Hennessey Cognac celebrates 250 years with a special cache and an event In RSA – we spent a pretty chilled evening sipping this extraordinary drink.

There are nights, days, or occasions where only a good Cognac will do. The chilly Tuesday that Jozi has just experienced was pulled from the catalogue of the most perfect Jozi Winter Nights. Not too chilly, not too tame either, just wonderful equilibrium. The evening sky in and around Melrose Arch matches the modern architecture, the wind blows gentle and Men in trendy trench coats seek refuge under pavement umbrellas.

It turns out to be a beautiful story that is narrated. It’s a chronicle of family ties; entrepreneurship ambition that crosses over borders and oceans; passion, craftsmanship and a lesson in Viticulture. It’s a 250 year old episode. Patrick Madendjian is a suave French Gentleman who is tasked with looking after the interests of Moet Hennessy here in beautiful RSA. He exudes the kind of luxury associated with his brands and his passion while unfolding the Hennessy story is both surreal as it is captivating.

Tossed, Chilled, Warmed – Your Way is Your Way

(Add not so heavy French accent) “I always say to people they can have their Hennessy in whichever way they wish.” He gets his cue after my first swig of clean, no ice, and no breaker single shot of Henney. It’s just how I like it, chaperoned by a spicy Cuban. The myriad flavours, spices and wooden casks linger and dance on the tongue. Introduce a mixer, be it soda, fruit juice, and even ice and I lose interest, immediately.

But such is the nature of Cognac, essentially a variety of Brandy, is devoid of rules and protocol. Madendjian insists that even the local tendency to heat up a Cognac glass, though bizarre and totally unwarranted, is fine as long it’s done with Hennessy. It’s all in the wishes of the holder of the bottle.

What Makes A Cognac

For a Brandy to assume the Cognac nameplate its manufacture technique must meet a few legal requirements, be made from Ugni Blanc, which is a fresh, fruity grape with Italian origins. The grape has high acidity levels which are key ingredients in the production of Cognac and the distillation also needs to happen in two stages; first in copper pot stills and then aged in French oak barrels from certain areas in France.

Though the distillation process is similar to that of Whiskey and wine, Madendjian mesmerizes our minds and explains that the unlike its relatives, the Cognac industry isn’t chained to the ‘AGE’ buzz because the quality of Cognac never changes. Stars are used to grade levels. The same excellence in their VSOP coursing through my palette, seated comfy on deep brown leather chaise longue at Churchills in Melrose is similar to that which an English King enjoyed in the 16th Century.

VSOP Origins         

At first I solicit a question. Knowing very well the rich heritage and pride of language which many European nations have, I dearly would love to know how an English description made it to a French bottle. Founder William Hennessey was an Irish bloke, who served under the army of Louix XV. Having established his company and Comité de Dégustation – the Tasting Committee – which has been led by master blenders from the Filloux family for seven generations thus far, the King of England dispatched an order for the finest Cognac ever, with a bit of challenging twist thrown in. Crafting a superior Cognac was simple enough but creating one which was pale, there had to be some tricks up the Filloux and Hennessey clans. With rich knowledge on their side the company discovered that reusing old wooden casks left the juice free from darkening wood tints, and thus they triumphed over the trial, shipping the stuff off and naming it Very Special Old Pale (VSOP).


As any man of luxury knows that nothing is quite achieved until you have something truly special that is only found in your storage. Thus William also commissioned his master blenders to create a separate stash that was older, better, and would be rarer even than what was available, for his special visitors who counted Royalty and Politicians from across the globe. This distinct haul would then be known as Extra Old (X.O) after being convinced the world would be a better place if it could have access to his special reserve.

The Event

In celebrating 250 years the Maison Hennessy will pay tribute to all those who, past and present, have forged its success on five continents.  The Hennessy 250 Tour will set out to find them around the world, following in the traces of the “Grand Tours” the family has made throughout its history, from America to Asia and Africa. It is a multidisciplinary event in which the Maison showcases the treasures of its heritage, seen through the eyes of internationally known contemporary artists.  It reflects the vision the Maison has always had of itself and the world around it: a taste for the avant-garde and the pull of distant horizons. This hybrid cultural event – a travelling exhibit with original live performances – will be an emblematic reflection of the unique bond that Hennessy has always maintained with the art world.

The Hennessy 250 Tour is curated by Hervé Mikaeloff and tells the Hennessy legacy through the eyes of artists who are witnesses of their time, the purveyors of dreams and who consistently push the boundaries of culture forward. Complete with live exhibitions and shows spanning the globe, the tour will touch five continents in legendary locations throughout 2015. Circa Gallery in Johannesburg was selected to represent the African leg of the tour and, in addition, will also feature the work of South African artist Dineo Bopape alongside the internationally renowned artists like Anton Corbijn and Charles Sandison. The exhibition will be showcased from 21-25 August 2015.


The H250 exhibition


From beginning to end of this artistic journey, that takes the visitor behind the scenes at Hennessy, each artist has created a unique work, whether installation, video, portrait or artwork, in resonance with elements of the Hennessy legacy which have never before been displayed.  All come from the kilometres of archives and documents which took the researchers on a treasure hunt in Cognac and around the world.  It presents a contemporary vision of the multiple facets of Hennessy: the global adventure, the secrets of its exceptional savoir-faire, its powerful presence on the four corners of the earth.  A total immersion that swings from real to virtual and is, at one and the same time, festive, fun, and interactive, leaving each artist carte blanche to confront his imaginary vision with that of the Maison.  A journey that reveals creativity that never sleeps a passion to pass on a legacy, from generation to generation and from culture to culture.  A series of portraits also salutes those without whom the Maison would not be what it is today.


One Response

  1. Gihanni Kijo

    Whatever happened to “Ixoxwa ngezithombe (sp)” .. Couldn’t bring myself to read the whole article because No Pictures. Bleh

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