Read Time: 5 Minutes |
Cognac has held the crown as the most exclusive and luxury spirit in the world for hundreds of years. We sat down with Pablo Ferrand, the head of the Grande Champagne cognac Pierre de Segonzac to get his take on what makes the industry so special.
| By Cameron Mowat
Pierre de Segonzac is a luxury cognac brand based in the heartlands of the Cognac region, Grande Champagne, where the best cognacs in the world are made. The brand has a special place in our hearts as it is the first brand to ever reach out to us and send us spirits to play with when we started Drink In.
Cognac has been considered the most luxury of the spirits for many centuries, and is also thought of as the oldest spirit business. The art of distilling, ageing and blending cognac has been passed down generation after generation through the thousands of cognac producers in the region.
The Cognac region has had a hard time over the last 140 years. From the Phylloxera plague that wiped out 95% of the European grape vines in the 1880’s to two World Wars and multiple recessions, cognac as a style has rarely had a chance to breathe and re-stabilise. Whenever times are hard, luxury spirits tend to be the first to fall as drinkers go for a cheaper option, and the pandemic was no different.
Now however, Cognac is back on the rise. Last year alone, it was in large part responsible for a €4.9 billion turnover in French spirits, with cognac exports alone rising by 31.2% in value.
We talked to Pablo Ferrand, the latest in a long (300 year) line of cognac producers in the Pierre De Segonzac family to hear his insights into what makes cognac such a unique, luxury liquid, how it feels to carry on such a storied tradition and what the future might hold for his brand.
Your family has over 300 years of Cognac-making experience, how does it feel to carry that torch? Were you always connected to the vineyard from a young age?
It’s a real torch indeed! Actually I was always connected to the vineyard, even if my dad and my grandfather didn’t see it…
I was born in Paris but I spent all my holidays in La Nerolle. I saw the big red tractor to be like a carousel I couldn’t ride.
I spend my best time in La Nerolle watching my grandfather work every day and enjoying it. Since my youngest age I thought “I want to manage this”.
Did you always want to inherit the family business?
Hard question but I think yes. It was my fantasy! But I was not the guy who was destined to do it. My cousin was meant to manage the business, but when they became an adult they said “No”.
Because I was born in Paris, the expectation was that I had to become a lawyer or a manager in a big company…
But after a few years spending time in the French army, before studying wine and International Sales, I raised my finger to say I wanted the responsibility of the vineyard.
What inspires the most passion about cognac making for you?
All the guys working on it. Here you can meet the best. You know the Silicon Valley in the US? My place is called the Spirit Valley because in my town you can find the best makers in the spirit business. For vodka, gin, brandy… They are quiet, passionate and super smiley. I think I’m blessed to have a chance to be there in this period. It’s very exciting. They taught me how to distill perfectly.
What makes cognac such a luxury item?
The time and the cost to make it. It’s not a simple alcohol. It’s the most complex to create. You have to understand, I don’t create anything! I just repeat the knowledge my family has used for 300 years.
A famous expression here says – “Cognac is a luxury product made by simple men”, and that’s true. People there are never sure, never saying, “I’m the best.” They are always trying to find the best processes for the wood, the wine, the distillery.
What makes Pierre De Segonzac unique?
The recipe created by my grandfather on the 18 hectoliter alambic (we have two alambics: one 25 hectoliters and one 18 hectoliters) . It distills a super smooth cognac. Since his time we never changed the regulation of the 18 hectoliter alambic.
How was your harvest this year?
This year the harvest was very nice. Super sanitary quality. The hot summer is not very bad for the vineyard. The roots are long so it can find water deep in the soil.
And a hot summer means less disease or pests.
How does harvesting grapes for cognac differ from wine?
We are exactly like all wine growers. We produce white wine with the grappe : Ugni Blanc. It’s exactly the same. The harvesting period can move a bit. Sometimes Bordeaux is before us and sometimes we harvest first.
What is your favourite of the Pierre de Segonzac range?
My young VS because it’s my new baby distilled in 2017 and 2018. And it’s the angel’s choice because it’s the work of my grandfather.
What is your favourite cognac cocktail?
Side Car! I love it so much! So easy to make and super fresh. My sweet choice is a French coffee or two (like an Irish coffee but with cognac) in a pub on Sunday watching a match.
What direction have you seen the cognac industry going in recent years? What is the future of cognac?
Very good question… We sell cognac in around 45 counties now. And to be honest with you it’s not thanks to me but thanks to my grandfather for the taste of our cognac.
So the minimum I can do is to try to do the same as him and propose the best we can do in our distillery. We produce from the grape to the glass, and today we are like the last mohican. All my neighbours disappear year after year and the big companies become bigger and bigger.
So the future is hard to predict but be sure I will continue to travel all around the world to promote this nice alcohol.
If you’re interested in getting a taste of what a small-batch cognac with over 300 years of cognac making tradition woven into every sip tastes like you can check out their website and get yourself a bottle. Pierre de Segonzac is so exclusive you won’t find it in shops so make sure to place your orders and have some of the best cognac in the region delivered to you.