Celebrating Women’s History Month with Women of CognacBy Stephanie Moreno
Over the last decade the spirits world has expanded in every direction. The types of spirits being produced, where they’re being made and who they’re being made by have all grown immensely. In a world long-dominated by men, women are now involved in every aspect of the industry, from production to marketing, and even brand ownership.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of Congress declaring the month of March to be Women’s History Month. As a result, we’d like to put a spotlight on four women in Cognac, each with various positions in Cognac production. Below they discuss their passions and share advice to other women who’d like to join the spirits world. And of course, they each have some suggestions on how you can enjoy Cognac.
Mathilde Boisseau, Director of Vine and Wine, Hennessy
Even those who don’t know much about the Cognac category have heard of Hennessy. Established in 1765, Hennessy is one of the largest spirits brands on the planet with millions of bottles sold each year. No matter how large the brand becomes, it’s so important to harvest the best grapes, and Mathilde Boisseau oversees both the harvesting and winemaking for the brand.
Director of Vine and Wine Mathilde Boisseau /Photo Credit: Hennessy
Of course one doesn’t start their career at the top. Boisseau has some words of advice to other women wanting to join the wine and spirits world. “You have to be passionate, patient, and daring while remaining pragmatic,” she says. “Each year is different with its share of unforeseen events, but what satisfaction to participate in the development of such a beautiful product known and recognized for its quality all over the world.”
Boisseau also feels that a good leader should bring their own skills and mindset to their positions. “For my part, beyond my expertise, I try to bring my passion, my listening skills, and my dynamism to unite around a common project,” she explains.
As for how Boisseau enjoys serving Cognac, she suggests keeping it simple. She enjoys Hennessy VS with ginger ale for a quick cocktail. But she also enjoys a neat pour like Hennessy Paradis for its “roundness and harmony.”
Audrey Normandin, Co-Owner, Cognac Normandin-Mercier
Compared to a house such as Hennessy, Normandin-Mercier is a smaller, family-run Cognac brand which produces around 25,000 bottles per year. Despite its size, the brand is well-established, having been around since 1872. In fact, five generations of the family have contributed to the prestige of its Cognacs. Today Audrey Normandin is a co-owner of the brand, along with her brother Edouard, and together they both run the estate.
Co-Owner Audrey Normandin /Photo Credit: Normandin-Mercier
Normandin feels that her gender isn’t a detriment to her position, but an asset in the spirits world. “A woman will bring fewer ego clashes,” she says. “There’s a softness and understanding that is extremely useful in negotiation and public relations.” Furthermore, she feels that other women interested in joining the industry should trust themselves that they can succeed. “They have the skills to reach the top positions…they need to be aware of this and they need to gain confidence in themselves!”
As for how she likes to enjoy Cognac, there isn’t one way she prefers over the other. “The way I drink Cognac varies according to the moment, the weather, and my mood. I like Cognac in cocktails as an aperitif, and I also appreciate it chilled to accompany many dishes, like a plate of oysters. Finally, I will savor its roundness and its warmth, in its pure state, as an aperitif or as a digestive.”
Bénédicte Hardy, Export Manager, Cognac Hardy
Like Audrey Normandin, Bénédicte Hardy works for her family’s brand. In fact, she’s the founder’s great-great granddaughter. But her path in the Cognac world wasn’t a direct route. “I was not destined for the world of Cognac,” says Hardy. After receiving a degree in political science and law, she thought her career would go in that direction. But after a canceled wedding, a departure to Geneva for international law studies, and a sabbatical year with her father Jacques, Hardy returned to Cognac.
Export Manager Bénédicte Hardy /Photo Credit: Cognac Hardy
Even though she had returned to her family business, she did feel she needed a sense of direction. “My only condition was that I establish Hardy in the US. I felt legitimate the day my father recognized my work and congratulated me. It took a few years, many mistakes, and a lot of perseverance to get the famous paternal recognition.”
The House of Hardy has a wide range of quality cognacs including an Organic expression as well as luxury bottles. In fact, it was Hardy herself who was responsible for the brand’s collaborations with prestigious crystal houses such as Lalique and Daum. “The flask must be as good as the Cognac it contains,” she explains.
Hardy enjoys both cocktails and serving Cognac as is. “I like Cognac in an Old Fashioned or a Sidecar if we’re talking cocktails. In Cognac, I enjoy a Summit (regional cocktail made with lime zest, fresh ginger, lemon-lime soda and cucumber peel) But also, after a long day, a beautiful XO or one of our Noces — Perle, Or, or Diamant, in a handsome tulip glass allows me to relax.”
Fanny Fougerat, Owner, Winegrower, Head of Production, Cognac Fanny Fougerat
While Fanny Fougerat comes from a Cognac family, previous generations typically sold their Cognacs to the big houses to be used in blends. Fougerat, however, makes and sells her own Cognac.
Fanny Fougerat /Photo Credit: Cognac Fanny Fougerat
“I came back to Cognac after a year of training in wines and spirits; I wanted to understand consumption tastes and trends, and distribution models and regulations,” says Fougerat. “Initially I created my own trading company, first to buy the eaux-de-vie from my father. That’s how I started, by marketing a single vintage in 2013. I quickly got customers. Then my father retired and I took over production.”
And that production begins in the vineyards. Fougerat and her partner farm 30 hectares of ugni blanc grapes, primarily in the Borderies region, but also in the Fins Bois. She distills on the family estate and focuses on making terroir-driven Cognac.
As for advice for women wanting to join the spirits world, Fougerat thinks they should take a leap of faith. “Go for it, don’t doubt yourself, the road is long but you will manage to find your place!”
Her perfect way to enjoy a cognac is in the evening. “[I enjoy drinking cognac] after dinner, sitting in the living room listening to music or watching a good movie. Drinking a glass of old cognac and giving it time to reveal itself!”
This article is sponsored by the BNIC.
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