Cognac is located about an hour and a half drive from Bordeaux and is one of the most interesting trips you can do in the SW of France. In this article, I will recommend the best distilleries to visit in Cognac (and the Cognac region). However, Cognac itself is also a beautiful little town, rich with history and unique architecture. If you have time to visit the city itself too, check out my article about the best things to do in Cognac.
If you’re also interested in wine, you must dedicate some time to visiting wineries in the Bordeaux wine region. To help you do that, I have a detailed guide to the Bordeaux wine region, that will help you decide what chateaux you’d enjoy visiting.
A big shout out, to Marie, a fabulous guide in the Cognac region that took me to several of these distilleries. If you’re staying in Bordeaux and don’t want to drive to Cognac I highly recommend taking her as a private guide. There’s also a great semi-private tour from Bordeaux to Cognac that’s offered by Olala company – see all the details here. Finally, if you’re looking for a special activity in Cognac, join this masterclass and taste several different Cognacs.
How Cognac is made – some basic info before your visit
The eau-de-vie created in the cognac process has been called the “nectar of the gods” by Victor Hugo.
Cognac is a brandy made from white grapes, and is crafted in the region of… Cognac. 98% of the grapes used for making cognac are Ugni Blanc grapes. In fact, like with French wine and champagne, there are laws that control exactly how cognac is distilled. During the distillation process, the spirit must be distilled twice using copper alembic stills. The region even requires the cognac makers to distill their spirits before April 1st every year. Talk about pressure.
Then the cognac has to be matured in French oak barrels that are from Limousin or the Tronçais forests. Most cognacs have been mixed by a maître de chais. All of these rules ensure the quality of cognac, which has 63 different possible aromas.
French cognac-makers separate cognac into different vintages, or “crus” in French, which reflect their quality. The most revered is the “Grande Champagne”, widely known for its fine taste and wide range of aromas. Some might say it’s the “champagne of cognacs.”
A cognac of the “Petite Champagne” vintage is also prestigious but is grown in soil with less of a limestone layer, and therefore less prestigious. The “Borderies” and “Fins Bois” are two more high-quality cognacs, each with a distinct flavor. Borderies has a violet aroma and Fins Bois has a fruity flavor. There’s a fifth vintage, but nobody talks about that one.
Now that we have that covered, let’s dive into the best distilleries to visit in Cognac. I’ll start with distilleries located in the center of Cognac City and continue to other villages in the larger Cogan region.
The best Distilleries to visit in Cognac City
Cognac Camus – traveler’s favorite!
The Camus Distillery has been in the Camus family for five generations. They use a special distilling method dubbed the “intensity” process. It allows them to find the most aromatic parts of the second distillation. This gives their cognacs a very fruity aroma and makes them 7 times more aromatic than the competition.
At the Camus distillery, there are tours offered in English with a tasting of their Horizontal Intense Classic cognac for 35 euros. You can also take a master class, during which you make your own cognac for 190 euros.
Where: 21 Rue Cagouillet, 16100 Cognac
Hennessy – the biggest Cognac house
Anyone who’s listened to U.S. or British rap in the past 20 years has heard of Hennessy. Fortunately, the actual spirit has nothing to do with fur coats or oversized gold rings.
We took the Hennessy tour and had a fabulous time. The company’s boat took us to the other side of the river to visit the cellars. Then we learned all about the processes of creating this luxurious spirit, from the terroir to the maturing and assembling processes. At the end of the tour, you get to taste two different Cognacs and a Cognac-based liqueur (which to be honest, I loved the most).
The price of the tour is 20 euros per person, you can book it here. Tours run from an introduction to a detailed look at the XO spirit of Hennessy.
Where: Quai Richard Hennessy, 16100 Cognac
Château Royal de Cognac
This is arguably the most historical château on my list. It dates back to the 10th century and creates both the Baron Otard and Ussé cognacs. Because of its rich history, visitors receive tours that are based both on history and on the craft of cognac making. Built along the river and meant to prevent invaders from Normandy from infringing upon the city walls, the château casts an impressive shadow over the water.
Starting in the 15th century, the château served as a royal residence, and King Francois I of France was born there. The Château offers two different kinds of visits: 1) At the heart of d’Ussé, which is 35 euros per person, and 2) At the heart of the Château, starting at 18 euros per person.
Where: 127 Bd Denfert Rochereau, 16100 Cognac
The Meukow estate is a family-owned cognac property. Although it was started in 1850, the last building was not bought until 2012. Symbolized by a black panther, the property is unique in that it is also home to a restaurant, where you can take culinary courses with cognac pairings.
The château offers a tour with 3 cognac tastings, led by the cellar master of the property. Getting a tour from the cellar master herself is a rarity, but gems like this can be found on small properties like the Meukow estate.
Where: 7 Rue François Porche, 16100 Cognac
Martell – the oldest Cognac house
The Maison Martell has been producing cognac since 1715 and is known for its long history. It credits its 300 years of success to its founder, Jean Martell. At 21 years of age, he established the house and set its tone for innovation and reinvention. These aptitudes have allowed it to withstand the tests of time and modernity. As a grande maison de cognac, Maison Martell has a commitment to biodiversity.
The property offers three tours in English – one each of its XO (35 euros) and VSOP (25 euros) cognacs, and one on cognac-making craftsmanship (60 euros).
Where: 7 place edouard Martell 16100 Cognac
Best distilleries to visit in the larger Cognac region – the small producers
If you’re interested in visiting a small family-owned producer in Cognac, Domaine Pasquet is the château for you!
You will be welcomed by the lovely Amy, who is married to one of the owners and is managing the business with him. This is the most welcoming and cozy experience you can get in a Cognac, which is dominated by huge domains.
The estate produces organic cognac, a rarity, and is known for its ability to present a cozy experience while also being innovative with its product. Its commitment to producing small batches of cognac and to organic processes makes each bottle unique.
Domaine Pasquet offers a tour in English for 16 euros and includes a tasting.
Where: 27 Chez Ferchaud, 16120 Bellevigne, France France
Another great family-owned distillery to visit is Cognac Raby, located in the small village of Segonzac. The tours are free and run by the owner of the Cognac house, Cecile. The Raby family has owned the domain for 5 generations. The family did not start distilling until the 1970s, making Cecile a third-generation distiller. The family takes care of their land, and the estate has been certified as a High Environmental Value level 3.
The estate’s tours are one and a half hours long, and they are available in English. The estate’s shop on-site is open during general business hours without an appointment.
Where: 3 bis La Brée, 16130 Segonzac
If you’re traveling through Angouleme (the capital of the Charentes department), this is the distillery you should visit.
The Bourgoin family thinks of its cognac as a winemaker’s cognac. Its website is reflective of the family’s irreverent sense of humor: “Receive the punch of the cognac like a gift. Whether the results are a light stupor or a razzle-dazzle, it promises not to leave you unscathed.”
The Domaine appreciates the people who work the land, names them on its site, and has their photos in its tour advertisements. It offers tours in English for 30 euros.
Where: 14 Rue du Puits, 16290 Saint-Saturnin
Here are other articles about amazing places in the Charentes you might like to discover when planning your trip to Cognac:
Where to eat at La Rochelle
What to do in Cognac
Discover the French capital of comics and street art – Angouleme
Aubeterre sur Dronne – the most beautiful village in Charente
The most beautiful villages in Ile de Ré
You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via Lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:
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