not Hennessy or Martell, but in fact none other than Otard, Dupuy & Co, what Baron Otard was formerly called.
Our guided tour proceeded to teach us everything there is to know about how cognac is made, from the growing of the vines, to distillation, aging, and blending. There are some great displays and samples of cognacs to smell in order to get accustomed to the different notes one can trace in an eau-de-vie: such as fruit, coconut, or rancio. Feeling like we had learnt a lot about this tradition, we finally got to taste some cognac as well. Karine presented us with both the Baron Otard VSOP and the Baron Otard XO. Tastes differed, as they do, some of us preferred the younger, more fruity VSOP, and others loved the woody rancio flavors of the older XO.
As we found ourselves wandering out of these historical walls and thinking about times past – when people were already drinking this wonderful spirit – we thought it’s quite amazing, how this translates into the present. Basically, we still enjoy the same good things. And good it is indeed, that Baron Otard Cognac.
The delicious cognac-daze combined with the mild Charentais November sunshine made this excursion a truly memorable one.
Needless to say, we’ll be back very soon – read more about the brand of Baron Otard and discover the house’s bottles.
By the way, Chateau de Cognac also produces Jay-Z promoted D’Ussé Cognac