Blog: Chris MercerA night at Courvoisier Cognac

Chris Mercer | 9 November 2009

just-drinks deputy editor Chris Mercer exchanged the urban rush of London for some country-fication in the relative tranquility of France's Cognac region at the end of last week.

The trip, organised by Courvoisier, saw just-drinks accommodated in the manner it has become accustomed to over the years. Courvoisier's chateau at Jarnac has rooms the size of your average London flat and the type of cellar that you wouldn't mind being locked in for several days.

For Courvoisier, as for other Cognac houses, 2009 has been a tough year.

But then, this is not the first and is very unlikely to be the last recession for the company, which was previously part of Allied Domecq and sold to Fortune Brands following Pernod Ricard's buyout of Allied in 2005.

Cognac as a spirit occupies a strange position in modern France. Courvoisier may have been official Cognac supplier to the French Royal Court in the 19th Century, but with around 97-98% of all Cognac exported, it seems that most French people outside of the Cognac region would these days rather have a Scotch whisky in their drinks cabinets.

In a sense, with strong export links to the US, Western Europe and increasingly Russia and Asia, this is not such a problem. China's emerging middle classes would probably fill swimming pools with XO, given the opportunity.

Also, most 'national' drinks have tended to suffer on their home turf at the hands of 'exotic' imports - homemade wine in France, beer in the UK and vodka in Russia have all been in decline among domestic drinkers.

Yet, lack of penetration for Cognac in modern France is an issue. Courvoisier admits that the industry was caught napping by Scotch in the decades following the end of World War Two in 1945.

As one company representative said, it is an issue because Cognac is, to some extent, sold on its French heritage and culture. Some consumers, particularly in emerging markets like China and Russia, are buying into that idea. The big French fashion houses view France as an important market, because it helps them to sell a certain style to the world. They want French women dressed in their designer clothes and to be seen dressed in them.

Opportunities will continue to abound for Cognac in emerging markets, but the houses are aware of the need to push more in France and it will be interesting to see how this develops.

Chris Mercer, deputy ed.


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