Cognac Park is surprisingly not the name of a cognac-obsessed Korean colleague, but rather a curious brainchild of a Scotsman and two Frenchmen.
It’s an understatement to say that Scotsman Dominic Park was obsessed about Cognac. After all, he loved it enough to start Cognac Park together with Jerome and Lilian Tessendier, the fourth-generation caretakers of the house Distillerie Tessendier & Fils.
Since formalising their cooperation in 1993, Tessendier has been creating tailor-made blends for Cognac Park, playing its part in bringing the idea of craft Cognac to public attention. When Dominic passed on in 2008, ownership of the name was passed on to Tessendier and Cognac Park remains a part of the family’s portfolio of cognac expressions.
Tessendier dates back to 1862 when founder Gaston Tessendier acquired the lands that would form the Tessendier estate. In 1880, the first drops of eaux-de-vie rolled off their stills. Today, Tessendier produces around 4-5 million litres of eaux-de-vie annually. They maintain stocks of about 12 million litres in their 14 cellars comprising of Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois of all ages, some over a hundred years old.
But, to have the essential Tessendier experience, one must look to Borderies. Because of its scarcity, Borderies is one of the most sought after crus in Cognac. Of the 80,000 hectares of land in the region, Borderies accounts for just over 4,000 hectares. And of that 4,000, 30 hectares lie in the Tessendier estate. The eaux-de-vie is known its unique, nutty and floral qualities, which has been attributed to its chalky soil.
Cognac Park Mizunara is a reflection of Tessendier’s speciality and terroir, fused with their sense of adventure. The combination of a relatively rare spirit – as Cognac exists mostly as a blend – and a willingness to buck tradition by openly proclaiming the use of a non-traditional cask, is certainly not the norm.
Tessendier’s relationship with Japan started some 30 years ago when they started supplying brandy. In the 80s a young Jerome visited Tokyo and had his first experience of Japanese whisky. He was intrigued by why how different Japanese whisky is from Scotch. After taking over the business in 1993, his Japanese business partners brought him to their cooperages to have a firsthand look and that’s how he came to know about Mizunara. Unfortunately, Jerome knew he had no product on hand that he could use this for, and any plans had to wait.
But thanks to their good relationship with their Japanese contacts (which Tessendier requested that we do not publicise) they were able to source the barrels from one of the two suppliers in the country when they finally decided to experiment, starting with five barrels. They had to wait 10 months for the order to be fulfilled and have since acquired 15 casks, which is a lot. Because not only are they hard to come by – a tree has to be at least 200 years old before it can be cut down – but a Mizunara cask is a considerable investment as it costs a whopping €3,000 for a 500-litre barrel. At the moment, they are the only Cognac producer to have Mizunara casks, and unintentionally, they have attracted quite a bit of publicity and attention from media and distillery visitors alike.
However, even with the Tessendiers’ wealth of experience, these are uncharted waters. As Mizunara has a slower rate of evaporation and oxygenation than French oak, the brothers had to figure out how long it would take for the wood to impart the optimum level of flavours to the spirit. At least at the beginning, it was, pretty much almost a day-to-day process. But they’re making steady progress and we can expect to see more expressions in the near future.
Cognac Park Borderies Mizunara.
The youngest of the three, the cognac is aged four years in 400-litre French oak barrels. But all three offerings in the Borderies Mizunara range have something in common: the eaux-de-vie spends the first 10 months in fresh French oak, after which it is transferred into used casks to continue maturing. The last step involves a cask finish, and in this case, the spirit spends another six months in fresh Mizunara casks.
Given its single cru concept, age statement and Mizunara finish, you get the impression that Cognac Park was designed to appeal to whisky drinkers, and its flavour profile seems to suggest that as well. The basic Borderies Mizunara is quite unlike any cognac and showcases the unique characteristics of its cru as well as Mizunara’s unique properties. While not particularly complex, it does quite a fair job of balancing floral notes with hints of coffee and hazelnut along with apricot and sandalwood. There’s more spice than you would expect from a cognac, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it is an ‘easy’ drink, so I can imagine that this will work for beginners or wine drinkers as well.
Cognac Park Borderies Mizunara 10YO.
The 10YO spends 10 years total in French oak, after which it is finished for nine months in Mizunara. This is closer to whisky territory, with a distinct hint of smoke and pepper. Vanilla is more prominent here than in its younger sibling, as are the cinnamon and citrus notes. It’s a richer version, and in some way, how it developed is reminiscent of a younger whisky versus an older one.
Cognac Park Borderies Mizunara Single Cask 2006.
This vintage is the lone single cask expression they have released, which in itself is a rarity for cognac. Only 660 bottles were produced for this run. It spent 13 years in French oak and then finished 10 months in Mizunara. It is perhaps the most intense whisky –err cognac – of the lot, a potpourri of floral and fruity notes with an underlying caramel sweetness that’s complemented with dried fruit and spices. It’s funny how Mizunara changes things completely and yet it leaves behind something strangely familiar, which I suppose is part of the charm.
Tradition is a double-edged sword and cognac is often seen as an ‘old’ drink. Fortunately, there’s still room for innovation and we’re starting to see product diversity from a region that’s working hard to find a new audience. In this respect, the Cognac Park Mizunara range is a pretty clever idea. The range is available locally through Spirits Castle.