Monday, 10 October 2016

A post to keep up with my real Life in the Charente! (The USA trip posts will resume very soon)

          Visiting the Chateau of Cognac and the Baron Otard cognac house.          


The main entrance of  Chateau de Cognac, which is right in the centre of the old town. This access is not at first  imposing by French standards and the   property is perhaps best viewed from Saint Jacques, across the river. From there the full extent of the long facade built by the Cognacais, who later became King Francois I, can be appreciated.The hour-long guided tour  reinforces the belief that the chateau is well worthy of being so called!

Entering the chateau from the courtyard behind the main entrance. Like almost everywhere else in France, the buildings have a long, complicated and interesting history! Part of the original 12th century chateau still exists, built on the site of an earlier 10th century Benedictine abbey, and to this were added many later extensions and alterations! The "Black Prince" (Edward, Prince of Wales and the son of Edward III of England) lived here between 1366 and 1370. The years passed and for 200 years the buildings fell into disrepair. In this condition, they were seized by the state after the French Revolution and in 1796, Baron Jean-Baptiste Otard bought the estate by auction for 1620 livres (about the same amount of francs at that time). Otard was from a distinguished family, of Scottish and Norwegian descent, which had fled the Catholic power in England  to settle in France. The Baron's business was in eau-de-vie, and the chateau's cellars with their 6 feet thick walls, and being sited right next to the river, provided the constant temperature and humidity he needed to mature his product.

The salamander, considered in legend to be both fire resistant and invincible, was chosen by King Francois I as his emblem. Carved examples such as this appear all over the chateau!

Amazing brick vaulted ceilings. It is known that Leonardo da Vinci himself was consulted on architectural layouts for alterations to the chateau during his career and the design of the ceiling ribs is a characteristic hallmark of his work. To the right hand side, a window bay, one of several in this salon, with a view on to the river, can be seen. Measuring only about 6 feet by 3 feet, and closed off with a metal grille, each bay was used as a cell to confine about 15  English prisoners. They had been  captured by the French in America during the Seven Years' War (1756-63) and brought back to Europe. I'm afraid space doesn't allow a precis of the war, but it's easy to research if you want to know how all that came about!

Prisoners' graffiti carved into the stonework of the "cells". As these windows are about 30 feet above the outside ground level, jumping out of the window obviously wasn't an option!

A bas-relief carving (I think it's called) of the Battle of Marignan(o) which took place in Italy in 1515. The tour guide said it was the only battle ever won by Francois I and hence much celebrated!

The distillation equipment for producing eau-de-vie, to be turned into cognac later, by storage in oak barrels. Boiler on the left, heater in the middle and condenser on the right. This is a museum piece, but the principle still applies in modern production methods.

Our lovely guide explaining the procedure to us!

One of the cellars. 

Alcoholic spiders! The guide told us that the spiders become addicted to the alcohol vapour in the air and they cannot survive if they go outside!

A cellar called "Paradise" reminded of our visit to the Tesseron cognac house earlier this year. The cognac doesn't improve in an oak barrel after 80 years or so (really!) and is therefore stored in glass demi-johns.

Storage barrels are painted white to reduce the amount of oxygen filtering through the oak and affecting the maturation of the eau-de-vie. The structure in front is what appears to be a set of scales.

A display to allow visitors to appreciate the different perfumes which they might encounter when smelling cognac scents. Floral, vanilla and coconut are self-explanatory but the last "rancio" is a word meaning, in general terms, musty, aged or mellow.

Our guide explaining the finer points of barrel making. Here the barrel is being heated and wetted to allow the staves to be bent and iron hoops applied to secure  its lower end.

Wall art! Examples of advertising material produced by Otard over the preceding decades. Otard used to be sold in the muslim French colonies of North Africa as a "medicine," but when the content of the said medicine became known, the religious objections brought imports to a halt!

James Ottar/Otard de la Grange was the great grandfather of Jean-Baptiste, founder of the cognac house. James fought in battles for the "Sun King", King Louis XIV and in 1701 was awarded the title of Baron for his services. He is wearing the Cross of the Knight of Saint Louis on his tunic.

Examples of past Otard packaging

Wall painting of barges carrying cognac barrels between cellars, or to larger ships for export.

To end the tour - tasting a sip or two of VS and VSOP, the least matured, at 3 and 6 years respectively, and hence the cheapest! The best and oldest, matured 60 years, can run out at €3,000 a bottle or more! Otard isn't a very well known brand, but it has a very good reputation and the tour was better and more intimate than the biggest and best known cognac houses in town can offer.





Also see my daily diary HERE


and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016)  

32 comments:

  1. It seems to have been a very thorough tour....probably better than the main tourist sites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was excellent, we have been to Hennesy and Remy Martin and I think we enjoyed this most as the tour guide had a sense of humour and made it fun. Also not too many people which was good. Hope you are both well, have a good week Diane

      Delete
  2. Bonjour Diane,
    Merci de cette visite très détaillée des caves du Cognac Otard! J'ai surtout retenu que les araignées devenaient "addict" à l'alcool.!!
    Bonne semaine à vous!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Araignées alcoolisées ha ha! Merci pour le commentaire et bonne semaine à vous aussi Diane

      Delete
  3. I'm afraid the Cognac that we brought home with us on our last trip when we met is now all gone. I return visit next year may well be a possibility.
    Leon and Sue

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it evaporates in this house LOL. It will be good to meet up again next year if you do come over. You will have a lot of house settling in first though I presume. Take care Diane xx

      Delete
  4. Hi Diane, always great to see your photos and informative from France and from your travels :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Joyful, good to hear from you. I have tried to get on to your blog a couple of times recently but it says for private viewers only! It says contact the owner if you want to follow, but as I did not have an email address for you, and the link does not work, I have not been able to do that either. Please contact me on dpsfrance @ gmail.com. All the best Diane

      Delete
  5. Hi Diane - what a brilliant place to visit. Loved the bit about it being exported as medicine ... gosh definitely a Chateau to visit ... stunning - cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Hilary, we did enjoy the visit and it was fun with only a few people. Generally there are too many people on these tours!! Keep well Diane

      Delete
  6. Excellent series of images and info Diane.. did have a chuckle when I read about the alcoholic spiders, imagine some of our big spiders here in Oz on a drunken rampage.. would make a pretty scary horror movie 😊😊

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha, can you just imagine, wonder what shape the funnel web's funnel would end up!! Hope all is well Diane

      Delete
  7. A wonderful account of your visit to Chateau de Cognac, Diane. When I saw your reference to James Ottar de la Grange, it started me doing some internet research. When Lindsay and I were first married a friend of ours had a wine merchant's shop, and he used to have a very nice cognac at a very reasonable price - it was Gaston de Lagrange. I have now found on the internet that it is produced at Chateau de Cognac - and it is rather expensive! I'm wondering if he was doing us a special favour with the price!

    You seem to have a knack of reviving happy memories for me!

    Best wishes - - - Richard

    Best wishes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Richard I am glad that we are reviving happy memories - long may they last. Have a great week, cheers Diane

      Delete
    2. Hi again, Diane. I've now had another look at the internet and see that Gaston de Lagrange is not so expensive after all - must go and buy a bottle for old times sake!

      I hope your week has got off to a good start - - - Richard

      Delete
    3. Glad you had another look :-) Cheers. Diane

      Delete
  8. That vaulted ceiling is amazing. To think that bricks and mortar are just hanging there overhead! This must have been a fascinating tour to take, Diane. But I want to stay away from the alcoholic spiders; I don't even like sober spiders!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marjie I cannot imagine how they used to build some of the amazing places that they did in the old days without the equipment that we now have. I agree with you so far as spiders are concerned, I do not like them drunk or sober!!!!! Hope you are all well Diane

      Delete
  9. Very interesting post, Diane!
    Your photos show how old some of the equipment is.
    As for the salamander, it is exquisite, I love this kind of stone carving.
    My friends are gone and I am ready to resume my coming and goings in the wild!!
    Yes, the cold has come down, and like you I hate winter... Probably a reaction from our African years!!!
    Keep well and enjoy your day :)
    Ps: many thanks for your sweet comments while I was busy!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Noushka, I also love stone carvings like that and it was an interesting tour. Yes I am sure we feel the cold because our blood thinned out in a hotter climate!!!!! Take care, love your photos, warm hugs Diane

      Delete
  10. Fascinating and thanks for sharing. Baron Otard no doubt got a great deal. When the French government was selling off confiscated properties in 1796, attempting to raise money to deal with the national debt, payment was made in a newly-issued currency that depreciated about 80% nearly overnight. So purchasers made a killing. That on top of the fact that many of the auctions had no competing bidders and were essentially fire sales to begin with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment Bill. Yes I agree the chateau sounded cheap but then money of course was worth much less that what it is today. (Depending where you live and the exchange rate!!!). Have a great week Diane

      Delete
    2. We're very impressed with your knowledge of the French revolution, Bill! We did pick up on the financial situation at that time, but it's always a problem keeping the blog reasonably concise and holding the readers' attention. Very glad to know that readers are enjoying our humble accounts of French history!!

      Delete
  11. I bet those 6' falls kept that cognac nice and cool! I've been to lots of bourbon distilleries, but no cognac; this sounds like you had a great tour, esp. because of all the history. It's incredible how old the building is, how great the architecture is and that graffiti is as old as the hills. The salamander is a little disgusting though. 😉 Thanks for the interesting post, I always learn something new every time I visit you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I quite liked the Salamander and they are all over the place :-) Yes there is always so much history attached to these places which makes them all the more interesting. We have thick walls here at home and they are magic in summer as the house is so cool, but hard to keep warm in winter!!! Have a great weekend Diane

      Delete
    2. I quite liked the Salamander and they are all over the place :-) Yes there is always so much history attached to these places which makes them all the more interesting. We have thick walls here at home and they are magic in summer as the house is so cool, but hard to keep warm in winter!!! Have a great weekend Diane

      Delete
  12. That would have been a fun tour. Especially the tasting part.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha the tasting is always the beat part. Have a great weekend t'other Diane

      Delete
  13. Wow, what a place! Excellent tour. Glad you got to sample even if it was the cheap stuff. How many expensive bottles did you bring home? ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha we did not buy any as we have a cheaper source closer to home. It was a great tour though. Diane

      Delete
  14. These are amazing photos you've captured Diane. We haven't been in Vegas yet but hopefully we can see and visit someday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rose we visited Vegas right at the end of our holiday so that post is still to come. Have a good week Diane

      Delete

Thanks for taking the time to visit and pass a comment. Every comment is appreciated and I try to reply to each and every one. All comments are verification free but will come to me for approval first :-)) No Anonymous Users!