For those of us who have travelled widely, and have studied unique destinations before and during the trip, not much is truly surprising, except for places visited and experiences gained we never thought we would ever have.
This was what I was thinking when, on our recent Viking River Cruise through the Bordeaux region of France, a sensory experience occurred, at a destination I never thought I would see.
Learning Cognac Blending From a Master Blender
It was an off-cruise excursion to Cognac, where the divine brandy was distilled. Only four of us went to the Camus Chateau, where we first ate our lunch; then, went to Master Blending room, and learned how to blend Cognac from Camus’ Master Blender and Global Brand Ambassador, Frédéric Dezauzier.
It was a seminal, unexpected experience, first, learning about Cognac, what it was, how the grapes were harvested and distilled.
But first things first: driving into the long courtyard of the Camus Chateau, called the Chateau du Plessis, I was awed.
Cognac Crus and Regions
Cognac stretches over two regions in western France, Charente-Maritime, bordering the Atlantic, and Charente, a little further inland. There are six crus, or growth areas, designated for producing Cognac: Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires. The Camus Cognac comes from a small area, the Borderies.
Cognac Making Process
The process of making Cognac starts out with the pressing of the white grapes in a pneumatic press, followed by a 10-day fermentation period. Then, the distillation of Cognac can only be done in an Alambic Charentais, the copper pot process still used in this region as it has been for 400 years.
The aging process comes next –and is an essential step for the slow and development of three aromas: fruit, flowers and spices. The longer the Cognac ages, the more aromas and complexities develop.
After learning this, we walked from the Chateau, through the Camus Breezeway to the Camus Cognac showroom, where we saw more Cognac that we had ever seen in our lives. We then went into a darkened room where our Master Blending Class took place.
Master Blending Class
In each of our areas, we saw four glasses of Cognac, plus, a beaker, a pitcher, and an eye dropper. We were told that in the glasses were four different Cognac distillations –all with slightly different scents and tastes. What we were to do was taste, then blend our own, using as many distillations – well, only four – as we wanted.
From left to right – the first was First Borderies, which was, as Frédéric said, “… strong, very like the temper of an adolescent.” The second distillation was Second Borderies, which was, “floral, and somewhat soft, with the hint of mineral.” The third was from Petit Champagne, “had a higher acidity, and a deep aroma.” And the fourth, was of Grand Champagne, “quiet yet formidable!”
Chateau Built in 1863
It was a huge Chateau, more like a medieval castle, even though it was built in 1863 – just yesterday, by French standards. Yet, the Camus family had lived there from the beginning: all the way from Jean-Baptiste Camus the originator, to his sons, Edmond and Gaston, to one of their sons, then to Jean-Paul Camus, and to the most recent, Cyril, born in 1971. As we ate a wonderful lunch there, we learned about why the Cognac region was so unique.
Exquisite Sensory Experience
So, we tasted, and tested and basically played with the flavors. I chose the second and fourth, and eventually blended both from the French Oak barrels into a bottle – all my own. It was a sensory experience I had never had, and don’t expect again. At the end of our blending lesson, we wrote our names, blend percentages, and compositions on our bottle, and in a large, black leather-bound book that remained at Camus, so if we ever wanted to order our blends again, we could.
We spent the rest of the afternoon talking with Frédéric, and discovered he had just returned from Singapore. He said many of the newest Camus clientele came from the Far East and China. He said Camus recently opened successful new markets in Beijing and Shanghai.
“The Chinese love our Cognac,” he said, “It tastes of tradition, of family, both mean a lot. It is not an only a European drink anymore. It is for everyone.”
Carrying – actually cradling– my own personal blended Cognac bottle back to our Viking Cruise ship Forseti, I knew what he meant, and felt both a need and want to share the essence of my personal Premier Cru Camus. http://www.camus.fr