Vineyard acreage: 595 acres (240 hectares)
Grape variety: Ugni blanc (99%), experiments with other grape varieties on a small scale
Annual sales cognac: 500 000 bottles

 

P30The Frapin family has cultivated grapevines in Grande Champagne since time immemorial. The ancestor settled in the area already in 1270 but it was not until 1880 that Pierre Frapin (1858–1944) began selling cognac in his own name, which must be described as a feat at a time when the phylloxera pest ravaged the most. When neighbours gave up and went over to dairy production or other crops Pierre Frapin endured. Early on, he had the luck or the foresight to bet on the right card in the fight against the louse plague, i.e. replanting with grafted American rootstocks. At the Wine and Agricultural Exhibition in Cognac in 1889, he received an honorary award for his vignobles reconstitués (recreated vineyards). In his old days this was the award he was most proud of besides the two gold medals for his cognacs which he received at the World Exhibitions in Paris in 1889 and in 1900.

With its thirty employees Frapin can be described as a medium-sized cognac house, albeit considerably smaller than, for instance, Hennessy and Martell. However, if you look at the producers who control the entire production chain from grape to bottle, Frapin is today by far the largest producer in the Grande Champagne area. Headquartered in Segonzac, Frapin exports to more than 70 countries and their main markets are Asia and the US.

La culture raisonnée is an important concept at Frapin, a conscious effort towards organic farming, i.e. to use as little as possible of chemical products in the vineyard. The house owns so much land that unlike most others it can afford to let the soil rest properly after having torn up old grapevines. Patrice Piveteau, a long time employee and current Maître de Chais at Frapin, is of the firm opinion that the soil should rest for seven years until the old plant roots will have decayed to the point that no disease is transferred to the newly planted vines. Frapin therefore chooses to engage in crop rotation and cultivate other crops during the period of rest, usually wheat or barley.

Frapin is a house with relatively large human and financial resources and it is clearly noticeable that no effort has been spared to optimize each production step. All equipment is state of the art. When it comes to the distillation, however, it looks more or less the same here as in other distillation rooms I have visited, at other bouilleurs de crus. No computers, no hi-tech. These skilled distillers rely on their sensitive noses and tasting skills only, it is their collective experience and professional skills which determine when to make their coupes, the exact moment at which you separate the heart of the distillate from its head and tail. Here also, you distil the wine with its lees, a method that enriches the final product according to Patrice Piveteau, especially for wine from Grande Champagne.

P31Frapin has a number of chais, usually two-floor buildings. From the humid and the semi-dry chais in the basement and on the ground floor, to dry or very dry storage rooms on the second floor. Thus Patrice Piveteau has almost unlimited possibilities to control ageing processes to achieve desired effects. Frapin has over the years built up a large stock reserve and is able sell cognac for at least fifteen years without reloading supplies.

Is it possible to fail under these circumstances? You would not think so – and this is not the case either. Frapin produces nothing but top-notch cognacs. The VSOP is aged for at least 10 years. The eaux-de-vie used for the exquisite and most recommendable Château Fontpinot XO are aged in dry cellars for twenty years. The same ageing principles, but for more than twice as long, apply to the truly amazing Extra. In addition to the basic range from VS to Extra the house offers some exclusive older cognacs and a number of millésimes and multimillésimes (blends of three vintage cognacs).

This is an abridged version of a translation into English of pages 100–101 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 2015-02-16

 

 

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