Each week at our barbecues I bring out my now famous ‘chocolate chip cookie’ dessert and Chris brings down a frosty bottle of ‘Tempete de la mer’ (stormy sea) This delicious liqueur drips into your glass and then glides down your throat with the ease of melted chocolate and just as gorgeous. Its sweet and chilled with a slight ‘petillance’ and 30% alcohol,so its pretty lethal !
The cries of ‘wow’ and ‘that’s delicious’ are heard every week and inevitably at least one family will make the 30 minute drive a day or so later to stock up on this ‘sparkling Cognac’ as we call it, to take home with them.
The Cognac houses have never heard of it. It can only be found exclusively from Jean Balluet, the producer in Neuvicq le chateau, east of Saint Jean d’Angely.
You can visit the Chateau too
Since many of our guests at our family holiday cottages visit Balluets, we rarely make the journey ourselves these days, we just ask them to buy a few bottles for us when they go, however last week we were completely out and since we were on our way back from Angouleme we popped in. This time our eldest son was with us. He hears the stories every week about Jean Balluet and his ‘alternative Cognac tour’ but has never been himself . It’s been about 15 years since we ourselves have done his tour around the distillery – we usually just pop in buy what we need and leave; but today we had some spare time and decided it was time Benjamin had the pleasure.
You would need to know where it was to find it, blink and you’d miss it. No big sign (I don’t think there’s any sign) and not much to look at. A few stainless steel tanks at the back, but those can be found all over the area, as many farmers produce wine to sell to the large Cognac houses to distill since we are in the fin bois region of Cognac vineyards.
Jean wasn’t there that day, it was Arlette, a neighbour and friend of Jeans who took us on the tour. (probably a good thing as Jean is quite the comedian but his jokes are a bit on the rude side – our 13 yr old would die of embarrassment !)
She starts the tour by getting you to look in the mirrors which are straight from the fairground – making you fat or thin or very short (they don’t do that on the Hennessy tour !)
Arlette then locks the front door and takes you passed rows of barrels in a dark passage to where you have the tasting session. We passed by the next part as Benjamin was with us and it was only 11am ! This tasting of the Balluet Cognac and Pineau is legendary. You get to taste everything and you get huge glasses of the amber liquids – make sure you have a dedicated driver !!!
The Cognac barrel is next – you get to take a big sniff and as you do Arlette blows through another hole so you get blown away by the Cognac fumes up your nostrils – certainly clears the airways (I always remember Jean asking for the lady with the largest chest and lowest cut top to bend down to the barrel for this trick !)
You get to see where the grapes come into the distillery and the grapes are separated from the stalks in the grappoir. You are shown the maceration and storage tanks, the swan neck copper still and finally row upon row of barrels filled with eau de vie, maturing and waiting to be blended into Cognac. You are shown the whole process from beginning to end . This isn’t the glossy, slick tour of the famous Cognac houses – it’s the ‘real’ tour of a real working distillery. The floors are sticky, cobwebs hang in every nook and cranny, you bend to walk under pipes and past stainless steel tanks.
La ‘piece de resistance’ is the tower ! Four flights up a dark, wooden staircase to a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. 15 years ago it was just the view, now there is a big orientation map and two telescopes.
Our son felt very privileged to of done the Jean Balluet tour that he had heard so much about; we are privileged to have such an excellent local Cognac producer who thinks outside the box and has developed new products to attract new business. Unfortunately they had run out of sparkling Cognac until the 10th July, so we shall be going back very soon. We did however buy some of his sparkling Pineau which is just as delicious (and slightly less deadly) the problem is it was so delicious we went through two bottles before the barbecue even got going !
To make a day of it, you should also visit the Siecq winery just a few minutes away. No tour but you can have a tasting of all they produce. We have a chilled bottle of their Sauvignon for our guests when they first arrive and use their Pinot noir on our Taste du Terroir evenings. They also do a superb sparkling wine (champagne method) for just 6€ so well worth a visit.
If you have travelled to us in the car rather than flying you can also fill up plastic bottles of your own with their vrac wine sold by weight .
In fact trying and buying local wines, Pineau and Cognac and being able to take some home with you is one of the main reasons we recommend driving to us here in the Charente Maritime ! For more information about our family holiday cottages visit our web sites
Content by Wendy Blakeman