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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.
“…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.
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
The Grapes Are Coming.
Much Ado about Salt and Wine.
The Difficult Birth of an Eau-de-Vie.
Mayhem on the Charente.
Rising Houses, Rising Fortunes.
A Distillate Turns Golden.
Phylloxera and The Texas Cure.
The German Who Saved Cognac.
Glory Years, with Feathers.
Tale of a Big House,
Tale of a Little House.
The Last of the Mohicans.
From the Nursery to the Glass.
Agendas for Tomorrow.
The Spirit Flows On.
I enjoyed this book. Partly because it's a subject that is off the beaten path as far as topics for books are concerned and partly because it is full of history. If your into the beverage business this is a good book to read.
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