For visitors to Poitou-Charentes a must-do is a cognac tour or cognac tasting tour around one of the famous firms or ‘maisons’ as they are called. And of course to have a taste of cognac at the same time! Not long ago I took the tour at Hennessy, one of the big cognac producers in the area, and who are based in the town of Cognac. The tour began with a short boat ride across the river, a journey of no more than a couple of minutes, and then just a short walk along the jetty later we were in there.
For the next couple of hours, I and the rest of the gang on the tour learned much about the making of cognac. Explained in English, we heard about the entire process, including from where the grapes are grown and the distillation process. We walked through the cellars containing barrels of cognac still maturing, the dates written in a beautiful curving script on the barrels. Also in this vast warehouse, behind locked gates, were those cognacs still maturing after a couple of centuries. Their value? Absolutely priceless. At the end of the tour, we were all offered a small glass of cognac to drink, those taking the more expensive tour options being given more mature cognac to drink. Those who wanted to, could buy.
Smaller local cognac producers
But Hennessy is just one maison offering a tour - others with excellent tours, on at regular intervals throughout the day, are Martell, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, Otard (where the tour includes a look at the home of French king, Francois 1) and Camus. At Camus you can even create yoiur own cognac blend!
For more on the history of cognac, head to the Musée des Arts du cognac (Maco) which does its bit for the local industry that made the town famous – and wealthy – by housing a permanent exhibition on the history of the drink and how it’s made.
If you’re looking to buy, then browse at the 400-strong selection on offer at Cognathèque.
For a really personal experience, we would recommend a visit to one of the many excellent small local producers that can be found through the cognac area. Many speak English, and while summer is the peak period for public visits, there are those that are open all year round. The tourist offices in the cognac areas will have a booklet called 'Les Bonness Adresses du Cognac' which is a detailed list of those offering tours.
Search for local cognac producers
Down by the river in the town of Cognac are the blackened chais (warehouses) that still store barrels of cognac. Their blackened state is caused by the alcohol evaporating into the surrounding air. The locals say this is ‘the angels taking their share’ - the truth is less romantic as the culprit is a tiny fungus that thrives in the alcohol-laden atmosphere!
TAKING A COGNAC TOUR: THE GREAT COGNAC HOUSES
The oldest of the cognac houses, founded in 1715.
Address: Place Edouard Martell, 16100
Cognac visits from 1 April to 31 October, Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm; Saturdays and Sundays noon to 5pm (closed Sundays in October)
Shop open until 6pm.
Admission: €7.50 per adult, €3 for those aged 12-18, free for those aged under 12, €4.50 per head for groups.
Address: 29, rue Marguerite-de-Navarre, 16100
Cognac guided visit followed by a smelling/sensory test, June to September, 2pm to 6pm on Mondays, 10.30am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday, duration one hour thirty minutes. Also available is a workshop that allows you to blend your own cognac (Discovery Atelier) and a cookery one that includes lessons from a professional chef and a meal at the Camus family table.
Shop open 10am to noon, 2pm to 5pm.
Admission: €7 per adult, free below 18, €3.50 per person for groups of 10.
Address: 2 place du Château, 16200
Jarnac visits from May to September 10am to 6pm every day (closed Saturdays in May and September.
Admission: €3 per adult, €2.30 per person per group
Address: Château de Cognac - 127, boulevard Denfert-Rochereau, 16100 Cognac.
April to November, Monday to Sunday except May 1: 10am to noon and 2pm - 6pm
December to March, Monday to Friday:10am to noon and 2pm - 6pm
Shop is open:
April to November: 10am to noon and 2pm - 6pm
December to March: 10am to noon and 2pm - 6pm (5pm on Friday)
Admission : €9.20 adults ; €4.10 for children between 12-18yrs; free for children under 12yrs
Address: Le Domaine Rémy Martin, Avenue de Gimeux, 16100 Merpins
Visits from mid-April to mid-October, Monday to Saturday. Duration: one hour thirty minutes. Reservation recommended
Admission: €15 per adult, €7 for those aged 12 to 18, and €12 per person per group.
Tel: 05 45 35 7 .66.
La Maison Rémy Martin
Address: 20, rue de la Société Vinicole - 16100 Cognac
Visits all year by appointment. Duration: two hours.
Admission: €25 per adult, €14 for those aged 12 to 18, €7 for under 12’s.
Tel: 05 45 35 7 .66
Address: Les Quais Hennessy, 16100, Cognac
Visits to the Maison de cognac Hennessy take place Monday to Sunday from 10am to 5.30pm. It’s advisable to book in advance.
Admission: Between €9 to €45, depending on which tasting you choose.
Tel 05.45.35.72.72 or 05 45 35 72 68
A permanent exhibition devoted to cognac where you can see and buy 450 different cognacs as well as 50 types of pineau.
Address: 8 place Jean-Monnet, Cognac, is open every day 9am to 7pm, admission free.
Tel: 05.45.82.43.31. or visit www.cognatheque.com
Musée des Arts du cognac (Maco)
It has a permanent exhibition that charts the history, the techniques and the economic impact of cognac. Situated in rue des Remparts, place Salle verte in Cognac, the museum is open every day from 10am to 6.30pm until September. Admission for adults €4, free for the under 18s. Reduced tariffs available. Tel: 05.45.36.21.10.
Les Bonnes Chauffes
Each year, during the months of December to February winegrowers and distillers throw open their doors to visitors over the weekend for free distillery visits plus tastings of cognac and of pineau. A number of restaurants also get involved with menus based on local products and of course cognac and pineau - some also put on musical events to create a real feeling of fun and festivity. For a full list of participating growers and their opening hours, and participating restaurants see www.cognacetapes.com
Words: RACHEL LOOS