Cognac is one among France’s most iconic merchandise, but little of it’s consumed at house: 98% is exported. Genuine cognac can solely be produced from a selected area however this huge winery stretches from the grand city of Cognac itself inland throughout the Charente area and over to the Atlantic coast. It’s a delight to discover, with winemakers, distillers and the famed maisons de négoces (cognac retailers) open for visits. Most individuals start in Cognac with one of many multimedia excursions (round €20) of the likes of Hennessy, Martell or Rémy Martin, all established because the 1700s. Alternatively, many homes and winemaker-distillers within the close by countryside supply simply as fascinating (if no-frills) excursions free of charge. Many websites are open all yr and from November to 31 March it’s doable to see the distilleries in motion.
Bache Gabrielsen

{Photograph}: John Brunton
The 90-minute tour of this conventional maison de négoce is the proper introduction to understanding cognac. Discover it in Cognac’s backstreets after which stumble into its Dickensian workplace, with clerks bent over vintage sloping desks. Since 1905, the house owners have been the Norwegian Bache Gabrielsen household. Because the information explains the advanced strategy of cognac manufacturing, guests could glimpse Jean-Philippe Bergier – the revered maître de chai, (cellar grasp) – sitting in a aspect room that resembles a pharmacy with its many pattern bottles of cognacs, which he checks and sniffs whereas he searches for brand spanking new blends. The tour continues within the cellar and distillery, the place guests uncover what is named Paradis, the place treasured vintages going again a 100 years are saved below lock and key in big glass demijohns, a magic ingredient ready for use for a prestigious mix.• Free go to and tasting of 5 cognacs, 32 Rue de Boston, Cognac, bache-gabrielsen.com
Otard

{Photograph}: Jeronimo Alba/Alamy
Cognac’s majestic royal fortress was the birthplace of one among France’s most illustrious kings, Francis I, however after the French Revolution it was acquired by the entrepreneurial Baron Otard who realised it was the proper venue for his newly based cognac home, with Renaissance salons remodeled into barrel-ageing cellars. As with Richard Hennessy from Cork and Jean Martell from Jersey, Otard was one other of Cognac’s 18th-century mavericks, arriving from throughout Europe to make their fortune. His household got here from Scotland and Norway, and though right this moment the maison is owned by Bacardi, an 11th-generation Otard remains to be ambassador for the model. The entertaining information brings to life the lengthy historical past of the chateau – even Richard the Lionheart stayed right here – and the Otard technique of manufacturing, together with a sensorial check illustrating the completely different aromas created by gentle and heavy toasting of the barrel.• Tour and tasting of two cognacs €21, 127 Boulevard Denfert Rochereau, Cognac, chateauroyaldecognac.com
Hine

{Photograph}: John Brunton
Within the bustling city of Jarnac, birthplace of François Mitterand, this is likely one of the prime excursions for explaining the A-Z of cognac manufacturing in layman’s language. Visible displays emphasise the essential significance of the winery and fermentation, the best way a double distillation transforms cloudy unfiltered wine into clear eau-de-vie, ageing and mixing, the Paradis and the mysterious half des anges, whereby evaporation claims as much as 40% earlier than the cognac is lastly bottled. Hine is the one cognac home to obtain a royal guarantee, maybe as a result of the founder, Thomas Hine, was from Dorset. He arrived in Jarnac in 1791 to study the secrets and techniques of cognac, and married his boss’s daughter.• Free tour and tasting of three cognacs and, this summer season, a cocktail, 16 Quai de l’Orangerie, Jarnac, hinecognac.com
Painturaud Frères

Cognac can’t exist with out the 4,000-odd viticulteurs who have a tendency, harvest and ferment acidic ugni blanc grapes into wine that distillers and maisons de négoces distil and age. However greater than 1,000 of the winemakers are additionally bouilleurs de cru – distillers themselves – who promote to the massive maisons but additionally preserve an element to create their very own single-vineyard cognacs. This 40-hectare (98.eight acres) domaine is run by brothers Jean-Philippe and Emmanuel, who describe to guests how, in 1934, their grandfather first began making his personal cognac to distinguish themselves from Rémy Martin, who then – and right this moment – purchase most of their produce. The vines run proper outdoors the home, and the 90-minute tour passes by the distillery the place they use two copper pot stills historically mounted on red-brick gas-fired stoves, after which a tiny cellar and tasting room jam-packed with barrels. • Tour and tasting free, by appointment solely, three Rue Gourry, Segonzac, cognacpainturaud.com
Marcadier-Barbot

{Photograph}: John Brunton
Dany Barbot and her brother Serge Marcadier supply a splendid expertise for guests, starting with a bumpy winery tour in a 1943 US military jeep. Again within the distillery, Dany, a retired trainer, provides an in depth description of the distilling course of: the première chauffe (first heating) distillation producing 30C alcohol, the second, bonne chauffe, trickling out at 72C. Tasting its 4 artisan cognacs it’s simple to understand the variations from its 10-year-aged VSOP to the 40-years Hors d’Âge. Serge rents out a close-by farmhouse B&B, the place a double room prices €52 with use of an enormous swimming pool, outside barbecue and fashionable kitchen.• Free tour and 4 cognac tasting, Le Pible, Segonzac, barbot-marcadier.com
Raison Personnelle

{Photograph}: John Brunton
Bertrand and Sabine de Witasse gave up high-powered jobs in Paris to take over the household property 24 years in the past. Bertrand discovered winemaking and distilling from scratch, and Sabine now acts as a information, explaining: “I’m going to recount the truth of our each day life, our household story, and present how one of many world’s most subtle, technically excellent merchandise, really begins out life right here on this rustic, chaotic, rural surroundings.” Their imposing farm was in-built 1861 and the chai (storeroom) stretches for 150 metres, from the purpose the place the grapes arrive from the harvest, direct into the press, then pumped into concrete cisterns to ferment into wine after which, on the finish, are two pot stills for distilling. They’re one of many uncommon bouilleurs de cru who nonetheless warmth with wooden somewhat than gasoline, but it surely means Bertrand spends two months dwelling and sleeping subsequent to the 1926 alambic – as each 45 minutes he must restoke the wooden fireplace.• Free tour and tasting of 4 cognacs, 137 rue de Porches, Angeac-Champagne, raisonpersonnelle.wixsite.com
Brard-Blanchard

Sophie Blanchard pours a tipple. {Photograph}: John Brunton
A cognac go to with a distinction. Dynamic Sophie Blanchard runs one of many area’s uncommon natural vineyards, produces her personal €5-€eight crimson, rose, white and bubbly wine, and sells 75% of her manufacturing direct to clients who’ve been loyal since her pioneering father made the property bio in 1972. The tour takes within the winery, cellars and distillery, then Sophie makes everybody really feel at house around the tasting room’s bar, letting them in on insights, equivalent to cognacs purchased straight from winemaker distillers like hers are often aged far longer than the traditional business bottle. A VSOP (Very Particular Outdated Pale) has a minimal ageing of 5 years however an artisan cognac could also be 10-15 years outdated, whereas the top-end XO (Additional Outdated) might be 25 years outdated somewhat than the statutory 10.• Free go to and cognac and wine-tasting, 1 Chemin de Routreau, Boutiers-Saint-Trojan, brard-blanchard.fr
Tonnellerie Allary

{Photograph}: John Brunton
One of many essential elements within the combine that creates cognac is the barrel used for ageing. The cask have to be French oak: wooden that imparts aromas equivalent to vanilla, caramel and spicy ginger. The countryside round Cognac is dotted with artisan cooperages however solely the family-run Allary opens to the general public. Be ready for lots of noise and motion: from the hammering and sawing, mud, smoke and leaping flames as they toast the within of the barrels, whereas one bearded cooper performs what appears like a manic dance around the barrels, pounding the staves with an enormous hammer.• 4 excursions (1-1½ hours) each day, €4pp, under-12s free, 29 route de Cognac, Archiac, tonnellerie-allary.com
Restaurant Le Chai

{Photograph}: John Brunton
Jovial Frédéric Audouard presides over his old school bistrot from behind the wood bar the place you will notice a cross-section of Cognac life – from pinstripe-suited négociants to artisans from the barrel cellars carrying pale blue overalls – noisily having fun with an aperitif earlier than settling down for a meal. The plat du jour prices €12 and might be conventional Charentais gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb confit) with white beans or sausages resting on a mattress of lentils; the excellent wine record stretches to some 600 vintages, with greater than 60 cognacs to select from. • 42 allee de la Corderie, Cognac, restaurant-lechai.com
Resort Quai Des Pontis

Though there are a number of moderately priced accommodations within the centre of Cognac, that is in a sprawling park alongside the Charente river. It’s a stress-free resort that might be in the course of the countryside. The usual lodge rooms are in a renovated red-brick furnishings manufacturing unit however for a complement it’s doable to order a roulotte gypsy caravan, a comfy wood lodge or romantic waterside stilt cabin with balcony searching over the river. Nice for youths, with its outside video games, an enormous pool, in addition to a fitness center.• Lodge doubles from €79 B&B, 16 rue des Pontis, Cognac, quaidespontis.com