‘Paradis’, or Paradise, is the name traditionally given to the special cellar where many cognac houses store their most precious aged eaux-de-vie.
In July 2015, Master Blender Stéphane Burnez and Cellar Master Oliver Bonnet set up a new Paradis dedicated to the Prunier Travel Retail exclusive cognacs.
At Prunier, the original Paradis lies below the offices in Cognac in a semi-basement with thick stone walls, a floor lying on the bedrock and an atmosphere that is cool but not cold, and neither too dry nor too damp – the perfect conditions for the conservation of the House’s oldest treasures.
In July 2015 a second Paradis was created, beside the original location, into which were transferred the barrels and demijohns of cognac specifically reserved for the Age Statement and Vintage expressions of the new Prunier Travel Retail ranges.
“Creating new products in cognac requires much preparation,” said Stéphane Burnez, President of Prunier.
“First we needed to establish the characteristics of the desired Age Statement products and then search through the cognacs at our disposal to select the elements that would make up the blends.
"Once we had found these, and also chosen which vintage eaux-de-vie we wanted to reserve for Travel Retail, the cognacs were housed separately to facilitate working on them and to ensure that they are not drawn on for other markets.
“Consumers who wish to see for themselves exactly where their bottles come from and possibly even watch our Cellar Master at work in the Paradis, are most welcome to visit us in Cognac.”
A difficult choice: because 'older' is not always 'better'
Some cognacs are already 'old' at five years, meaning they are unlikely to improve with further ageing. They should either be used at once in a blend or removed from barrel and stored in glass, where they will no longer evolve, until needed.
Others cognacs are still 'young' at fifty years and should be given every chance to continue ageing in barrel until they reach their pinnacle, rich in ‘rancio’. Although only a rare few cognacs will ever attain fifty years or more in wood.
Very little is understood of why this is, other than that no two cognacs are exactly alike, so age differently.
The way a cognac ages depends on many factors. But while some of these can be controlled, such as the choice of barrel - anywhere from new, to moderately used or very old - and the type of warehouse in which the spirit ages - damp or dry, warm or cool - others relate simply to the nature of the spirit beyond human influence.
So how to tell where a cognac stands at a given moment in its life? Only by tasting and with many years of experience.
The choice is crucial.
Removing a cognac from wood when it can still improve is a massive waste of potential - beyond fifty for example, a cognac is ultra-rare and a unique sensory experience.
But allowing a cognac to age beyond its peak is both a gustatory and financial disaster - a flabby, tired cognac is not very pleasant.
A huge part of the Cellar Master's job is therfore to ensure that every cognac in his care is aged as long as it can, to its own, unique peak, and no further.
Potential - it stays in wood. Peaking - it goes into glass demijohns. A straightforward choice, but never easy.