Hine: “the future of Cognac”

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The new 2010 Hine Cognac Cask

What Hine Cognac lacks in size, it more than makes up for in quality. This is thanks to Cellar Master Eric Forget’s encyclopaedic knowledge of its single casks. Here, we speak to Eric and our Spirits Buyer, Rob Whitehead about the private cask that has been specially selected for our collectors. 

Spend any period of time in Cognac, and there’s no mistaking where you are. That there are big names here is obvious: if the myriad road signs don’t give it away, gigantic logos on the distilleries themselves do. But drive to the nearby commune of Jarnac, and you’ll find an altogether more subdued scene – and the house of Hine. 

Hine is not a Cognac house with a mile-long driveway or ostentatious signage, nor does it want to be. Its barrel cellars lie in an understated, sandstone building that sits conspicuously along the river Charente. It’s where a young Eric Forget arrived in 1999 – a stark contrast, surely, to his time at Hennessy. 

“The thing that immediately surprised me was how much less Cognac Hine made,” Eric recalls. “But I soon realised that it’s because we are so focused on quality. We’re working with very small batches to get single casks of the very finest eau de vie. In this way, I sometimes feel like a parfumer, or like I work in haute couture.” 

THE PROCESS BEHIND HINE COGNAC

Single-cask Cognac – the unique expression of specific vintages and plots – are Hine’s raison d’être. You need only visit their labyrinthine cellars to see how seriously they take this meticulous process. Here, you’ll see row after row of wooden barrels, each with the region, vintage and batch written in beautiful French cursive. 

And Eric has knowledge about every single one. But how does he single out a cask out of hundreds? 

“It all starts with the client,” Eric says. “Usually, they have a good idea of their personal taste, and I go from there. Say they want something a little more full-bodied, I look at the vintages that yielded that specific style. And then I look at the batches within that vintage to find something that will fit their taste.”  

There’s no prescriptive ageing process here, Eric explains. Rather, he tastes every single cask during an annual inventory check. Three or four years after the vintage, he starts to get an idea about how a given cask is developing. “Perhaps we use this one for blends, but this one,” he creates an explosion in his hands. “This one is so fine, so delicate, so we put it in the corner – these are the ones that become special casks.” 

THE BERRY BROS. & RUDD HINE COGNAC CASK

Having been the custodian of our spirits range for over a decade, there’s little that Rob Whitehead doesn’t know about the tastes of the Berry Bros. & Rudd collector. So when he approached Hine for a Berry Bros. & Rudd single cask, he had a clear idea of the style of cask he wanted. 

“Our customers have always enjoyed delicacy, poise and elegance,” he gestures to Eric. “That’s why we work with houses like Hine. Those graceful qualities tend to come from a certain type of Cognac production, from houses veering towards less new oak and less toasting. It’s all these careful choices that lead us away from more heavyweight styles.” 

From Rob’s brief, Eric sifted through the batches in his mind. From his multitude of single casks, five samples were selected and sent to London. And on a sunny day at No.3 St James’s Street, Rob got to work – although the decision was quickly made. 

“As soon as I tasted ‘the one’, I knew it was ‘the one’”, Rob recalls. “It’s ironic, you wait years to taste these casks and then it only takes a few minutes to make your selection. I chose the 2010 vintage – that cask showed something individual, distinct and worth exploring.” 

“WE’RE WORKING ON THE FUTURE OF COGNAC”

Our visit falls in early May, but the sun beats down on our backs – the cool cellars provide welcome pit-stops. It begs the question, how are more southerly French regions like Cognac being affected by change? 

Eric tells us that for over 15 years, Hine has harvested a little earlier each year. You need a certain amount of sugar to make Cognac, but you also need a high acidity to provide balance. With warmer temperatures, that crucial acidity decreases. “This affects the quality of the wine,” Eric admits. “If you have no good wine, you have no good Cognac. Last year we did our harvest in the night-time like we were in South Africa!” 

How else is Hine meeting the challenge that the climate poses? 

“One project we’re working on right now is finding the best vines for the future,” Eric reveals. “Something different from Ugni Blanc that is more resistant to rot, disease and can keep acidity in balance. We’re working on the future of Cognac.” 

Rob echoes this sentiment: “I often find that when we’re talking about sustainability, it’s usually young, nimble producers that do the important work. But I find it just as inspiring when older, more established houses realise we have to be there for the next generation.” 

“Precisely,” Eric quickly responds.In the last French election, who do the young people vote for? They vote for the ‘green parties’, because they want to protect the future. Sustainability is so important to them, as it is to us. Eventually we will have to switch from gas to electric to heat our stills – we will have to change everything.” 

THE RISE OF SINGLE-CASK COGNAC

Despite its growing challenges, the future looks bright for Hine, as a growing demand for single-cask expressions spreads across the industry. Eric has his own beliefs as to why that might be. 

“More than ever, we want to understand what we purchase. It’s like when you buy your bread, you want to understand where it came from, how it was made – it’s much the same for a bottle of Cognac. A private cask is something unique, you can tell people exactly which distiller, parish and parcel it came from.” 

“And people want to know everything,” says Rob. “They don’t want to be given half the truth. Today, they get to have the whole truth, but also a connection to Eric, to the soil, to the cellars beneath our feet.” 

Discover our single cask Cognac here

Category: Spirits

On the pour: Penfolds St Henri Shiraz

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Each month, we turn the spotlight onto a different wine that’s available to taste in our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall. With October upon us, Pete Windred talks us through the 2018 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz. Watch our video below to discover the story behind the wine.

If you enjoyed this video, you can explore more of our Youtube videos here

Category: On the Pour

No.3 magazine: Autumn/Winter 2022

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We’re delighted to reveal the latest edition of our No.3 magazine, which explores the theme of “storytelling”. It’s landing on doorsteps this week, and it’s also available to pick up in our shops. Here’s a peek at what you can expect to see inside.

As golden leaves carpet the streets of our towns and cities, and the evenings gradually grow darker, there’s a sense of magic in the air. This is a season of fables, folklore and inherited wisdom – from the carving of a pumpkin to the promise of gifts at the year’s end.  

Autumn never fails to capture the imagination. Stories naturally come to the fore. During days of thick rain, tales are shared over warming plates of apples and custard – perhaps of friendship, or adventure, or of an extraordinary wine enjoyed in fine company.  

Why are stories important? They allow us to form memories, and pass them onto future generations. They tell us some truth about ourselves – and allow us to better understand others. But above all, they entertain and inspire.  

This is the sentiment at the heart of the latest issue of No.3 magazine. Our Autumn/Winter 2022 edition shines a light on tales from the world of fine wine and spirits. Expect origin stories from prestigious producers for whom a career in wine wasn’t always obvious; a peek inside the cellars of four of our collectors; and a harvest-time road trip through South America, populated with memorable characters encountered along the way.  

We delve into the childhood memories of two well-known food-writers, as they share their favourite autumnal recipes. We examine the legacy of J.M. Barrie – best known as the author of Peter Pan – reflecting on one of fiction’s brightest imaginations. And there’s plenty more besides that, too.

Pick up a copy in our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall, or in our Basingstoke Shop 

Category: Miscellaneous

Discover Artisan Champagne

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Artisan Champagne
Illustration by Eleanor Crow

This autumn, we’re turning our attention to our most treasured sparkling wine region. Champagne offers an enormous wealth and diversity of style. However, this is often at risk of being overlooked in favour of the ‘big name’ brands. But all is not lost, explains Davy Zyw, as is proved by our Artisan Champagne winemakers.    

A few titanic Grandes Marques names and brands made the wines of Champagne famous. Their uniform cuvées trained consumers to expect consistency in Champagne styles.   

There are many wines to celebrate amongst these. However, they have only ever given us a binary view into Champagne. It’s a region which holds a huge wealth of terroir, style, winemaking talent and philosophy. This is why we’re focusing our attention on a new selection of wines – ones which represent the very pinnacle of artisan production.  

What is Artisan Champagne?

Artisan Champagne sits separately to the region’s “big-business” image. This category includes smaller-scale, lesser-known – and in many cases, undervalued – producers. Many of these producers craft grower Champagnes and own the winemaking process from start to finish. Their wines do sit outside the uniform style we have come to expect from the region. However, they represent a huge span of innovative approaches, winemaking techniques and terroir.  

Champagne is at the cusp of a climatic, cultural and commercial change. We believe our trailblazing Artisan producers are driving this shift, crafting wines with fresh vigour and confidence. Now is a fantastic time for customers to discover the new start of this historic region. 

Artisan winemakers and sustainability

The champagnois feel the effects of climate change acutely. Recent growing seasons tested both vines and terroir. They also exposed who the best farmers in the region are. Now, there is increased division between the vignerons who are responding correctly, and those who are not.  

Sustainability is at the core of the Champagne psyche. We are proud to support the increasing biodynamic, organic, and sustainable farming methods many of our Artisan Champagne producers practice.  

Artisan winemaking styles in Champagne

Blending sites, grapes and vintages is still paramount in Champagne. However, increasingly, many are choosing to vinify single crus separately, akin to Burgundy. This practice is not new, but it is becoming progressively popular – and it allows us to appreciate terroirs through a transparent lens.  

One of the best examples of the quality of this selection are Alexandre Penet’s lieux dits from the north-facing, Pinot Noir vineyards in Verzy and Verszenay. The wines are brave, detailed and self-assured. They will appeal to the most discerning of Champagne and Pinot Noir lovers. Or, look to young Bernard Doussot of Clandestin. Bernard trained in Meursault, before bringing new energy to the region’s southern vineyards of the Cotes des Bars.  

The future of Artisan Champagne

At Berry Bros. & Rudd, we certainly believe each glass of Artisan Champagne brings pleasure. But, there are commercial rewards to the region’s new guise. Increasingly, we are seeing growth in the Artisan producer category, with some releases even surpassing the price points generated by the most established prestige cuvées. Artisan Champagne doesn’t just bring delight to our dining table: now, wines from this category are proving a savvy, cellar-worthy investment too.  

Our full Artisan Champagne offer is now available here

Category: Champagne and Sparkling Wine