Fanny Fougerat is on a mission to make your rethink everything you know about Cognac. So we caught up with the maverick producer to find out how she created a unique brand, why Cognac needs to change its messaging, and how she makes her voice heard among the big houses.
Fanny Fougerat is not the first in her family to make Cognac. Four previous generations would distill and then sell their eau-de-vie to the big houses like Martell or Remy Martin that dominate the category and region. These brands simply don’t have enough vineyards to make enough wine to supply their demand. Out of the independent 4,300-or-so growers in Cognac, only 300 bottle their own Cognac, and it makes up less than 1% of the category’s global sales each year.
Fougerat was the first to step out on her own and do something different. Something radically different. Her background may have given her a foot in the door, but as one of the few women leading a Cognac brand, she’s kicked it wide open by founding her own brand with an aim to make transparent, distinctive, and terroir-driven Cognac.
“I was traveling and what I saw of Cognac was not what I knew from being inside the industry. I saw it being presented as a very boring, old, and luxurious spirit just for a grandfather. It’s not that. It’s the best spirit in the world,” Fougerat explains. “We make amazing wine first and nobody speaks of it. Just about blending. We have terroir. We have cru. We have millesime. I wanted to redefine how things work”.
The Cognac Fougerat creates showcases the unique nature of each vineyard and harvest, how the temperature, the slopes, the soil, the climate, and all of those different factors come through in the wines and then in the Cognacs. She never blends her spirit. “It’s very important not to blend because otherwise I will be just doing the same thing as the rest of the industry,” Fougerat says. “What I wanted to show was how, when all of your parcels are all the same grape varietals (Ugni Blanc) but grown in different areas, you demonstrate how important every single stage is and how much your spirit is a product of the land and the wine you make”.
She and her partner farm 30 HA of Ugni Blanc, primarily in Borderies but also in Fin Bois. The former is the smallest cru in the region and the floral, elegant eaux-de-vie its grapes make is extremely well-regarded. The soil is primarily made up of clay and limestone complete with ideal drainage, sun exposure, and deep root development, making it is extremely well sought after. The Fins Bois soil is made up of silt, clay, and sand, which produces very fresh fruity eau-de-vie that has complexity at a young age. There’s also diversity in her vines: some are 90-years-old, some are three.
A significant part of the story Fougerat tells about her brand is rooted in the quality of the wine because she believes that in Cognac everybody knows how to distill well but focuses too much on this stage. “If you don’t have good wine at first, you won’t have a good spirit. The vinification and also the distillation is made separately so we know what kind of terroir is making what kind of wine. When harvesting our grapes we’re very careful and ensure a good balance between acidity and maturity because after the vinification as we don’t add sulphur, so we have to ensure the acidity of the grapes is present to preserve it properly during the winter before distillation”.
The fermentation process Fougerat uses takes five to six days, which she categorises as being swift enough to preserve the aromas of the liquid. The wine is then double-distilled in a Charentais Alembic heated with direct fire, not steam. Fougerat says her system is to keep only what is interesting and that she distills on the lees when appropriate. “For the Borderie wine, we distill without the lees because I try to show the minerality and the floral aspect. But for the Le Laurier d’Apollon or for the Petite Cigüe, these are sweeter and fruity so to add body we use lees,” she explains.
There’s great care taken with regards to her wood programme as Fougerat is keen that the flavours the Limousin and Troncais casks bring don’t dominate the spirit. Aside from her XO expression, she doesn’t mature the rest of her Cognac for much longer than two years. There’s also no filtration or additional colouring or flavours. “There’s very little done to it, apart from letting it be as natural and as tasty as it is. Each barrel produces about 450 bottles and each one is unique unto themselves. That’s why every bottle we release is labelled with the barrel and bottle number”.
Since the first bottling of a Cognac to be sold under the Fanny Fougerat brand name was launched in November of 2013, the brand has been slowly growing. Bartenders and sommeliers understand it – the challenge has been convincing consumers. “Once people try it, they really do fall in love with it,” Fougerat says. “But the message for the last however many decades has been that Cognac is what the bigger houses say it is. Nobody can really hear us because Hennessy sells 60 million cases per year. We’re trying to champion Cognac as a category, but also elevate and change how it’s perceived. When people taste something like Petite Cigüe for example, they’ll turn around and say ‘that’s not Cognac’. It’s a frustrating, but also very rewarding process of opening people’s eyes to what Cognac as a category can be. We’re getting there”.
I certainly hope the message is received, because I love this brand. This is modern, innovative and truly craft Cognac that tells the story of how it’s made and is unlike a lot of Cognac I’ve tried. From the vibrant, fresh and fruity Petite Cigüe Cognac to the richer, spicy and refined Le Laurier d’Apollon and the foral, sweet and citrusy Iris Poivré XO, the range is a journey through different styles, flavours and approaches with each achieving its desired profile. This is a different side of Cognac I’m keen to see more of.