A revolution of joy: a visit to the cognac house of the Goda family
There is nothing like a week in Cognac to rekindle the love for the culture, tradition, food and drink of the French, especially when you go to sleep in a four-poster bed in the estate of the Gouda family, which has been producing Cognac for nearly 500 years.
Impressions from the heart of an industry that is undergoing a revolution of joy
Thursday, September 22, 2022, 1:29 p.m. Updated: Tuesday, September 27, 2022, 9:17 a.m.
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The private bar at the Gouda family home.
Saint Rochelle, Cognac (Photo: Walla! System, Nir Kipnis)
Anyone who has recently visited Paris knows that we had better air the images of classic France: the urban infrastructure is neglected, huge traffic jams drag around the famous ring road that surrounds the city, until a trip from the airport to the Montparnasse district takes more than an innocent and nerve-wracking hour, even before looking at the meter.
And the city itself?
Well - I don't pretend to give marks to one of the most famous and beautiful volumes in the world, but the new and diverse France, for better or for worse, of which Paris is the showcase, is a phenomenon that still needs to be digested.
On the other hand, two hours away, or more precisely in the city of La Rochelle, the capital of the Cognac region, it seems that not only the landscape has changed but also time has gone back and traditional France is revealed to the observer in all its glory.
The rain that greeted us frowned a little, but Cyril Godet (GODET), a member of a family that has been producing cognac for hundreds of years, was as warm as an Israeli host.
Not for nothing - this is a great lover of Israel who is married to a Jewish woman and usually visits our country at least twice a year.
Even beyond the family affiliation, it seems that Cyril is endowed with a kind of charisma in which, after a few minutes of acquaintance, you think you are old friends who have been together for years.
Gouda's old distillery and trading house.
Saint Rochelle, Cognac (Photo: Walla! System, Nir Kipnis)
The religious wars
The origin of the Gouda family is from Holland, which today is an almost unimportant detail, but when the family immigrated to France, this had a great significance: the French Protestants were persecuted by the Catholics (events that culminated in the Saint Bartholomew's Night Massacre, after which many of them emigrated to the New Continent, later the USA "2 of America) and the connection to our story is that the family was forced to build its distillery and trading house outside the city walls.
If this reminds you of another sect that was persecuted for its religion, it is not by chance (and those who want to stimulate historical memory are welcome to return to Alexandre Dumas' group of musketeers) Today
distillery is located within the city limits, even in the center of La Rochelle (which today has about 70,000 inhabitants) but in those days the family had to sail their Torah on the waters of the nearby canal to the port - and from there on.
We will soon return to the journey, but first a few words about cognac, which has earned itself a name as a noble among alcoholic distillates.
Cognac is a brandy produced in the Cognac region of France.
Brandy is a distillation of wine (this is also the origin of its name: Dutch merchants who first came across it in Spain and called the drink brandy-wine, that is, burnt wine, a name that was mistaken for brandy. By the way, burnt wine, in archaic Hebrew, brandy was called Yash, exactly from the same source, although Some have distorted the expression into wine-resin. That is - the grapes are harvested, fermented into wine - and instead of being bottled as wine, they are distilled by heating.
Most of the cognac in the world, that is - about 95% of it is produced by the large corporations: Hennessy (the H in the name of the LVMH corporation that made its owner, Bernard Arnault, the fourth richest man in the world, according to Forbes), Remy Martin, Corbusier and Martel. Quite a few small cognac houses, mostly family-owned, are fighting for the remaining five percent - and that of the Gouda family is not just one The most significant among them, but also one of the best.
The cognac industry is going through a revolution that has been going on for about two decades.
A drink that was a symbol of towering luxury, always served clean, at room temperature and suffered from excessive ritualism (the old-timers among the readers still remember the strange ceremony in which a balloon glass was placed on a low ball filled with boiling water to heat the cognac, which caused the alcohol vapors to concentrate in the narrow opening of the glass and disable Any trace of taste. That is - it was completely unjustified), for a drink whose producers of the Life Objects also market it as a base for cocktails (although still, of the "highest").
We are staying in the house that until a few decades ago was the family's distillery and trading house, and today it is used by Jean-Edouard Gouda and his family as their residence, until the renovations on their house are completed.
On the walls are portraits of the fathers (and mothers!) of the family as well as of the Queen of Denmark, since the father of the family serves as the Danish consul.
Despite the blue blood that flows in their veins, these are incredibly kind people who are happy to let us into their home-fortress.
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Every grape, a star.
Vineyard in Cognac (Photo: Walla! system, Nir Kipnis)
Each grape is colored
Cognac is produced by distilling wine made from white grape varieties, most of which are not known in Israel, but our meeting with a farmer, a local vintner, shows that there is stiff competition for the good grapes of the Cognac region.
Every small producer has to fight for the supply of his grapes and the winegrowers, who are aware of their value, play it "hard to get".
The one who leads us through the vineyards is Cyril's brother, Jean-Edouard, who is responsible for the professional side of the production.
He doesn't call himself a "master distiller", but he is the one who is involved in the production: from the relationship with the winegrowers, through distillation, aging to bottling.
Jean Edward Gouda in the barrel cellar (photo: Walla! system, Nir Kipnis)
Not only the Gouda family but also its vine growers have been planted in the soil of the area for hundreds of years.
The farmer we are visiting says that the house where our feet stand was built at the beginning of the 19th century, almost "made of nylon" in the terms of this beautiful region.
And these are not only the selected grapes that are difficult to lay hands on, but also the place that has become too narrow to accommodate.
If the family house in the center of La Rochelle was abandoned as a factory back in the nineties, then the replacement building, outside the city, also became narrow to the dimensions of the cognac house, which is considered "large among the small" - not really Hennessy or Remy Martin, but in the top five of the boutique producers, that is - Those who start counting after the "big ones".
This is how you end a good meal in the cognac region: the wine glass is already empty and those of the coffee and cognac disappear together (Photo: Walla! System, Nir Kipnis)
Cyril proudly shows us what will become the new visitor center: a beautiful estate purchased by the family and gradually converted (renovations will be completed by 2025) into a new hospitality center.
Because the mansion is considered a historical building, where he stayed - somewhere in the 17th century, the Hashman Richelieu in his own right.
Because of this, every stone that is moved needs government approval from the body responsible for preserving historical heritage sites in France - and it's not that the family wants to change, on the contrary: they pay (for example) about 7,000 euros for each window - provided it matches the original style.
Cognac barrels in Gouda's cellars.
I found (and sipped!) a barrel from the year I was born (photo: Walla! system, Nir Kipnis)
This is not the only historical context of the family: between the ancestors of the family and the Jewish community, warm ties were established over the years and thus, even before they started exporting their cognac to Israel, most of the "Guda" series were already kosher.
Perhaps this is the place to explain that since brandy (and cognac of course) is made from grapes, the kosher laws apply to it just like those that apply to wine, so the family made sure to kosher quite a few series for those who want to sanctify and bless the "creator of the fruit of the vine" - and as a long-time cognac lover I would add: a beauty of a vine!
As we tour the current factory and its cellars, I get a moving personal experience: tasting cognac from the year of my birth, that is - 1969. Maybe it's the alcohol already flowing in my veins, but since the previous night Cyril and I were sailing into the night with personal stories, I find myself on the verge of tears when I pick up the glass of the liquid that doesn't even have a nominal price and says: "In honor of new beginnings!"
Cyril (on the right) and Joao Edward Gouda, against the background of the view from the family estate (photo: Walla! system, Nir Kipnis)
What did I learn from the visit to Cognac?
Perhaps historical France still exists, but only for those who are willing to move away from the busy and diverse cities.
As well as in this France, food and drink are taken abysmally seriously.
For example, the fact that we arrive in Cognac at the beginning of September is reason for a party for oyster lovers.
Even those who prefer to base their menu on kosher food, will find an answer not only in Gouda cognac, but also in wonderful fish and cuts of meat that, as usual with the French, undergo minimal treatment, befitting a country abundant with excellent raw materials.
The country estate of the Goda family, Cognac (photo: Walla! system, Nir Kipnis)
I will not say goodbye to the wonderful cognac of the Gouda family, as well as to my charming hosts before I tell about the last night I spent in their house.
Unlike the nouveau riche, for whom everything is usually shiny, new and branded, the blue-blooded from Dana's promotion have a natural style that is hard to buy with quick money.
The family estate is spectacular in its beauty and spacious, but there is nothing eye-popping about it.
Everything is seemingly simple, a simplicity that only those who really understand can understand what is behind it.
If you want, we can summarize and say that it is just like the fine cognac of Gouda: the difference is felt in the taste.
A rare Gouda cognac.
Just like the special style of the family: you don't see the difference right away, but you feel it well (photo: Walla! system, Nir Kipnis)