Our final day on Le Voyage was spent in the city of Cognac to learn more about the background and tradition of Maitre de Chai (cellar master), Francois Thibault. We wandered the cobblestone streets in the rain on our way to Chateau de Cognac, a 15th century castle that is home to Baron Otard Cognac.
The rain cleared, and the sun came back out as we entered the courtyard of the historic castle. A brief guided tour took us through the lower vaults and the most magical room of the castle, hidden deep within, called the Paradis. This is where all of the precious eau de vie is stored. The Paradis was dark and humid — the stony walls covered in a strange fungus that is common in such areas. And the air smelled of sweet cognac.
From there, we made our way to the tasting room for a private cognac tasting led by Thibault. First up was the clear eau de vie. It’s 71% alcohol by volume (ABV) and very strong, oaky with a warm finish. If not diluted with water, the stuff will burn your face without mercy. The smoothest cognac was the Cognac Assemblage XO aged 15-20 years. The French use the word “rancio” to describe high quality cognac, and the XO would certainly fall into that category.
Before lunch at La Ribaudiere, we enjoyed aged Grey Goose dry martinis by La Charente river. The liquid was aged for two to three weeks in a small oak cask which gave it an interesting warmth.
The Grey Goose story reaches its climax at the Gensac Bottling Facility; a veritable Willy Wonka’s Vodka Factory. No, there were no French Oompa Loompas and the golden silver goose outside is not for sale. I asked.
Less than 50 employees work at the facility where the fermented wine is mixed with de-mineralized water extracted from a private well 500 feet below the building. Water is crucial in the making of any good vodka.
Each flavor of Grey Goose is sampled in the official tasting room, and all employees take part in tastings one to two times per week. They’re not hiring. I asked.
Back at Le Logis a spread of cherry jam, cherry tarts, breads and cheeses were awaiting us. And plenty of Grey Goose’s newest flavor: Cherry Noir, made with black cherries handpicked in French Basque Country.
The remainder of our final evening on Le Voyage was spent in and around the pool. Small bites, cocktails and conversation brought our trip to a close.
The Grey Goose brand has become synonymous with luxury, and this trip was nothing short of that. I left France with a new appreciation for the Grey Goose brand, the raw ingredients and the spirit itself. Also: goat cheese.