Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World’s Most Coveted Spirit

I wrote Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World’s Most Coveted Spirit because no one had ever put together a readable, independent history of this marvelous spirit. My connections to Cognac country inspired me to dig deep into an incredible story that ranges from an exploration of the ancient bedrock, to the long and tortured development of wine growing in this region of southwest France, to the phylloxera epidemic that nearly wiped out the industry, to the machinery of modern, foreign-owned Cognac giants spreading their eau-de-vie all around the world. Frank Prial, former wine critic for The New York Times, called “Cognac” an “enthralling volume … a compelling story, not just about the world’s best known eau-de-vie, but about the people who make it and the often violent history of the remarkable but little-known region of France from which it comes.”

Publishers Weekly wrote: “It’s fitting that a Paris-based novelist and International Herald Tribune editor should chronicle the history of the famously refined French brandy. And Jarrard does a nice job of it, offering a thorough, well-researched and objective history of Cognac. He begins with a geological history of the French province of Charente, on the Atlantic coast, where the town of Cognac is located. The Romans brought the first grapes to the region, but it would be centuries before viniculture really took root there. The earliest attempts to make what we now call Cognac began during the Middle Ages, as alchemists and apothecaries experimented with putting local grape pressings through their distillation apparatuses. While France evolved from a feudal kingdom into an imperial, colonial power, the cognac-making process developed, although factors like weather and warfare often prevented distilleries from obtaining the necessary raw materials. By the Napoleonic era, however, cognac began appearing on the world market, and its makers worked at refining their product and their methods as demand for the elegant, amber, aromatic brandy increased. Jarrard brings the story to the present, examining the various brands dominating the market today, including Hennessy, Rémy-Martin and Courvoisier. It’s a must for aficionados.

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