Our Visit to Frapin Cognac
If Segonzac is the capital of Cognac’s Premier Cru terroir, then the House of Frapin is one of its flagships. This family run business is firmly rooted (in more ways than one), in the heart of Grande Champagne…
The Frapins (now allied with Cointreau for two generations) settled in the region in 1270. Today the house’s 240 hectares of vineyards stretch for 10kms, surrounding Chateau de Fontpinot in Segonzac. Not only are the family farmers, vintners, distillers and directors, but also directly market their products. All the cognacs that are created exclusively from this family property are now sold in over 75 countries, albeit with a significant amount (around 10%) being sold within France itself. This is around three to four times better than the regional average.
Here’s the account of our wonderful Elodie, serious Cognac expert, and probably the youngest Cognac producer in the region!
The Frapin Knowledge
On behalf of Cognac Expert, I was lucky enough to be given an inside tour by Patrice Piveteau, Deputy General Manager and Cellar Master of Frapin Cognac. And thanks to this, I’m able to describe some of the fundamental knowledge and passion behind the brand.
Because…. It all starts in the vineyard! Since 1991 Chateau de Fontpinot has been committed to taking an environmental approach. They go beyond the necessary compliance with the aim of promoting the natural balance within the vineyard, as well as reducing any negative impacts that agricultural practices have on the environment.
For example, in 2011 Frapin invested in a huge basin with a capacity of 30,000 hectoliters. This is not (although it’s of Olympic size) intended as a location for the (hypothetical) games of France 2024. What it actually is a treatment tool for wine effluents. In the past, distillation residues were full of copper and organic matter, and these were used as fertilizers on the vines. The pool allows bacteria to provide an aerobic action upon the liquid, and the resulting water is used to irrigate a poplar plantation. For Patrice Piveteau, this “is a fine example of agro-ecology, but also a huge plus for the future and quality of Cognac’s growing region. We can imagine that in 50 years time the copper concentration of the vineyard soils will have decreased and microbial activity will have been stimulated…”
All the ecologically friendly practices that have been in place since 1991 are aimed at the improvement of increased biological activity. And by balancing the nutrition in the soil for the vines, this should promote the production of quality grapes, whilst avoiding the act of ‘forcing’ the fruits to grow.
Because… healthy and fragrant grapes, harvested at maturity, are the heart of great cognac, and everything must be done to preserve the integrity of the fruit. At Chateau de Fontpinot the grapes are gently pressed, and the resulting juice flows to the fermentation tanks without going through settling or filtration. The wines are distilled with their lees, without the use of automation: at this crucial stage the only control is provided by distillers, Alex, Giles, and Jean-Paul.
Because… the brandies of Grande Champagne require a long time to age and fully develop. So we must be patient and allow this time. It seems that Frapin is a master in this subject, as 85% of their sales are superior quality cognacs (in other words, older cognacs). And right now, they have more than 15 years worth of stock! Using both dry and humid cellars, all of the eaux-de-vies are pampered by the cellar master. The humidity of the cellars is important. In a dry atmosphere the spirits develop finesse and elegance, whilst in wetter areas they gain in roundness. This is due to slower evaporation, and more alcohol being lost than water. Thus aging is a variable science – it’s carried out differently depending on the desired quality of the end product.
Strong Identity and Heritage
The know-how of excellence and heritage identity have seen Chateau de Fontpinot receiving several awards. 2012 saw Frapin being only one of two cognac houses being given EPV (or Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant) status. The other house is Remy Martin. In 2013 the Trophée de l’Excellence Française was a reward for the talent and creativity of the 32 men and women who work so hard to ensure Frapin is what it is today. It’s their everyday actions that allow the cognac house to participate in France having such an influence (through cognac) around the world.
The very least that can be said is that the house of Frapin is distinguished by its rich history and heritage, and that she certainly knows how to preserve and showcase this.
During our visit we admired many treasures: A cellar whose framework was created by Gustave Eiffel himself..! The family chateau and vineyards… The tasting room that sees so many samples… Demijohns containing countless eaux-de-vies – and among them, a barrel of pre-phylloxera folle blanche brandy!
After the tour, I had the privilege to enjoy some cognacs. So without any further ado, here are my impressions.
XO Château de Fontpinot – 41% abv
The soul! The sparkle! This generous XO provides a harmony of dried fruits (especially apricot) and vanilla tannins, with a subtle scent of nutmeg. The palate offers a nice balance between sweetness and vivacity, or sweetness offset by structure. The wine spends 6 months aging in new barrels, followed by a long period of aging in dry cellars. It’s a delicious, mouth-watering cognac, which I imagine will pair beautifully with a dessert, such as a fruit tart.
XO Frapin VIP – 40% abv
After a year in new barrels and a long aging in damp cellars, the XO VIP was born. It’s a less powerful cognac, but no less fragrant, with a nose filled with floral notes (both of fresh and cut flowers), so typical of Grande Champagne, mixed with the summer smell of hay. The palate, finesse and structure combine to come to a gradual end hinting at tones of liquorice.
Les Millésimes Frapin
Frapin has a large stock of vintage cognacs – in other words, sealed and identified by the BNIC to represent the year of production. As Patrice Piveteau says, “Not every year is conducive to this type of cognac. Sometimes we even break down some vintages and reintegrate them amongst other stocks. To be produced as an individual vintage the cognac must be something really special”.
Frapin Millésime 1988 – aged for 25 years: Lots of finesse. Soft tannins and delicate aromas of stone fruits (prunes, plums…) and hazelnuts.
Frapin Millésime 1989 – aged for 20 years: I fell in love with the intoxicating fragrance and tart flavor of this exceptional vintage. The nose is deep vanilla and other fruit and floral fragrances. On the palate it has hints of liquorice, and is perfectly balanced with a nice vivacity.
Frapin Millésime 1991 Tresor du Chateau – aged for 20 years: This cognac reveals exquisite flavors of candied orange, citron peel, gingerbread, and a touch of exotic fruits. The palate is less full than the 1988 and 1989, but more structured.
Les Multimillésimes Frapin
In 2008 the first of the Frapin Multi Millésimes was crowned ‘Best in the World Spirit’. And we had the chance to taste numbers 4 and 5 of the continuation of the limited edition cognacs initiated in this year. Each one is composed of three different years, each chosen for their sensory complementarity.
Although both are very complex – fruity, floral and with an outstanding finish, each is very different. That’s the beauty of the vintage. The Frapin Multimillésime No. 4 (1982 – 1983 – 1985) is delicious; exotic, sweet, and heady. And it was a real treat to taste, as it’s no longer available for sale. However, I preferred the Frapin Multimillésime No. 5 (1982 – 1986 – 1989) for its aromatic freshness and harmony. With only 1.270 bottles made, and sold at a very affordable price, I recommend that you purchase it as quickly as possible if you want to taste it.
Frapin Extra Grande Champagne – 40% abv
Like the XO Chateau Fontpinot, the spirits that make up the Extra have spent their lives in dry cellars, with 6 months in new barrels. The assembly, however, is older, more complex, and different. On tasting, it’s a concentrate of dried fruits and spices, with hints of rancio that’s so characteristic of the very old brandies of Cognac. The tannins are muted, the palate is harmonious, full and long…
Plume Frapin (Limited edition of 500)
After paying tribute to Francois Rabelais, son of Antoine Rabelais and Anne-Catherine Frapin, with Rabelais wines, the house created Plume Frapin – a cognac presented in a gold colored decanter titivated with 18 carat rose gold. This Premier Cru is made of eaux-de-vies aged for more than 60 years in century old oak barrels. At first subtle on the nose, it moves slowly to reveal complex and subtle flavors of fruit, spice, tobacco, and dried flowers. The palate is powerful and dense, with wonderful length.
Frapin Cuvee 1888 (Limited edition of 1888)
Presented in an exception crystal decanter, this cognac is made from some of the treasurs contained within the Chai Paradis, with some eaux-de-vies dating back to 1888! The nose in incredibly fresh, given the exceptional age of this elixir. It develops with a sumptuous and complex bouquet: raisins and other dried fruits, precious woods, hazelnuts, floral notes, honey – exotic and spicy. On the palate this Grande Champagne cognac offers an incomparable smoothness. The decanter is hand blown by the crystal company, Royales de Champagne, and sports a golden cord and delicate gold edging. It was designed as a tribute to Pierre Frapin, who in 1888 was responsible for the restocking of their vineyards following the phylloxera crisis. It was this that saw him select an eaux-de-vie that earned him a gold medal at the Paris World Exhibition in 1889.
Finally…Did you know that…
…building on its success, Frapin launched a fragrance line in 2004. Working with some of the best in the business in the heart of perfume country in Grasse, France, they chose to use natural materials to create sophisticated fragrances inspired directly from Frapin Cognac. I have to say that this venture has been pretty successful. I have personally tested one of their creations and noted that as in their cognacs, the perfume boasted power and aromatic complexity.
by Elodie Bouyer