Saturday the 16th of June around 14h my friend and I arrived at ‘La maison de Hennessy’ for our private tour.
Hennessy is located on both sides of ‘La Charente’, the beautiful river that flows through Cognac. On one side there’s the shop, wich has a bar and where you can see some bottles from Hennessy’s private collection.
Don Henny in Cognac
On this side of the river also lies the financial and business site. The Hennessy storage house is located on the other side. This is where the actual tour takes place and where visitors are shown the process of making cognac. At the ‘tonnerie’ you can witness the production of the barrels, but the actual distillery, unfortunately, is not open for public.
We started our private visit with a small boat trip on the Charente. We arrived at the Hennessy storage house.
Our guide explained that there are 6 regions who grow grapes specifically used for making cognac. Hennessy uses grapes from only four of these regions: Grande & Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins bois. These regions cultivate the best grapes because there the soil contains the most lime. For the production of Hennessy cognac only the ‘Ugni Blanc’ grapes are used.
We got to see how the grapes are being processed befor they’re put into the ‘alambic Charantais’ which is a distillation kettle, almost completely in copper. Like most of you will probably know, cognac is a double distillation. This process takes about 48 hours in total. The result is the so called ‘eau-de-vie’ which is colourless, like water. At this point, the alcohol percentage is about 70°. The eau-de-vie is then put into barrels, where the aging process can begin.
The barrels are marked and stored in rows. The markings are always made in the same way: the first number is a serial number, the next is the year the eau-de-vie was put in the barrel. The initials indicate the region of the grapes which are used (for example GC = Grande Champagne). The name of the winegrower is also noted.
Blend & Create
The bottom numbers indicate the order and the number (38 barrels in this row). Each year the content of the barrels is tested for quality. Eau-de-vie has to age a minimum of 2,5 years before it is used to make cognac. How many years they let it age, depends on the type of cognac they wish to create. However, after about 40 years, a barrel gave of most of it’s flavour, so if the eau-de-vie needs to age more than that, it is put in another barrel. Once the quality is at it’s best, the eau-de-vie will be mixed with others to make the perfect blend and create a great cognac!
We also got to see a big part of Hennessy’s stock and got exclusive insight in their oldest stock: some barrels dated from 1800! These cognacs are called ‘Private Reserve’ and are waiting there one day to be used in a special cognac, like for example Ellipse, Timeless…. We also got to see a very special series of barrels. From this series of six barrels, the content evaporated throughout the years so there was only one left with content! Each year about 2% of the barrel’s content evaporates, which is called the ‘angel’s share’. Afther this great walk through all these amazing rooms we went back on the boat to get to the Hennessy Shop/Bar, where we got to see some of the old bottles they have stored there. Finally, we got to taste 3 cognacs: the VS, the Fine and the XO, together with some great info.
A unique visit
For me this was a very unique and beautiful visit and learning process, we really got to see a lot. It was a pleasure to have Alexander as our guide (thank you!).
As for my staying at Cognac we chose to stay at chambre d’hôte ‘Au Pré des Pontis’: a very nice way to experience this region! And: only a 5 minute walk from La masion de Hennessy, so for me this couldn’t have been better! The rest of the cognac houses are in a close range of each other, so if you want to visit them too they are very nearby. I also went to take a look @ La Cognathèque, they had a lot of cognacs for sale, some very rare and hard to find…a beautiful shop in the heart of Cognac.