Media Conversations

THE MEANING OF TIME AT COGNAC LHÉRAUD

“Guy Lhéraud doesn’t speak a word of English. He doesn’t want to, nor does he need to. When I met him in April, his expressive hands conveyed at least half of what he was saying.

“On that gray spring day, Guy spent the first 15 minutes telling our group — through a translator — that we didn’t have enough time. We were Americans, and it was typical of us to rush things. We ate enormous burgers then stressed out over burning the calories. We were strange creatures. How could we only visit for a few hours and expect to understand Cognac? We needed to spend weeks if we wanted to understand it.

“Guy Lhéraud doesn’t speak a word of English. He doesn’t want to, nor does he need to. When I met him in April, his expressive hands conveyed at least half of what he was saying.

“On that gray spring day, Guy spent the first 15 minutes telling our group — through a translator — that we didn’t have enough time. We were Americans, and it was typical of us to rush things. We ate enormous burgers then stressed out over burning the calories. We were strange creatures. How could we only visit for a few hours and expect to understand Cognac? We needed to spend weeks if we wanted to understand it.

“Half an hour into our four-hour visit, he finally started talking Cognac, but invariably, the presentation would go astray.

“Like when he scoffed at “farm-to-table” cuisine.

“For centuries, we eat everything from here,” François Rebel, Cognac Lhéraud’s Export Manager, translated for us. “The ducks, the pork, the vegetables. We make everything but the salt and pepper.”

“Guy then showed us where he was curing an entire pig in salt (with a few splashes of Cognac throughout the week), all while dragging on an omnipresent cigarette. I almost asked if he made the cigarettes, but decide against it.

Creativity from History

“Appreciating the beautiful oddities of Cognac Lhéraud is not hard to do. For me, it started before we had a single sip of their signature drink. There was an invigorating sense of creativity to their operation, even under the fluorescent-lit lights of the sterile warehouse, where recently bottled vintages — some stretching back decades — lined the same warehouse shelves you expect to see at Costco.

“I’ve never witnessed a type of creativity like this before: it appears to be fueled entirely by stubbornness. A resistance to change that embraces the past, and therefore, the beautiful old way of doing things. It’s evident in the faded wood of the barrels, the copper-pot stills that look like mid-19th century technology, and most of all, in the beautiful packaging.

“Andrée Lhéraud, Guy’s wife, still handwrites each label for their vintage Cognac, in an elegant path of black ink that is as much a timeline as it is the written word. She even makes the ink herself from acorns. The labels are then ironed onto the bottles, the seal made from wax on a nearby stovetop. In a world where fast-food franchises have seemingly stripped the word “handmade” of all meaning, the little bottles of vintage Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne Cognac at Cognac Lhéraud are a small restoration of sorts — a testament to doing everything by hand…”

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Kevin Day, September 1, 2017
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THE MEANING OF TIME AT COGNAC LHÉRAUD