Maison Villevert – French spirits & their rich history in the Cognac region


From observing trends and tastes in alcohol consumption across the world, Maison Villevert has reinvented classic spirits and further enhanced them by giving prominence to rounded, subtle qualities.  All of Maison Villevert’s creations make use of time-honoured savoir-faire in the pursuit of innovation:  vodka is a centuries-old spirit, but Maison Villevert created the first grape-based vodka, which is distilled five times.  Gin dates back to the 15th century, but Maison Villevert was among the very first to develop a grape-based gin.  The vermouth ‘La Quintinye Vermouth Royal’ is the first vermouth from the Aquitaine region based on the famous pineau des Charentes.

Maison Villevert’s creations have gained international repute.  For example, Cîroc vodka is now the  second leading premium vodka in the world, G’Vine gin is the third leading gin globally, while the vermouth ‘La Quintinye Vermouth Royal’ was judged to be the best red vermouth in the world at the 2016 Ultimate Spirits Challenge.  All are the fruit of the Maison Villevert teams’ savoir-faire, inspired by knowledge of the art of distillation and five centuries of history.

The development of wine-growing in France

To understand the development of wine-growing in France, and particularly in the south-west, we need to go right back to the Roman era. In the year 52 BC, Vercingetorix led the Gauls in a revolt against Roman forces during the Gallic Wars. He was defeated at the Battle of Alesia, which enabled the Romans to gain control of Gaul.  The Roman influence in the region was significant:  Saintes, for example, a few kilometers from Cognac, was one of the seventeen major settlements in Roman Gaul. And to develop settlements, the Romans planted vines.  As modern methods of conserving wines were then unknown, the wines produced were all young wines, but by establishing vineyards close to the sea, it was easier to export them more rapidly.  This is how the south-west region began to develop in-depth savoir-faire in viticulture and vinification.

Later, in 732 AD, history has it that Charles Martel halted the Moorish invasion in the Battle of Poitiers.  It can be noted that the words ‘alcohol’ and ‘alembic’ date from this period. Much later, in the 15th century, when Dutch ship owners wanted to transport wine for their sailors, the custom of distilling wine first developed to help preserve it at sea (where the sailors would dilute it to drink it as ‘wine’).  This distilled wine was known as ‘brandewijn’ (‘burnt wine’) – and gave rise to the word brandy.

King François 1st, of France was an ardent champion of products from his birthplace

It is not surprising that in the 16thcentury, King François 1st, of France was an ardent champion of products from his birthplace – the Cognac region.  Little wonder, then, that intrepid explorers such as Verrazzano (who set sail in 1525, and encountering  the entrance of the Hudson River,  named  it ‘Nouvelle Angoulême’ – later to be New York) and Jacques Cartier (who set out 1534 and named his find ‘the Country of Canadas’) would have embarked on their voyages with barrels of Cognac eau-de-vie stowed in their ships’ holds.  The distillation of wine was well known by then.

It was through such invasions, voyages and encounters with different people and new ideas that the people in south-west France, notably the Cognac region, came to develop their traditions and their own savoir-faire.  The town of Cognac grew on the banks of the River Charente (which for centuries had been used to transport salt from west to east) and the flow of goods evolved to carry out spirits and bring back gold.

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