Sales of brandy & cognac have registered increases for 10 consecutive years, with the latest stats for 2003 showing a 2.6% gain to more than 9.9 million 9-liter cases nationally, according to Adams Liquor Handbook 2004. In the control states, the increase is slightly greater, with total brandy & cognac sales growing by 3.7% in 2003. The big three domestic brandies — E & J Gallo, Paul Masson and Christian Brothers — continue to lead the way with combined sales of almost 5 million 9-liter cases nationally, while the major cognac brands have maintained impressive growth. Indeed, the high-margin, highly profitable cognac segment has significantly outpaced domestic brandy growth, with 2003 sales up 5.8% nationally, to 3.4 million cases. In fact, cognac growth over the past five years has been stellar, with Hennessy increasing from 1.26 million to 1.88 million cases nationally, Remy Martin gaining from 345,000 to 620,000 cases nationally and Courvoisier growing from 425,000 to 535,000 cases nationally.
The reasons for these recent gains are several: Some industry analysts point to the improved economy and cultural return of small indulgences, while others see the category’s resurgence as the ultimate indication of Americans’ preference for ultra-premium spirits. Still others look at the hip-hop generation’s ongoing affinity for brandy as the principal revitalizing factor.
“Cognac’s traditional usage dynamics — formal presentation, after-dinner, cold weather orientation — are unnecessarily limiting,” said Steve Hissam, Remy Martin brand manager. “The hip-hop culture has contemporized cognac and expanded its usage occasions and introduced an entirely new and younger segment to the franchise.”
For the upcoming holidays, Courvoisier VS, from Allied-Domecq, is featuring gift packs with Courvoisier-branded rocks glasses. In addition, a Courvoisier VSOP gift pack includes two CV-branded champagne flutes, to promote the champagne CV Rouge cocktail.
Madison Bedard knows first hand the impact the hip-hop culture has had on the surging popularity of cognac and brandy. As the brand manager of Courvoisier, she saw sales of her brand spike over 30% in 2002 when Busta Rhymes and Sean P. Diddy Combs released the song, “Pass the Courvoisier.”
“One of the key drivers of cognac growth has been its multicultural appeal. Hip-hop and rap musicians sing about what is important in their lives and what they aspire to have. As a luxury item, cognac fits this image as easily as Mercedes and Gucci,” Bedard observed.
The mixability of cognac and brandy has also been an evolving sales driver. “The growth of the category can also be attributed to consumers lured from other brown spirits by the surprising mixability of cognac,” noted Courvoisier’s Bedard.
“Committing great brandy to a cocktail is a stroke of creative brilliance,” added Mark Marcon, brand manager of Allied Domecq’s portfolio of esteemed Spanish brandies. “The high proof of brandy makes it unapproachable for some consumers, so mixing it eases the rite of passage. Over time, as their tastes mature, consumers begin to enjoy the extraordinary character of brandy straight.”
“Forget what the purists might say, cognac and brandy were made for mixing,” stated Remy Martin’s Hissam. “Many of the earliest cocktail recipes required the use of brandy or cognac. From the classic Sidecar to hot, contemporary drinks like the Incredible Hulk (Remy Martin VSOP & Hpnotiq) and Grape Sex (Remy Red Grape Berry & Vodka) cognac has always been a part of the cocktail culture.”
FRANCE’S BIG FOUR
Entrenched at the top of the cognac segment is Hennessy (Schieffelin & Co.), the most successful cognac house in the world. Its sales rose 7.4% nationally in 2003 (up 8.6% in the control states) and this year the brand will eclipse the 2 million case mark in the U.S. The firm has 2,600 vintners under contract, operates 27 distilleries, and is owner of the largest reserve of old cognacs with 250,000 barrels aging at all times. Among their chief assets is an unbroken lineage of seven generations of master blenders from the Fillioux family.
Hennessy Cognac, from Schieffelin & Co., has launched this limited-edition holiday gift set for Hennessy Privilege. The artwork adorning the box was created by African-American artist Amanda Williams, titled “Peace,” and is part of a partnership between Schieffelin and Parks-Hall, an arts advocacy organization, which has established several initiatives to publicize the arts of the African diaspora. Besides a 750 ml of Hennessy Privilege, the gift set includes two cognac snifters.
Hennessy VS Cognac is assembled from more than 40 different Grande and Petite Champagne brandies, along with some from the Borderies and Fins and Bons Bois. The constituent cognacs are aged a minimum of three years. It is a worldwide franchise, among the most successful marks in the category.
Recent excitement within their portfolio is focused on two ultra-premium expressions. Richard Hennessy Cognac is a rare assemblage of more than 100 eaux-de-vie primarily from Grand and Petite Champagne regions. Because of its extreme age the brandy actually contains some Folle Blanche. The youngest brandy in its blend is 50 years old, while a percentage is more than two centuries in age. It is packaged in a striking Baccarat decanter and retails at between $1,500-$1,800.
Hennessy Paradis Extra is comprised of predominantly Grande and Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie with a minimum age of 25 years and there are many that exceed 100 years old. Created in 1979 and recently renamed, Paradis Extra retails for around $300.
For its part, Remy Martin (Remy Amerique) exclusively features Fine Champagne cognacs, assemblages comprised of brandies from the Grande and Petite Champagne regions. Remy Martin is the only major cognac house to still distill all of its brandies on the lees, which some argue yields spirits with a greater range of complexity.
The firm’s benchmark expression is Remy Martin VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac, which dominates the American market at that grade with a 70% share. Introduced in 1927, the blend used for Remy VSOP is comprised of 240 cognacs that are aged between 4 and 14 years. The mark recently underwent a packaging update, with a redesigned label and a modified bottle shape.
The top end of the Remy Martin portfolio features the likes of Remy Martin XO Special, comprised of brandies aged a minimum of 25 years; Extra Perfection de Remy Martin, with a blend of a minimum age of 35 years; and the world’s most recognized ultra-premium spirit, Remy Martin Louis XIII Grande Champagne Cognac. With its youngest brandy registering a half-century in age, the famous cognac is priced around $1,300 per 750 ml and is appropriately packaged in Baccarat crystal.
Cognacs from the House of Courvoisier (Allied Domecq Spirits USA) are ranked third in cognac sales in the U.S. The firm owns no vineyards, rather they purchase brandies from over 400 private distillers and then oversee their cellaring and blending. The Limousin and Tron