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Paying Homage - 250 years of Hine

Paying Homage - 250 years of Hine

The historic port of Jarnac celebrated the 250th Anniversary of the most British of fine Cognac houses: Thomas Hine & Co... 

Hine-cognac-jarnac-quai

Gazing impassively across the silent waters of the River Charente from the Quai de l’Orangerie is a gracious yet subtly understated family home. Its destiny has been indissolubly linked for over two centuries to that of a young Englishman and his descendants.
The Hine family’s remarkable story begins not here in Jarnac but in the Dorset market town of Beaminster (‘Emminster’ in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of The d’Urbervilles’), where prominent local linen-merchant Thomas Hine had a passion for fine cognac.

In 1791, inspired by his dream of one day creating his very own blend for a Bristol wine merchant, Thomas sent one of his eleven children to France. Here, he was to immerse himself in both the language and culture while learning the art and science of creating exquisite cognacs.

Sixteen year-old Thomas Jr was therefore dispatched to Nantes, little knowing that he was about to witness at first hand the upheavals of the impending French Revolution. After visiting Bordeaux he made his way to Jarnac to take up the position of personal assistant to the head of an important cognac producer. The Revolution, however, continued and in 1794, the young Englishman was arrested on suspicion of espionage and imprisoned in the nearby château de Jarnac, in the company of Irishman James Hennessy. His employer intervened on his behalf, and a relieved Thomas was released to resume his work, during the course of which he fell in love with le patron’s daughter Françoise Elisabeth. They married in 1796, a union which would produce four children. Upon the death of his father-in-law in 1817, Thomas’ reputation for being a diligent, hard worker with sound business instincts saw him assuming sole responsibility for shaping the company’s destiny. Soon renamed Thomas Hine & Co., the business flourished, thanks largely to its uncompromising commitment to the pursuit of excellence, rather than merely maximising production. As Thomas put it: “Produce little, but make it perfect”.

In 1822, some thirty years after his arrival in Jarnac, Thomas contracted pneumonia and died at the age of 47. His eldest son, Thomas Georges, was then just 15 years old, but had already absorbed enough of his father’s wisdom and expertise to enable him to take over the reins of the company, with the support of the family. This seamless transition established a pattern which has continued through six generations of the family, the current Honorary Chairman being Bernard Hine, who joined the company as a 24 year-old in 1963, some two centuries, almost to the day, after the company was founded.

 

Early Landed: some British character building...

Breeding shows, and with its unbroken bloodline, the company still maintains a proud and instinctive awareness of its English connections. During the early 19th century Hine became one of the first cognac producers to ship direct to connoisseurs across the Channel, both casks and glass demi-johns being loaded onto barges moored at the Quai de l’Orangerie. As the trade grew, the company established offices in London, under the management of Thomas Daniel Hine (1844-1933). History would soon repeat itself in reverse, when Thomas Daniel met and married a young Englishwoman from a well-connected family, Maud Ellen Gilbey.

But Thomas Daniel wasn’t the only beneficiary of having been transported to England. Improbable as it might seem, the British climate was discovered to produce beneficial effects on the ageing of the oak casks’ precious contents. Stored in cellars deep in the chalk of Bristol, with 95% humidity and an annual temperature range of 8-12°C, the rate of evaporation through the wood of the barrels (referred to by producers as ‘la part des anges’, or ‘the angels’ share’) is significantly slower compared to those aged back in Charente, where temperatures can vary between 6-22°C. These evaporation losses typically amount to around 2-3% annually, and are an important part of the ageing process, eliminating harsh elements and favouring the development of a fine bouquet and other desirable qualities which influence the final character of the cognac.

This explains why even today, after they have spent just a few months in new oak barrels in Jarnac, a proportion of its single vintage cognacs are shipped by Hine to continue their delicate ageing process in the UK. Known as ‘Early Landed’, the resulting fully-aged cognacs are light, fruity and visibly paler than their stay-at-home counterparts, and retain more of the floral and orange peel aromas of the freshly-distilled eaux-de-vie. Delicate hints of oak complete the alchemy. Not surprisingly Hine’s Early Landed vintage cognacs are particularly prized, not only by British connoisseurs, but worldwide by those who favour their pale delicacy and finesse.

 

A rich legacy, with an eye to the future

Thomas Hine’s decision to “Produce little, but make it perfect” has proved to be a wise one, for without it we would not have the company’s crown jewels – the fabulous collection of priceless legendary vintages which are stored under lock and key in the Chais des Millésimes, whose hugely-
atmospheric vaulted stone cellars are hidden away discretely behind the house. Their contribution to the character and complexity of today’s classic creations represents the most noble of raw materials for the Cellar Master’s art, which in turn will perpetuate the legacy for future generations. The British connection also looks set to remain at the heart of things, as Managing Director François Le Grelle points out: “Working here in the tightly-regulated Cognac AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) makes it very difficult to be flexible in what we do. We follow every rule, of course, but having both the ageing process in Jarnac and the early-landed ageing in the UK allows us to blend the two elements. We are the only company which is able to do that – and we are very proud of what we are doing.” 

But such pride is inevitably accompanied by onerous sense of responsibility, as Honorary Chairman Bernard Hine knows only too well. “In 1974,
I took on sole responsibility for all the blending operations. I went back to my notebook, and endeavoured to work in a methodical manner – preparing 3-year and 5-year plans for the types and volumes that would be needed. It is quality which was and has always been our driving force; the house style and savoir-faire so carefully nurtured and handed down from generation to generation.”

If its founder’s uncompromising approach to cognac-making continues to underpin the Hine way of doing things, the company is equally focused on its destiny. Today, it is shaped by a young, dynamic management team fired by a determined commitment to strengthening the brand still further during the years ahead. And for all its outwardly unchanging demeanour, even the house has felt this spirit of renewal, a classic suite of reception rooms having undergone a sumptuous stylistic transformation by British interior stylist (and former fashion designer) Russell Sage. ‘Uncompromising’ sits well here.

 

2013: celebrating the Big One in style

In June 2013, Thomas Hine & Co will, therefore, be celebrating its 250th Anniversary – and in some style, according to François: “Two hundred and fifty years is for anyone a major event, so for almost a year now we have been working on something special which will be linked with the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. We have planned a dedicated edition Vintage Cognac, limited to just 250, obviously, presented in a specially-commissioned commemorative cut-crystal decanter which will not only be beautiful but totally unique, to reflect the DNA of the brand. I can also tell you that it has been created in France by a very famous designer, someone who is known throughout the world...”, he adds cryptically, clearly relishing the sense of intrigue. “We have a few technical challenges to address, but it will be hand-finished to the very highest standards, and there are very few people, even in Europe, who can do this quality of work.”

It’s clear that for now further details of this very special vintage, including the name, will remain a closely-guarded secret, but François is more forthcoming about some of the 2013 celebration events planned. “We will have a very special dinner here for a limited number of our most important customers and with a menu created by the right chef, and some special entertainment. That’s when we will reveal the new decanter. There will be an exhibition showing the history and heritage of Hine and our plans to develop the brand. We will also be at Vinexpo 2013 in Bordeaux, where we will be telling the world about the new limited edition and our celebration events. After this we will have another event in Jarnac specially for all the local people who work with us and who contribute to our success.”

 

16, Quai de l’Orangerie, 16200 Jarnac
www.hinecognac.com ~ Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.
Visits by reservation only, ring 05 45 35 59 59

 

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Cellar Master Eric Forget reveals what makes a great cognac

After having been with the company for fifteen years, it’s hardly surprising that Eric Forget speaks near-flawless English. But his passion for his work is – dare we say – characteristically and endearingly French. Eric is today ‘the nose of Hine’ – the man single-handedly responsible for creating and upholding the quality of each and every vintage, and time spent in his company is as precious as his creations.

When asked what exactly is the secret of Hine’s great cognacs he will tell you that there is no secret really, just four key points:
“The first is terroir. We work only with grapes from vines planted in the Grande and Petite Champagne area, which give great finesse. We have our own 70Ha estate in Grande Champagne, which meets a substantial part of our needs, while for the rest we work with the same handful of local people.”

“The second point is that we always distil with the lees, which contain all the aromas, but which are effectively imprisoned and must be released.”

“Then there is the wood for the barrels. Rather than work with coarse-grained oak from nearby Limousin, we prefer to source fine or medium-grained wood from the Forêt de Tronçais. Why? Because they deliver more finesse and more delicate tannins, which suit our style. Notice the colour of our cognacs; they’re quite pale, which tells you that we limit the effects of new wood, whose tannins would simply overpower the delicacy and complexity of the natural aromas of the wine. Our aim is always to use the best wines of the region, so we must not lose their richness. ”

“Finally, at Hine our style is very pale, which shows that we use the best wine. That’s the only real secret of a great cognac. Some people believe that when you distil, everything is somehow transformed but it’s not like that at all. In scientific terms it’s just a concentration; when you distil something good you concentrate it nine times, but if you have something bad you concentrate that, and end up with something worse. So if you really want something fine and very delicate at the end, then you have to begin with the best. We apply the same philosophy for everything we produce. I don’t begin with any idea of what specific blend we will create – that is determined later – so across the range everything has exactly the same starting point.”

 

 


Marks of greatness

Upholding another tradition established in the 19th Century, every Hine product still bears the company emblem, registered as a trademark in 1867 by Georges Hine and depicting a stag at rest with its head turned wistfully ‘towards England’. Georges took as his inspiration the white hart of legend, a regal and dignified creature traditionally regarded as an omen of good fortune. Since 1962 the stag has been joined by a Coat of Arms attesting to the company holding the Royal Warrant of appointment from HM the Queen, Hine being the sole cognac producer to have been thus honoured.

 

Mariage-beauty-shot

Selected Hine Cognacs

H by Hine VSOP Cognac

A perfect introduction to Hine, this harmonious blend of more than 20 cognacs from Grande and Petite Champagne regions, is Hine’s most floral cognac.

Tasting Notes:
First Impression: lively freshness.
Sensory Journey: floral – jasmine,
acacia, iris, lily of the valley...
Expressive and velvety on the palate.

 

Rare VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac

The Classic Hine, blending more than 25 Grande and Petite Champagne cognacs.

Tasting Notes:
Hine’s most delicate cognac offers delightful, perfumed notes of jasmine, acacia flower and fruity aromas.
Delicate, well-balanced, mellow, vanilla, fruity and delightfully smooth on the palate.

 

HOMAGE to Thomas Hine Fine Champagne Cognac

Grand Cru Fine Champagne Cognac Homage is a unique of three Early Landed Grande Champagne Vintage cognacs aged in the UK, and some exceptional extra-old Petite Champagne cognacs matured in Jarnac. With all its cognacs having been aged for more than 10 years, Homage is
both exquisite and original.

Tasting Notes:
The quintessence of Hine’s style.
First Impression: intensely floral. Sensory Journey: velvety, and long with hints of citrus fruit and orange peel, so characteristic of old cognacs aged in England.

 

TRIOMPHE Grande Champagne Cognac

Created in 1888 by Thomas Edouard Hine to celebrate triumphing over the phylloxera disease which had decimated French vineyards. A blend of over 50 selected rare cognacs from Grande Champagne, the finest cru of the Cognac region. All cognacs have been aged for an average of 50 years until they have reached perfection and are ready to become TRIOMPHE.

Tasting Notes: Hine’s most exceptional and complex cognac.
First Impression: complexity. Sensory Journey: finesse depth and maturity on the nose with nuances of crystallised fruit (apricot, fig, date and raisins), flowers (carnation, syringa, acacia, iris) and liquorice. Velvety smooth on the palate. The finish is very long with a superb aromatic persistence.

 

ANTIQUE XO 1er Cru Grande Champagne Cognac

The House of Hine reinterprets Antique, created in 1920 by Georges Hine and now an XO Premier Cru blending over 40 cognacs, exclusively from grapes grown in Grande Champagne, the Cognac region’s finest cru. All of the cognacs are aged for over 10 years.

Tasting Notes: Hine’s most refined cognac. First Impression: aromatic richness. Sensory Journey: complex, rich, long-lasting, notes of vanilla, honey, baked apple, spices, leather and liquorice.