In the world of fine wine and spirits, there’s an awful lot of jargon to get your head around. Half of it seems to be little more than sales-speak; complicated terminology beloved by marketers, who slap long, foreign words onto the labels of bottles in the hope that it will either impress or intimidate consumers into parting with their money. The other half is the kind of language which can help deepen one’s appreciation of a product, explaining how, where and in what manner the drink was produced.
Flavor and aroma that it could not have been made in any other corner of the country
For France’s finest producers of wines and spirits, there’s really only one term you need to understand to get under the skin of what they do: terroir. A complicated and difficult to translate concept, terroir takes into account everything from the microclimate of a vineyard to the chemical makeup of the soil, the angle of the slope the grapes are grown on, the drainage, the history… the list goes on and on. It is, in essence, that ‘sense of time and place’ you get with a beautifully made bottle of wine or Brandy; the feeling transmitted via flavor and aroma that it could not have been made in any other corner of the country, or in any other year than the one who bore it. It is so much more than a mere buzzword – it is a way of interpreting the intention of the vigneron, and the pride that premier producers have in their land mean that expression of terroir becomes paramount. To communicate that sense of time and place is to invite the drinker to experience just what it is that makes the estate so special, to experience something unique, something memorable, something elemental.
For brothers Maëlys and Frédéric Bourgoin – and for their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before them – expression of terroir was not only the driving force behind their stunning Cognac, it was the key to their success and the foundation of what has become a highly recognizable and esteemed brand. While this is by no means unusual in the world-beating Cognac region of France, where expressive Brandies have been made according to traditional principles since the 16th century, the Bourgoin family made expression and terroir-focused production the very center of all they do. By blazing a bright and influential trail in this most hallowed of French grape growing locations, Maëlys and Frédéric Bourgoin have risen a new standard for Cognac. Theirs is a Brandy which is making ripples in the industry, and gaining them a dedicated following based on purity, excellence, and an approach which chimes beautifully with the demands of the 21st century Cognac drinker.
An irrepressible connection with the land
The Bourgoin family estate is based in Saint-Saturnin, a picture-book medieval village nestled sweetly in the Charente department in southwestern France, not far from the town of Cognac itself. With its rustic spires and twisting, ancient streets, Saint-Saturnin is exactly the sort of evocative location you’d expect to find spectacular eaux-de-vies. Indeed, upon seeing the dense forest and pristine Gallic landscape which surrounds the estate, you get a clearer idea why expression of their land is so important for Maëlys and Frédéric Bourgoin – this place is sheer perfection.
The Bourgoin brothers’ great-grandfather was the first to involve himself in the Cognac business as a grape-grower, and as the village of Saint-Saturnin and its environs has changed so little over the past century, you really get a sense of what he must have seen, smelt, tasted and felt as he worked his beloved vineyards. He worked with many of the most highly regarded Cognac houses in the region, no doubt taking inspiration from their time-honoured practices, and delighting in his involvement in a craft which stretches back over four hundred years. Of course, it wasn’t long before he wanted to be involved further, and then further still. By the mid 20th century, the Bourgoin Estate was established as a more serious player in Cognac production, and when Maëlys and Frédéric took over, it was primed to become the premium Brandy we know it as today.
An inspired and natural approach
“For us, terroir comes first” states Maëlys Bourgoin. “You’ve probably tasted Cognac before, but you’ll soon understand why our eaux-de-vies are different.” And different they are – the Cognacs which come out of the Bourgoin estate have latched onto an erupting trend in viticulture, which is taking that concept of terroir and expression to new heights and new levels of exploration.
Bourgoin Cognac is bottled by hand, by vintage, by plot, and by casks
For Bourgoin Cognac is a biodynamic product – that is, it follows the principles and practices laid out by visionary agricultural reformer Rudolph Steiner, and instructs vignerons such as the Bourgoin brothers to work as closely with the natural rhythms of the earth as possible. Soils are treated with mystical and fascinating arrays of ingredients, vines are sown, pruned and harvested according to the phases of the moon, and great efforts are made to ensure that organic and sustainable agricultural practices are carried out from the beginning stages of the grape growing season to the final stages of bottling. Biodynamic producers are, by their very nature, passionate about what they do, but the Bourgoins are verging on the obsessive; even the water used in their Cognac production is collected from the rain which falls on the verdant slopes of their estate, and they use ‘nothing but gravity’ in their bottling practices, all of which take place on site in the distillery.
As Maëlys states, his Cognacs are “Unblended and unfiltered… without any additives, colorants, or added sugars. Bourgoin Cognac is bottled by hand, by vintage, by plot, and by casks”. This is Cognac production which would have seemed rustic even to their pioneering great-grandfather, and which allows the drinker to really tap into that all important sense of time and place. The Bourgoin brothers’ reasoning for all this is as simple as it is poignant: they know that they have access to some of the finest Cognac terroir to be found anywhere in the region. They fundamentally believe that in order to get across just how fine that terroir is in every bottle, there needs to be minimal intervention, zero chemical interference, and every effort made to ensure that nothing at all is lost on that journey between the vineyard and the glass.
Sourced from the finest, destined for the best
Maëlys Bourgoin is keen to point out that the vineyards which bear the grapes his Cognac is made from have some serious pedigree behind them. “We raise vines in three vintages: Premiers bois, Petite Champagne and Fins bois. Premiers bois is a tiny forgotten vintage from the very first Cognac AOC map in 1909 (Registered Origin Designation), which benefits from the best geological Cretaceous subsoils.” It could be said that this passion for exploration and rediscovery, of taking the forgotten and making it relevant, is at the heart of what Bourgoin Cognac is all about.
With all of this in mind, it’s clear that Bourgoin is a producer which does not shy away from going the extra mile and pushing the envelope when it comes to the concepts of natural production and single-estate viticulture. But the results more than justify the means. Bourgoin Cognac’s complex flavors, distinctive aromas, and fascinating characteristics are in demand, and they’re of the request with the most prestigious clients and connoisseurs one could wish to be associated with. Destined for the finest and most exclusive restaurants and bars of Paris and further afield, as well as the cellars of those seeking the ultimate in expressive, elegant and naturally produced Cognacs, Bourgoin Cognac is an uninterrupted presentation of nature’s finest achievements. This is, in essence, what the buzz around terroir is all about.
The Bourgoin Cognac Range
BRUT DE FUT 1994 55.3% vol. (barrel proof) / 22 years old / 35 cl
This eau-de-vie is unblended and bottled with no reduction and no filtration. Each cask is carefully selected and bottled in a small batch with detailed traceability and is hand bottled with no additives whatsoever.
MICRO BARRIQUE 1994 43% vol. 22 years old / 35 cl
After 22 years, the aging is finished in a 10-liter crocodile charred Micro-barrel. It produces a subtle and smooth Cognac with empyreumatic aromas. Reduced with rainwater, bottled by hand.
FINE PALE 62.5% vol. (barrel proof) / 2 years old / 70 cl
Fine Pale is a young Cognac bottled at cask strength after two years maturation in fût roux old Cognac casks. Its minimal coloring makes it an ideal and invisible addition to cocktails, but it provides an impressive length and complexity of flavor.
VERSEAU 45% vol. 5 years old / 70 cl
Distilled on reinforced lees, this Cognac has an atypical aromatic prism ranging from stone fruits to more toasted aromas. A silky texture, sweetness, and aromatic persistence typify this fine natural Cognac.