Our final day in Cognac took us to one of my all-time favorite producers, Camus, which is a smaller producer but considerably larger than Maison Ferrand. (Camus grows its own grapes for about 35-40 percent of its production.) Camus is unique in that is centered around Borderies, the north-of-the-river part of Cognac that showcases a much different terroir. The low hills of Grande Champagne give way here to a more rolling landscape that’s thick with trees. It’s a strikingly different world, and yet you’re just a few miles away from the chalky soils of Grande Champagne.
Camus operates its offices and visitor’s center in the city of Cognac, but our guide Frederic Dezauzier drove us into Borderies proper to see Camus’s distillery and warehouse, the latter being the largest single aging and blending operation we visited during our trip. This area has been planted to wine grapes since the 12th century, and it would seem not much has changed since then based on the short stone buildings and narrow roads connecting the various villages.
Camus’s distillery isn’t the most glamorous part of Borderies — it’s a fairly industrial setting situated next to a methane-fueled power plant — but the magic here is clearly driven by more than stills and fancy buildings. Here, Camus’ distillery manager Yonaël Bernard showcased what’s different about the brandy than at other operations — namely that they take a larger selection of heads and taste them, one liter at a time, using a device attached to the still that Camus has actually patented.
During our time together, Dezauzier shared a deep history of Camus with us, expanding my knowledge of the producer and the area. Camus is the largest single owner of vineyards in the Borderies area, and it still offers the only XO Borderies-designated Cognac on the market. At the time it was the sole supplier of brandy to Czar Nicholas II of Russia, an arrangement which ensured that a large volume of Camus Cognac was invariably exported. Before Covid, a whopping 60 percent of Camus’s sales were driven by duty free shops. That collapsed during the pandemic but it’s slowly recovering. The good news is that means it’s easier to get Camus locally.
A few miles away, Camus distillate is trucked in and put into barrels for aging. It surprised me (though it probably shouldn’t have) that the barrels never actually move off the racks. Long hoses are used to put new spirit in and take it out; the barrel stays in its spot until it has to be removed for repair, thus minimizing the chance for damage — and the hassle of having to move barrels around in order to reach it. 5000 casks of Cognac are aging in this single warehouse — all of Camus’ stock in one place — while blending is done in enormous vats in a different room. It was perversely exciting also to see a piece of equipment you hear about all the time, but which I’d never witnessed in the flesh: An iced-over chill-filtration unit. While chill-filtering is considered a no-no in the whiskey world, it’s commonplace in Cognac; in fact, the vast majority of Cognac is chill-filtered, because the market has zero tolerance toward impurities, unlike in the whiskey world. A good portion of Cognac is also kept chilled or in the freezer, further necessitating the process.
We wrapped up our time with Camus (at least before lunch) with a small tasting in Camus’s testing laboratory, enjoying a recent bottling of its iconic XO Borderies. Loaded with complex notes of baked apples, orange peel, butterscotch, baking spice, and vanilla, the light touch of wood that weaves in and out of the experience was a vivid reminder of why this is such a delightful brandy… and why it’s now selling at about $320 a bottle.
As we were preparing to leave Cognac to return to Paris, the headline-grabbing strikes that have beset the country were just getting started. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this narrative, this culminated in our train to Angoulême being canceled, and we had to take a car service there to catch our TGV connection. I would be wholly remiss without acknowledging Aimé Letono of L&L Prestig’Auto, who ended up driving us just about everywhere we went — sometimes because the distilleries had hired him, sometimes because of dumb luck. Aimé really is the only driver in Cognac as far as I can tell, and if you are planning to visit this tiny burg, I implore you to connect with him to arrange car service before your arrival. I don’t have a website, but try calling or texting +33 (0) 6 11 25 88 02 directly; Aimé speaks excellent English. Tell him Drinkhacker sent you!
Camus Workshop, 21 Rue Cagouillet, 16100 Cognac, France
Camus has a range of paid visitors’ experiences, including tours and blending experiences. Learn more at camus.fr under “Experiences.”