Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit

Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit

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by Kyle Jarrard
     
 

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Victor Hugo called it the "brandy of the gods." It is a universal symbol of high refinement and quality. Often expensive, always classy, Cognac is the gift of gifts—the best of the best—to mark a grand success. And just as remarkable as this coveted amber-hued nectar is its epic tale. More than once, this great drink faced certain doom at the hands of… See more details below

Overview

Victor Hugo called it the "brandy of the gods." It is a universal symbol of high refinement and quality. Often expensive, always classy, Cognac is the gift of gifts—the best of the best—to mark a grand success. And just as remarkable as this coveted amber-hued nectar is its epic tale. More than once, this great drink faced certain doom at the hands of despotic sovereigns, soft-headed politicians, and greedy businessmen—not to mention Mother Nature—but incredible twists of fate rescued it each time and helped seal its glorious future.

Cognac is the first comprehensive history of this celebrated spirit, charting its origins in the Charente wine region of southwestern France and turbulent growing pains to its present-day status as a multimillion-dollar worldwide business. Kyle Jarrard lays out a winding journey through Cognac country filled with a colorful cast of characters who had a hand, one way or another, in shaping its destiny—from Romans, Vikings, and kings and princes of England to La Rochelle traders, Dutch distillers, Catholic zealots, and even German invaders.

Beginning in ancient limestone bedrock, this engaging history of Cognac sweeps through Roman times and the Dark and Middle Ages to the birth of an eau-de-vie toward the end of the sixteenth century. Jarrard then traces the drink's four-hundred-year struggle to dominate markets the world over—a challenge made all the more difficult by war-halted commerce, contraband, usurpation of the Cognac name, and business feuds fought across the Atlantic. He reveals how Cognac distillers weathered vineyard die-offs, the struggle through the world wars, and the unprecedented postwar boom. There's also the unforgettable story of Gustav Klaebisch, a German lieutenant assigned to oversee Cognac's efforts during World War II, who protected the stocks from his own thirsty armies by creating a quota system—effectively preserving the brandy's future.

In addition, Jarrard takes a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, Martell, Delamain, and other finely tuned companies whose decisions today will make the Cognacs of tomorrow.

Capturing the mystique of the French city and region, as well as the drink itself, Cognac deftly illustrates the spirit's compelling transformation into the world's most sought-after brandy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* “…informative and entertaining…the sort of admirable guide you’d want on hand if you ever visited the region of contemplated buying a bottle…” (Business Traveller, 1st November 2005)

“…a good read…” (Wine International, October 2005)

Cognac isn't just any brandy. Named after the western French town on the Charente River near Bordeaux, only those spirits distilled in the Cognac region may carry that distinction, according to a 1909 French law.
Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit delivers plenty of factoids about the famed brandy, which has been produced there since the 1500s.
Jarrard is an American journalist and novelist based in France since 1981, when he married into a Cognac-region family.
Today, the four top-selling manufacturers, Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell, and Courvoisier, control 74 percent of world Cognac sales, which in 2003 amounted to 1.3 billion euros ($1.7 billion). Of 127 million bottles of Cognac produced in 2003, 121 million were exported, according to the Cognac trade bureau.
Jarrard offers picturesque details about how the industry leaders got started: Hennessy Cognacs was founded by Richard Hennessy, an 18th-century Irish soldier of fortune who fought for French King Louis XV, after which he stumbled onto the Cognac region and decided to get into the less perilous business of distilling brandy.
Lice, Mildew
There are dramas like the 19th-century epidemic caused by a louse, the Phylloxera vastatrix, which ate the roots of vines and threatened the entire region's production. Grape vines imported from north Texas, where chalky soil was similar to that of the Cognac region, saved the day but also caused a devastating epidemic of mildew. Both of these scourges, Jarrard gloats with the aplomb of an assimilated emigre to France, came from plants imported from the U.S.
Jarrard also freely casts blame about Cognac's record during the Nazi occupation of World War II, when business boomed. “In 1962, after the death in Germany of Gustav Klaebisch, the Nazi Lieutenant who was overlord of wartime Cognac, some local Cognac businessmen still wanted to name a square after him,” he writes.
While this may dismay some Cognac consumers, others will be pleased to read about the Hennessy Tasting Committee, which meets at 11 a.m. daily to sample some 40 drinks, in search of perfect “elegance.”
Some brandy drinkers may legitimately prefer Armagnac, from the Gascony region south of Cognac. Or they might follow Winston Churchill, whose favorite “Dvin Brandy” is made in the Ararat Valley in Armenia; a bottle of Dvin was presented at the 1945 Yalta Conference by Joseph Stalin to Churchill, who said, “Always remember that I have taken more from brandy than brandy has taken from me.”
Readers of “Cognac” will take away lots of information about the alluring—if not, in fact, unrivaled — French brandy. (Bloomberg News wire, March 15, 2005)

It’s fitting that a Paris-based novelist and International Herald Tribune editor should chronicle the history of the famously refined French brandy. And Jarrard does a nice job of it, offering a thorough, well-researched and objective history of cognac. He begins with a geological history of the French province of Charente, on the Atlantic coast, where the town of Cognac is located. The Romans brought the first grapes to the region, but it would be centuries before viniculture really took root there. The earliest attempts to make what we now call cognac began during the Middle Ages, as alchemists and apothecaries experimented with putting local grape pressings through their distillation apparatuses. While France evolved from a feudal kingdom into an imperial, colonial power, the cognac-making process developed, although factors like weather and warfare ofte

Publishers Weekly
It's fitting that a Paris-based novelist and International Herald Tribune editor should chronicle the history of the famously refined French brandy. And Jarrard does a nice job of it, offering a thorough, well-researched and objective history of cognac. He begins with a geological history of the French province of Charente, on the Atlantic coast, where the town of Cognac is located. The Romans brought the first grapes to the region, but it would be centuries before viniculture really took root there. The earliest attempts to make what we now call cognac began during the Middle Ages, as alchemists and apothecaries experimented with putting local grape pressings through their distillation apparatuses. While France evolved from a feudal kingdom into an imperial, colonial power, the cognac-making process developed, although factors like weather and warfare often prevented distilleries from obtaining the necessary raw materials. By the Napoleonic era, however, cognac began appearing on the world market, and its makers worked at refining their product and their methods as demand for the elegant, amber, aromatic brandy increased. Jarrard brings the story to the present, examining the various brands dominating the market today, including Hennessy, Remy-Martin and Courvoisier. Although a more driving narrative and some strongly defined characters would've given this text more life, it's a must for aficionados. B&w photos. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Novelist Jarrard (Rolling the Bones) tries his hand at nonfiction in this history of the Cognac business. The first part of the book provides a rather ordinary survey of French history and how geology, politics, and religion contributed to the economic development of the Cognac region and its famous distilled spirits. In the last part of the book, however, Jarrard shifts to profiling the firms and people of today who contribute to the current success of the Cognac trade. Cognac production comes to life, and Jarrard provides a fascinating look at the growers, barrel-makers, bottle-makers, and producers of Cognac. In this respect, he succeeds in doing for Cognac what William Echickson did for Bordeaux in Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution. Since tasting notes are sparse, this book will appeal more to readers interested in the business rather than the sipping of Cognac. Recommended for large public libraries and special collections.-Andrea R. Dietze, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471459446
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
02/18/2005
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
753,007
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.63(d)

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Kyle Jarrard, whose fiction has delighted me in the past, has turned his fine eye and writer's skill to the subject of cognac, that most elegant of all the spirits that flow from France's numberless distilleries. While rich in history and admirable scholarship, Cognac really appeals because of Kyle’s personal and anecdotal sketches. It's a fine grande champagne of a book, to be savored over and over."
— Patricia Wells, Author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris

" Having read the wonderful book by Kyle Jarrard about Cognac, an anecdote immediately springs to mind—Here now, are the two gems of our cellars, two very rare flasks; these two bottles of Napoleon brandy are the very ones that Andrè Terrail used to take legitimate pride in.... True, alas, there is only one left. The other one was stolen by Pierpont Morgan and replaced with a letter of excuse and a blank check, which Andrè Terrail just sent back. That's how the cellars of the Tour d'Argent are perhaps the only place in the world where a billionaire has ever staged a hold-up."
—Claude Terrail, restauranteur, La Tour d'Argent, Paris

"An enthralling volume. Kyle Jarrard has put together a compelling story, not just about the world’s best-known eau-de-vie, but about the people who make it and the often violent history of the remarkable but little-known region of France from which it comes."
—Frank J. Prial, Wine Critic, The New York Times

"Kyle Jarrard has written an authoritative and exquisitely detailed word portrait of Cognac, both the geographic region, the chalk hills of the Charente in southwestern France, and the seductive golden spirit that is its most renowned product. This is a book for lovers of both, and for all those who understand that food and drink are not just something to enjoy around the table but a true expression of history, geography, culture and humanity. Cognac, and the artisans and families who have created it over the centuries, is a noble subject and Jarrard has done it justice."
—Nancy Harmon Jenkins, nationally known food writer and author of The Essential Mediterranean

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