How Hennessy Blends Past And Future To Bottle Up Excellence

For more than two and a half centuries, Hennessy has been crafting one-of-a-kind cognacs in the heart of the Charente region in France. Two hundred and fifty years is a long time, but not for Hennessy, which has already set its eyes on hundreds of years ahead to ensure that its brand and spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of consumers. Cognac houses are renowned for taking their time in crafting exceptional eaux-de-vie that is blended into extraordinary cognacs. Hennessy is no different, except that it also has the responsibility of keeping up with the times, if not to stay ahead of them, but also to continue being the world’s bestselling cognac. Here, it finds itself walking the precarious tightrope of tradition versus innovation, past versus future. Unsurprisingly, it successfully does so across its entire line of production, from grape to bottle.

The Growing

At Hennessy’s La Bataille Vineyard, where it grows Ugni Blanc grapes, growing and harvesting continue to be done by the strictly regulated specifications of the Cognac Protected Appellation of Origin (PDO). Throughout the year, growers follow the vine’s natural lifecycle just as their forefathers have—pruning and tying vines in the winter, and sun-maturing them in the summer in time for an autumn harvest. Although Hennessy continues to employ tried-and-tested methods, it also utilises new technology to maximise harvest, including drones to check on vine health and specially built confined panels for fungicide containment. In the longer term, it prepares for the future with sustainability efforts to limit its environmental impact, such as its Forest Destination programme, which aims to regenerate 124,000 acres of forests in France and internationally by 2030.

The Distilling

At its Distillery of La Groie, Hennessy’s distillation process has remained unchanged for centuries. A double distillation process continues to transform wine into eaux-de-vie in traditional Charentais copper stills. The same techniques and numbers apply—12kg of grapes pressed to obtained 9 litres of wine to be distilled into 3 litres of brouilis that is double distilled into 1 litre of pure eaux-de-vie. In heralding innovation, Hennessy unveiled its new vinification and distillation lab, called Le Peu Distillery, serving as the epicentre for the production of eaux-de-vie. Here, methane and bio-methane gas power the distillation process instead of wood and charcoal for cleaner practices. The plan is to convert to hybrid-hydrogen power by 2030. Additionally, every batch of vinasse, the unwanted by-product of the vinification process, is recycled to generate green electricity for the rest of the city instead of simply throwing it away.

The Maturing

The result of all that immaculate distillation, the precious eaux-de-vie, are then matured in Hennessy’s traditional ageing cellars. The Faïencerie Cellars remain an authentic, working cellar lined with oak casks; Paradis Cellar is where some of Hennessy’s oldest and most precious eaux-de-vie are stored; and Founder’s Cellar is one of the estate’s oldest and most emblematic buildings, home to Hennessy’s rarest eaux-de-vie and open only for private visits. Anticipating rising worldwide demand and making sure it has enough eaux-de-vie to continue creating great cognacs for the next century, Hennessy unveiled its Bas Bagnolet new-generation cellars, the chais, carefully designed and engineered with the latest cutting-edge technology to optimise the maturation process. Silent forklifts and automated rollers lift, turn, move and stock hundreds of thousands of barrels to save them for the future. By 2025, Hennessy hopes to house 650,000 barrels here, or half of the world’s eaux-de-vie, symbolising the responsibility it carries to preserve, enrich and transmit this reserve of remarkable ‘water of life’.

The Blending

Hennessy’s selection and blending process continues the same ritual as it has for eight generations since its first cellar master, Jean Fillioux, was appointed. For two centuries now, members of Hennessy’s Tasting Committee gather precisely at 11 o’clock every morning—the hour when the palate is at its most neutral—in the bottle-lined Grand Tasting Room to taste the resultant eaux-de-vie of the four Grand Crus of cognac. Their judgement decides what makes it into the bottle and what goes back into the barrel for a while more. Today, the effort is presided over by Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, trained by his uncle, Yann Fillioux, Hennessy’s seventh-generation master blender, for 16 years before taking over the family mantle. Every year, the Tasting Committee reviews around 10,000 eaux-de-vie. Previously, efforts were tracked by hand using ink and paper; today, software technology allows efficient archiving and fast extraction of information such as cru, age and domain for cognacs that are of the same high quality each time.

The Bottling

The final bridge between the past and the future is Hennessy’s Pont Neuf bottling plant, a model of eco-construction that has earned it the highest environmental grade given. Built to evolve with Hennessy, high-speed bottling lines and sophisticated traceability systems deliver 240,000 bottles per day to 160 countries. The plant integrates into its landscape, conserves energy and recycles water, while spouting forth bottles of Hennessy that we know and love. Once the blends have been elaborated, bottles are prepared in Hennessy’s Charentais workshops for the final touches and then shipped to distributors around the world. Each Hennessy bottle begins its journey in Cognac and undergoes strict adherence to history, heritage and tradition before meeting the world in new modern glory for cognacs that are ready for the future.

The Experience

In conserving this deep well of heritage, Hennessy is not shy to share its story. Honouring a long tradition of hospitality of French art de vivre, the historic Hennessy ancestral family estate, Château de Bagnolet, periodically hosts its closest celebrity friends and top buyers, welcoming those lucky enough to score an invite to the heart of where it all started. Family portraits, personal letters and handwritten memorabilia of the family vividly colour each stay, along with, if you’re even luckier, hosted dinners by Maurice Hennessy, the eighth-generation member of the founding family. To the larger public, the rest of Hennessy’s growing and manufacturing grounds are open to curious eyes via its Les Visites guided tours. A series of carefully curated programmes welcome epicurean travellers to Cognac year-round, where they may choose from guided tours and tasting experiences that suit every taste and budget.

Delve into Hennessy’s history and savoir-faire via its vineyards, distillery or cooperage, where its barrels continue to be made by hand by generational coopers. Taste the future with cocktail masterclasses or its immersive Mobilis experience, where virtual reality headsets bring to life designs by French artists Olivier Kuntzel and Florence Daygas, inspired by the sketches of founder, Richard Hennessy, at the beginning of his great adventure in 1765, that tell the story of cognac—how it’s grown and how it’s made—through a mesmerising blend of poetry, drawing and cutting-edge technology.

Then and now. Old and new. Untiringly preserving the past while fervently cultivating the future is perhaps the secret that keeps Hennessy the bestselling cognac in the world.


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