Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cognac, cooperage -- and deer -- with Martell

Martell had quite an interesting afternoon prepared for us, beginning at their distillery. There we learned about the fine grain woods (the only type Martell uses) and how they make finer and more dense cognacs. To illustrate the point, we were taken to the company's cooperage for a fascinating barrel-making lesson.

A cooperage is a place where hand-crafted barrels are made. In the case of Martell's cooperage, it is a place where 45,000 barrels per year are made -- by hand. It was amazing to watch as a worker picked the wood (left outside to be prepared naturally in the rain and sun). The wood was cut into strips and put together a piece at a time before going through the fire, sanding and sealing (for details, see "How to Make a Barrel for Wine"). It was a great experience to see how important every detail in the barrel making is important when making a fine cognac.
After the cooperage, we were back to Martell's Distillery for a tasting of VSOP, XO and Cordon Bleu, before heading to the Founder's House. The home of John Martell, who started the company, is on the grounds of the distillery and worth a visit alone. Originally built in the 1700s, it is full of historic photos and documents.
The evening at Martell's estate, Chateau Chanteloup, was beyond enjoyable. We were treated to an incredible meal, a special tasting of their prized L'Or Cognac and one of my favorite wines (Jacob's Creek Riesling), which is also produced by the Pernod-Ricard group. But the real excitement came after dinner when we were treated to a welcome by some of Chateau Chanteloup's residents -- a group of deer that enjoyed the attention as they ate out of our hands! It was a fitting way to finish a perfect day in Cognac before I got some sleep and got ready for breakfast with Remy Martin.
Martell has guided and private tours available of their Cognac visit their website for details of the tours, as well as product information.

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