Vineyard acreage: 123 acres (50 hectares)
Grape variety: Ugni blanc
Annual sales: 30 000 bottles (NB cognac and pineau sales put together)

 

Well, I’ve got be a little crazy, says Jean Balluet and shakes his head. Can you imagine that I have stocks for forty years of sales? Forty years!

Jean points with his finger into his cellars and smiles broadly. Since he produces more eaux-de-vie than he sells his stock grows with every year that passes, a fact that does not seem to bother him much. Sure, he knows he should sell parts of it and earn some money, but he does not. Not yet anyway.

P59For two hundred years, the Balluet family has lived and worked in the small village of Neuvicq-le-Château, a sleepy little village in northern Fins Bois. Jean is the fifth generation wine-grower since 1845. The integrity, pride and stubbornness he seems to have inherited from his father Hippolyte. His father played an active role in the resistance during World War II and was also one of the first in post-war Charente to offer resistance to the dominance of the powerful cognac houses. Sometime in the 1950s, one of his father’s customers, a big cognac house, decided to drastically reduce their purchases of eaux-de-vie. Hippolyte responded by immediately breaking the contract and move on to direct sales. It was also the father who built the high lookout tower you can find on the premises. On clear days, you have a spectacular view of the country for miles from up here.

Cognac Balluet is as far you can get from the fancy visitors’ centres of the cognac world. The distillation room is tidy and in good order, but otherwise the place is somewhat messy and slightly run down. On the other hand, there are very few visitors’ centres that can boast with such competent and charming guides – without taking a penny for it! Jean just seems to think it’s great fun to show people around, explain and discuss. Since our visit happens to take place in the month of February and the distillation is in full swing, Jean goes through all stages of the distillation process with us. He proudly shows all parts of his 15-hectolitre still delivered in the revolutionary month of May 1968. To make cognac, he uses only Ugni blanc, but he also cultivates Colombard and Montils for his white pineaus.

Jean has a bonne clientèle privée, as he puts it. He sells almost exclusively to private people, faithful customers across France who return year after year. He also has a lot of English speaking customers since he speaks good English.

P60The range was for long restricted to two qualities: a six-year-old VSOP and a twenty-year-old Très Vieille Réserve. In 2013 Jean introduced a forty-year-old cognac which he calls Très Vieille Réserve Napoléon. Best buys are the first two – rich and mellow cognacs in a traditional style.

Cognac Balluet has no website of its own, but the products can be ordered through various wine and liquor web sites. The easiest and cheapest way to buy a cognac Balluet, however, is to go to Neuvicq-le-Château and buy directly from Jean. Since his costs are low, he can sell at very competitive prices. Also, a visit here gives you a unique insight into what it means to be small wine grower and cognac producer. Jean is the kindest of souls who likes a joke and a good laugh, but he also has a unique ability to describe complex things in a way that non-experts can understand. The best chance to get hold of him is during the distillation period from November to March, but you do best to call ahead and make an appointment. No sign will inform you that you have arrived at the correct address, but as soon as you discover the high lookout tower you know you are there.

 

 

 


This is an abridged version of a translation into English of pages 134–135 of the Swedish book Cognac – kungen av eau-de-vier (Cognac – the king of eaux-de-vie) © Stevali Production and Gunnar Svedberg, 2014.

© Gunnar Svedberg 2015-02-03

 

 

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