From Humble Beginnings
With the fires of the French Revolution still smouldering, and a country in recovery from the greatest and bloodiest political upheaval in its history, France's first Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, took the Imperial throne. In this uncertain climate, Emmanuel Courvoisier, our founder, and Louis Gallois, the mayor of Bercy, decided to open a wine and spirit company on the outskirts of Paris, just north of the river Seine. Bercy was the perfect location for their business. It was close to the river for easy transport, already had a thriving wine trade and sat just outside the thick Paris city walls, so they didn't have to pay taxes.
Louis Gallois and Emmanuel Courvoisier's reputation grew quickly amongst brandy connoisseurs, so much so that their warehouses in Bercy were honoured with a visit from the Emperor himself, Napoleon Bonaparte. Perhaps inspired by what he tasted, Napoleon started giving a ration of cognac to troops in his artillery companies to lift their morale during the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, saying, "while you are on the march, [I] have issued to your forces, as much as may be possible, wine in the evening and cognac in the morning."
After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled to the remote island of St Helena, in the wild Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Africa and South America. Legend has it that he chose several casks of cognac as his one granted item of luxury, a treat much appreciated by the English officers on board HMS Northumberland during their 67-day voyage. They named it 'The Brandy of Napoleon'.
Farewell to Paris
Felix Courvoisier and Jules Gallois, the sons of Emmanuel and Louis respectively, had an intuitive understanding that their customers were after an ever-greater quality spirit. With that in mind, they decided to take a bold change of direction for their business. They wanted more control over the quality of the brandy they had built their reputation on, so moved their headquarters from Paris to the sleepy town of Jarnac, in the heart of the Cognac region. It remains our home to this very day.
Under the sound leadership of Felix Courvoisier and Jules Gallois, the newly-established brand of Courvoisier went from strength to strength and in the 1840's they built themselves a magnificent and ornate Château on the banks of the river Charente. The Courvoisier Château became their global headquarters and remains our home to this day.
The Curlier Brothers
When Felix Courvoisier died without a male heir in 1866, he left the management of the business to his two nephews, the Curlier brothers, who had lived in Jarnac their entire lives. They built up good trade relations with the UK, where cognac was highly prized, our existing records showing that only Courvoisier was transported in large quantities on board ships called simply 'Liverpool' and 'Jarnac'.
Courvoisier's reputation continued to grow, with our cognac gracing the tables of the Royal Courts of Denmark, England and Sweden. Closer to home, Napoleon III, the nephew and heir to Napoleon Bonaparte, also personally requested Courvoisier, conferring on us the much sought-after title of 'Fournisseur de la Cour Impériale', or official supplier to the Imperial Court.
Charles Dickens and our punch
Charles Dickens, the famous British novelist, passed away at his home in Gad's Hill Place near London, leaving a collection of more than 2,160 bottles of alcohol used in his famous punches. Amongst the collection, which included rums, gins, whiskies, brandies, cordials and liqueurs, the largest collection were 216 bottles of a pale French cognac labelled 'F. Courvoisier', the initials of Felix Courvoisier.
Eiffel Tower Celebrations
Our cognac was requested for the grand opening of the Eiffel Tower at the World's Fair in Paris, held on the centenary of the start of the French Revolution. It was an extravagant affair, attended by celebrities as diverse as the future King Edward VII of England, Buffalo Bill, Vincent Van Gogh, Henry James and the inventor of the lightbulb, Thomas Edison. Amongst such exalted company, Courvoisier won the ultimate international prize of its day, the Medaille d'Or.
Grading our Cognac
Courvoisier has always been considered one of the best cognacs in the world and over the years several ways of accurately defining the quality of our spirit have been devised. In the early 1900s, we used diamonds, assigning one, two, three or four to our bottle labels to show how good the cognac was. In fact, it was the British, with their love of cognac, who had the biggest impact on grading. Most of today's major grades of cognac date back to 1910 and were English abbreviations, VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (eXtra Old), showing cognac's global appeal.
On May 1st 1909 the French authorities legally decreed that a spirit could only be called cognac if it adhered to strict fermentation, distillation and ageing requirements - and must be produced entirely in the Cognac region of France. From this point forward, all cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac.
Our Napoleon Silhouette
The Simon family from England assumed leadership of Courvoisier in 1909. They had been in the wine and spirits business in the UK for generations, and saw its potential as a true global brand. Alfred Simon, who had been the Courvoisier agent in the UK, bought the company, while George Simon went to work in Jarnac in 1912, quickly becoming the assistant to the Director and then Managing Director in 1923. The first thing they did was to build on our century-long reputation as one of the finest quality cognacs in the world by establishing the recognisable and iconic Napoleon silhouette, before then looking at markets far beyond France to promote Courvoisier actively.
The Napoleon Cognac
A century after Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his power, we launched our Napoleon Cognac in honour of our most famous advocate. This revolutionary move gave birth to a new grade of cognac, 'Napoleon', a spirit carefully hand-crafted and in its day, one of the key upper marques in terms of ageing. Our original Napoleon Cognac also came complete with the iconic Napoleon silhouette that has adorned every bottle of Courvoisier since; another piece of inspired and foresighted branding by the Simon family. We were also innovative in creating the elegant satin-like bottle with opaque glass, which has since been copied by many other cognac houses.
Cognac Region Defined
On May 15th, the Cognac area is granted a Controlled Appellation of Origin status, legally identifying the uniqueness of the region, and further tightening the laws on what could and could not be called cognac. To this day, we only use grapes from the four finest of the six defined crus: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois.
The War Years
The Second World War forced George Simon to leave France for the UK in 1940. He continued to manage Courvoisier from England but asked his friends George Hubert and Christian Braastad to take care of the company during his enforced absence. At the height of the war, while the German army were using our Château as a casino, he actually 'sold' the business to these two Frenchmen, so it wouldn't fall into German hands, with the promise they would give it back after the war, which they duly did in 1945.
The Josephine Bottle
Our Josephine bottle, named after Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife, revolutionised how cognac was perceived. Some speculated it was modelled on Josephine's dresses, with their fashionable corset-tight waists and elegant wide bases, while others have guessed that the bottle is an inverted homage to the brandy glasses of the era. Now a design classic, the bottle has become synonymous with fine cognac and is recognised and renowned the world over.
Never afraid to experiment, Courvoisier launched our first mixable spirit, 'Gala', back in the 1950s; a lighter, fruitier, more aromatic cognac designed to be mixed and drunk by men and women alike. The equivalent quality to VS (Very Superior), but with a light wood flavour, it launched in France and English colonies.
First Cognac on TV
We have always been revolutionary, and not just with our cognac. We made history in 1960 when we became the first cognac brand to appear on TV, sharing our unique aromatic benefits with nine million people in the UK. The feat was repeated in 2009 when Courvoisier became the first drinks brand to broadcast a 3D advert on terrestrial television. The Courvoisier advert was also shown ahead of screenings of the world's most successful film of its time, Avatar.
Throughout the 1980s, we initiated a range of innovative changes to create an even finer, richer cognac, including micro-distillation, buying and ageing our own French oak and upright barrel storage, which improved the regularity of the wood extract and created more balanced aromas in our cognacs. This once again reinforces our position as the most forward-thinking and revolutionary of the main cognac houses.
Prestige De La France
We were honoured with the 'Prestige de la France', the highest accolade for quality in France, and remain the only cognac house to hold such an award. This was presented by Jacques Chirac, who was mayor of Paris at the time but later become President of France.
We opened the Courvoisier museum in our Château in Jarnac to tell our legendary story and house our unique collection of artifacts collected over our 200 year history, including Napoleon Bonaparte's hat.
Fusing two classic French greats, and combining great art and great cognac for the first time, we launched the Courvoisier Erté Collection in collaboration with the famous Art Deco master. Erté created the luscious shape of the decanter, as well as collaborating with our Master Blender on a blend of Grande Champagne cognacs, some of which date back to 1892, the year of his birth. He then designed each of the seven with gorgeous stylised representations of a different facet of our cognac-making process, from distillation to maturation.
L'Esprit de Courvoisier
Dipping into the ancient Paradis vault under our Château, our fifth Master Blender, Jean-Marc Olivier, celebrated the turn of the Millennium by creating a fusion of historic and peerless vintages spanning generations of tradition. L'Esprit contains no cognacs younger than 1930, with many significantly older, from our famous Paradise cellar where we stock cognacs dating back to when Napoleon came to power after the French Revolution. As befits a cognac of such rarity, we housed it in hand cut, individually numbered Lalique crystal decanters.
Courvoisier Succession J.S.
To commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon's crowning as the Emperor of France on December 2nd 1804, 'Le Sacre de Napoleon', we created just 2,500 bottles of Courvoisier Succession J.S. Housed in a beautifully handcrafted wooden replica of Napoleon's War Chest, a prized possession that travelled everywhere with him, it includes cognacs from the family of one of our best Grande Champagne suppliers, who have kept their best reserve hidden in their Château's cellar for generations. The great-great granddaughter wanted to honour her family's unique relationship with Courvoisier by passing on her precious cognacs to help create this masterpiece.
Courvoisier The Future 500
We became one of the first brands to truly embrace the social media revolution by launching an exclusive UK network of pioneers and entrepreneurs. Our history of recognising inspirational individuals, dates right back to the Napoleonic Order of 1912, which sought: "...to reward the personal merit of men and women who have distinguished themselves by their insightful actions. To form an elite favouring the exchange of ideas and experience for the good of all". Courvoisier The Future 500 is the modern incarnation of this thought, drawing together revolutionary spirits from the arts, business, science, gastronomy, fashion and beyond.
Le Nez De Courvoisier
We take great pride in creating the most aromatic cognacs in the world - and for good reason. Our sense of smell accounts for around 75% of what we taste, so the more aromatic the cognac, the finer its taste. With Le Nez (literally translated as "The Nose"), we were one of the first brands to create a sensory experience around our collection, tracing three signature aromas in each of our marques to specific points in our meticulous crafting. We used these for a multi-sensory tasting, to produce delicious recipes from world-renowned chefs and even to inspire music from leading composers.
A New Dimension in Mixology
In the early 20th Century at the dawn of cocktail culture, cognac was the preferred spirit for mixologists from New Orleans and New York to London and Paris. But in 1870 a phylloxera virus wiped out vines across France leaving a scarcity of cognac that led to the rise of American rye whiskey and other spirits. Courvoisier is however leading the charge to reconnect cognac with its rich mixology heritage. In 2009 we created a 3D commercial shattering the myth that cognac should only be served neat, and we partnered with epicurean pioneers 'Bompas & Parr' to create 'The Architectural Punchbowl', in homage to Admiral Edward Russell who, in 1694, created a cognac punchbowl so vast it was served by a small boy rowing across it.
L'Essence de Courvoisier
The last blend to be developed and launched by our fifth Master Blender, Jean-Marc Olivier in conjunction with our current Master Blender Patrice Pinet L'Essence de Courvoisier is a sublime harmony of over 100 rare eaux-de-vie from the last 100 years, each championed as the most innovative of their time. Our decanters were all hand-sculpted by over 30 Baccarat crystal craftsmen. Each decanter is suspended in a gold frame completed with a finely crafted crystal stopper, inspired by the signet rings bestowed by Napoleon Bonaparte to commanders in his army in recognition of brave and noble acts.