We harvest our grapes mainly from the four finest crus of the six in the Cognac region. Each has its own unique terroir, or growing environment, which greatly affects the flavour and characteristics of our delicate Ugni Blanc grapes. Whether the grapes grow in a chalky or clay soil, how high up a hill the vines are planted, whether they get the cooler ocean winds off the Atlantic or how quickly they grow in the wet winters and hot summers – all have an impact.
For over five generations, we've nurtured close relationships with over 800 wine growers in the Cognac region. These families not only understand our desire to get the finest and most exquisite grapes year after year, but also share our passion for creating the very best cognac possible.
Typically, we harvest our grapes in October, when they're at their ripest and juiciest. Once picked, our wine growers press the grapes and the intense juice is allowed to naturally ferment over seven days, transforming the grape sugars into wine. This wine then begins its long journey through distillation and maturation until eventually, possibly decades later, being blended as one of our cognacs.
All our cognacs are made exclusively with Ugni Blanc grapes mainly from the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois crus. Ugni Blanc is the most prized grape due to its high acidity and low alcoholic strength - perfect for creating the rich but delicate flavours of our cognac.
The wood for our casks is taken from a selection of ancient forests in central France, including Tronçais in Allier, near Burgundy. Our Master Blender and his team hand select trees of about 200 years old, which they prize for their soft tannins and fine grain, which adds a superb complexity to our cognac as it ages. These forests are carefully cultivated and replanted under the guidance of the National Office of Forestry (ONF) to ensure our future supply.
Only about 20% of the oak trunks our coopers carefully choose eventually become staves for our cognac. They use only the heartwood and sapwood of the wood, ensuring it's free from knots and imperfections. Then, respecting generations of tradition, the oak is expertly split into long strips to ensure the grain is straight before being sawn by eye into exact stave lengths.
Once cut, the fine grained oak staves are dried naturally for a minimum of three years in the fresh French air before they are considered in good enough condition to be used to age our eaux-de-vie. This natural weathering by sun and rain remove many of the soluble elements in the wood, including the bitter tannins that might affect the final taste of our cognac.
The cooperage is where our coopers painstakingly handcraft the casks to our own exacting specifications to ensure they’re in the best possible condition to house our eaux-de-vie throughout their long ageing journey. Our coopers transform about 1,000 oak trees a year into casks for Courvoisier cognac. To create casks, our coopers hoop the air-dried oak staves over a fire made with wood shavings and oak pieces, constantly moistening and heating the wood to gently bend it into the traditional curved shape. Using fires of different intensity, the finished casks are then expertly moved from flame to flame to ensure they are perfectly toasted. This charring allows our ageing eaux-de-vie to take in just the right amount of flavour from the oak over time.
After being pressed, our Ugni Blanc grape juice naturally ferments for seven days, the fruit sugars transforming it into a sumptuous wine ready for distillation. This clear wine is fruity, dry, slightly acidic and about 9% by volume. We insist on micro distilling, where our wine growers ferment their wine in small batches before we select only the very best to go forward for distillation.
Unlike many of our competitors, we insist on only using traditional 25 hectolitre Alambic Charentais copper pot stills. Their small size allows us greater control over the distillation process, by increasing the wine’s surface contact with the copper, heightening the richness of the spirit. We also double distil to ensure we capture the aromatic soul of our fermented wine.
We are one of the few cognac houses to distil using the “lees” the wine’s yeast residue, a remarkably difficult process that imparts even greater depth and complexity to our cognac. From the beginning of November, we distil our wine 24 hours a day until the March 31st, the legal deadline for our spirit to be called a cognac. Thereafter it can be nothing more than a brandy.Yeast residue, a remarkably difficult process that imparts even greater depth and complexity to our cognac. From the beginning of November, we distil our wine 24 hours a day until the March 31st, the legal deadline for our spirit to be called a cognac. Thereafter it can be nothing more than a brandy.
Our distillers expertly and precisely separate the distilled spirit into the heads (which are too high in alcohol), the heart (the best part of the distillation) and the tails (which lack harmony). The passion and patience is rewarded with a clear and pure eaux-de-vie – literally ‘water of life’ – only ever taken from the heart. This eaux-de-vie, called the ‘bonne chauffe’ or good heat, is then distilled a second time, only after which it is ready for ageing at 70% ABV.
Cognac is a living, breathing product. Over the years, the eau-de-vie is in permanent contact with the oak casks, a natural interaction that gives our cognac its rich colour and complex bouquet. To be legally called cognac, eaux-de-vie must be aged for at least two and a half years. Every additional year adds richness and smoother flavours, so even our youngest cognac, Courvoisier VS, uses eaux-de-vie that has been aged for up to eight years.
We go to great lengths to ensure our cognac is matured in the best possible conditions. For young cognacs at the start of their ageing, we’ve championed a unique kind of storage, maturing them vertically rather than horizontally. This upright position improves its movement in the cask and its extraction of flavour from the oak, leading to a more aromatic and balanced final cognac. Older cognacs are then moved to traditional casks until they’ve reached aromatic perfection.
It’s the job of Patrice Pinet, our expert Master Blender and only our sixth over the past century, to ensure consistency year after year, a near impossible task considering each season brings different vintages, different wines and different cognac characteristics. He has over 100,000 casks, the equivalent of about 70 million bottles, of aged cognac to choose from, so being able to create a harmonious blend is a true lifetime’s work of passion and artistry.
Many things can influence the maturation of our cognac, from the age of the cask and the way it’s stored to a warehouse’s earth floor and its proximity to the Charente river. There are great variations between warehouses, and indeed on different floors and locations within each. Our skilled and hugely experienced warehouse team constantly monitor and move all our ageing cognac to fine tune and shape the ageing liquid to make sure it matures absolutely perfectly.
During maturation in the porous oak casks, our eau-de-vie slowly evaporates through the fine grain of the wood, leaving its mark on the walls of the warehouses as it passes through. Around 3% of our ageing cognac disappears from each cask in this way every year, a high price but one we’re happy to pay in our quest for perfection. Poetically this is referred to as ‘the angel’s share’ and at Courvoisier they enjoy the equivalent of over 1.8 million bottles every year.
Built by our founders Felix Courvoisier and Jules Gallois in the 1840s, our magnificent Château is our home and headquarters to this day. It is here that our rarest and most precious cognacs are housed in the secretive Paradis cellar and Patrice Pinet, our Master Blender, conducts daily nosing and tasting sessions with his tasting team.
Much like the “nose” in perfumery, Patrice and his team meet every day to nose and taste all cognacs at each stage of their ageing for a particular blend. They spend hours analyzing the unique complexities of flavour and aromas to ensure they match the signature taste and style they’re after. And they don’t stop until they’re unanimously agreed it’s perfect.
Blending is like conducting a symphony orchestra, with each eau-de-vie offering a different aromatic note. Our Master Blender, Patrice Pinet, and his tasting team select every eau-de-vie for each cognac. Before bottling, he brings them together to harmoniously bond in a process known affectionately as ‘le marriage’. Some blends can spend up to three years in this conjugal bliss before bottling.
Our very oldest and most prized Courvoisier vintages are housed in what used to be a secret and very separate private cellar called 'Paradis', located in the depths of the Courvoisier Chateau. Created during the 19th century and enriched year after year by different Master Blenders, our Paradis cellar has our most precious and ancient cognacs stored in bottles and demi-johns dating back to Napoleonic times. Paradise indeed.
Our bottles can be just as iconic as our cognac. The Josephine bottle, named after Napoleon’s first wife, revolutionised cognac bottling. We’ve also created limited editions in association with artists, including Erté and Vivienne Westwood, and designed our VSOP Exclusif bottle to better fit into the hands of mixologists. Our L’Essence de Courvoisier bottle has a hand-sculpted Baccarat crystal stopper, inspired by Napoleon’s signet ring and our L’Esprit de Courvoisier comes in individually numbered Lalique crystal decanters.