The Tesseron name may be familiar as the name behind two leading Medoc vineyards; Chateau Pontet Canet, 5th Classified Growth of Pauillac, and Chateau Lafon Rochet, 4th Classified Growth in Saint Estephe. What you may not know is that the origins of the family’s interest in the wine business actually started in spirits, in neighbouring Cognac.
Abel Tesseron founded the family Cognac Company in 1905, with vines in both the Grande Champagne (Boneuil) and Petite Champagne (Saint-Surin) regions. It wasn’t until 1960 that his son, Guy Tesseron, diversified into wine purchasing Chateau Lafon Rochet and then Château Pontet Canet in 1975. Château Pontet Canet is now run by Guy’s son and his grand-children: the fourth generation is now carrying on the family tradition.
They have not forgotten their Cognac origins. For three generations their precious Cognac reserves have been hidden away, unknown except to a few Cognac negociants who would buy them to complement their blends.
Alfred is no stranger to innovation; he has transformed Château Pontet Canet into a biodynamic vineyard with innovative wine making and ageing, bringing it to a position where it hits way above it’s official status in the 1855 classification as a 5th growth.
Unsurprisingly he has innovated in Cognac too: ten years ago Alfred decided to stop selling their historic spirits to Cognac blenders and to sell them under the Tesseron name as ‘Lots’; blends from their best reserve spirits.
Cognac is just North of the Medoc, and there are many parallels between what they do in Bordeaux and in Cognac, first the notion of blend. At Pontet Canet the grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are blended after fermentation to recreate the final wine for each vintage. In Cognac they use the traditional Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche et Colombard varietals, bucking the trend away from Folle Blanche and Colombard due to their fragility and keeping them for complexity. The notion of blend in Cognac goes further than wine. Not only are they looking at different grape varieties but after distillation and ageing the different spirits are also blended.
But we missed a stage between these blending operations – distillation. The white wines from the grapes are double distilled in small coal heated copper stills (alambiques). These spirits are then aged in ancient oak barrels « Tierçons » for 3 generations (a generation meaning between 20 to 30 years) before being decanted into Bonbonnes; beautiful 20 to 30 litres ‘Dame-Jeanne’ bottles that are then stored in ‘Paradis’, an appropriate name as it is a 12th century crypt that previously belonged to monks.
In Cognac you may not sell spirits as a vintage, a specific year, unless they are 100% from this one vintage and kept in secure conditions that ensures this, protecting against fraud. In Alfred’s opinion this brings no added value, on the contrary, blends from different vintages allow for an increased complexity, especially in the hands of expert blenders. He has decided to sell his spirits as Lots. The first Cognac marketed under the Tesseron name was Lot 90; a blend of Cognacs from 10 to15 years old, this was followed by Lot 76 a blend of one generation, i.e. from 20 to 30 years, then Lot 53 from two generations, and finally Lot 29 from three generations. Their Royal Blend is a blend between the Lot 29 and Lot 53.
When Cognacs have aged for about 50 years in oak they start to show a very specific nose; buttery aromas of ‘rancio’ (a nutty characteristic associated with old port and sherry wines as well as aged Cognacs). It is at this time the spirits are transferred from barrels to the traditional glass ‘Dame Jeanne’.
These beautiful old bottles inspired the creation of the blend l’Extrème with spirits of 80 years old bottled in miniature copies of the traditional bonbonnes.
The innovation doesn’t just stop with the blending, labelling and packaging. This may be a traditional family company with a historic product but that doesn’t mean it only appeals to a traditional clientele. Alfred has dynamic young children and nieces on his team, illustrating that Cognac is no longer uniquely an old man’s drink. This new generation is the perfect face to front this new approach to a very traditional product.