Since settling in the Charentaise region of France, we have enjoyed a friendly relationship with a Brouilleur de Cru, a family producer of the precious liquid called Cognac. Finally, hosting friends from the US this week, we took the plunge to visit one of the Great Cognac Houses as a treat both for us and for our guests.
We picked a beautiful summer day for our visit to the tranquil and park-like compound of the Compagnie de Guyenne in the very center of our town of Cognac, guarded by the ever-vigilant Meukow panther.
The main office building in the Meukow estate is also the oldest building in the complex, a former warehouse which the company founder Monsieur Michel Coste renovated with the expert guidance of architect Madame Pascale de Redon. In its vast reception and exhibit space, M. Coste wanted to express his respect for tradition paired with his sense of innovation and renewal.
The ancient storage facility now resembles an overturned ship echoing the 2000-year-plus history of barge traffic on the river Charente, the initial leg of the traditional brandevin distribution by ship across the known world. The blond oak wood and the twin curves of the new staircases on either end of the light and airy hall remind us of the casks fashioned from Quercus sessiliflora and Q. pedunculata, trees which – by law – may only be selected from either the Tronçais or Limousin oak forests to be transformed by skilled, artisanal hands into aging barrels for cognac. The carefully seasoned wood of these barrels releases tannins and other specific aromas, their very essence you might say, into the sharp, clear spirit awaiting its destiny as a multi-faceted amber fluid.
While acquainting us with the successive stages necessary to distill cognac, our tour guide paid tribute to the Maître de Chai of the House Meukow, Madame Anne Sarteaux. I was delighted to learn that the Compagnie de Guyenne had the courage to invite a female cellar master into their family. Equally, I applaud Maître Sarteaux’ fortitude to accept such an important position. She has proven her expertise and talent for over a decade now, chapeau !
The world of cognac is still only sparsely populated with women, but a special circle of creative female professionals is working hard in our town of Cognac to change the image of the spirit as a ‘digestif for old men’ to appeal to a younger crowd and, bien sûr, the female connoisseurs. My personal recollections certainly include not the men in the family, but my grandmother enjoying her Napoleon in a delicate crystal snifter engraved with the family crest.
During our tour, we came across the original Meukow trademark. In the 19th century, the Russian czar Alexander II commissioned two Silesian-Polish brothers, Gustaw & August-Christophe Meukow to secure the supply of Cognac for the imperial household. After a number of trips to the Cognac region to establish solid business connections, the brothers selected the town of Cognac in which to found their own export and distribution company A.C. Meukow & Co. in 1862. The business grew and prospered to become a respected brand in Cognac. As much as is known about the origins of the House Meukow, the meaning of their trademark design remains shrouded in mystery.
In 1979 A.C. Meukow & Co was acquired by the Compagnie de Guyenne, founded by Michel Coste a decade earlier, and successfully assimilated into their group. The family owned and operated Compagnie de Guyenne has been the home for the House Meukow ever since.
As we explored the premises, our intrepid guide explained some of the details of distilling and blending a consistently superior product in the cellar master’s “office”.
Above you see the 19th-century gravity filtration apparatus the Meukow company purchased from a chaudronnier [boilermaker], la société Maresté founded in 1818, which is still operating here and now in Cognac. Patrimoine [heritage], tradition, and continuation, are very highly praised and respected values in Europe.
Our tour concluded, naturally, with a cognac tasting, followed by
lunch at the company owned restaurant ‘Chai Meukow’ or the ‘Cellars of Meukow’.
We had a wonderful time with Team Meukow and would like to thank them for their hospitality. Our tour guide was so very gracious and made our visit to the House Meukow most interesting and fun.
You’ll find the answers to all your questions on the website below: