In the 1970s, Frédéric’s grandfather Michel Bourgoin began to modernize their distillation.
He bought a 20 hectoliter Pruhlo still, a name also found in Martinique, as well as a state-of-the-art automation panel that allowed him to control the heat of the still, improving the consistency of the spirit. Michel passed this still down to Frédéric’s father Alain, who, in addition to expanding their cellar, contributed his own distillation innovation. Alain was the first to pioneer Bourgoin’s revolutionary double-lees distillation, leading to one of their signature house styles. Lees are leftover yeast particles from autolysis, which is the self-destruction of yeast cells by enzymes created from fermentation. Double-lees distillation began as an accident, which occurred when Alain pumped a second batch of lees into an already full tank.
Bourgoin Cognac is distilled with double the lees usually contained in base wine destined for Cognac production. This process allows for the additional extraction of esters to create a Cognac with incomparable aromatic intensity. With an impressive 200 milligram of esters per liter, the Bourgoin’s Double Lies Cognac contains three times more of these flavor components than those found in a standard Cognac. The resulting batch of Cognac had an increased complexity and an enchanting texture. The double lees technique became a trademark of the Bourgoin house style, providing a contrast to houses distilling either with partial lees, or without lees.
Alian Bourgoin also made a substantial contribution to the house in the development of their barrel program. While Bourgoin has barrels dating back to their great grandparents in the 1960s, Alain made a significant contribution, gradually increasing their cellar stock. In practice, Bourgoin incorporates new casks very carefully, washing them at least three times with fresh eau de vie prior to their use for cask-aging. They work with a handful of coopers to source their 350L barrels from the Limousin forest. With regards to oak barrels, Frédéric points out that the soil beneath the tree is actually a more significant factor than the tree variety. While he selects for a wider-grain wood, simply sourcing pedunculate oak (the type traditionally prized in Cognac for its wider-grain) is no longer enough. As the oak trees in the Limousin forest have begun to crossbreed, the soils have become a decisive factor for the quality of wood a tree will produce. This exemplifies the evolution of much of the old wisdom of Cognac, and how producers like Frédéric and Rebecca are revolutionizing this historic region.
Finally, in 2012, it was Frédéric’s turn to take the helm of the family business. Building on the work of previous generations, he was the first to bottle and sell Bourgoin Cognac under the family name. He also created the now-iconic label, which places transparency of process at the center of the design, delivering complete production details, going so far as to include Frédéric’s cell phone number in case the drinker has any questions! His mission is to capture and share the pure, authentic Cognac that the family has been producing for decades. His commitment to these values is absolute, as Bourgoin uses zero additives beyond local spring water — no sugar, no caramel coloring, no boisé — in stark contrast to the AOC’s allowed 16g per liter of additives. While much of the argument for these additives is to preserve yearly consistency, Bourgoin Cognac is proudly agricultural in nature, telling a story of the land and the cellar that define the house. The tracking of their vineyard production is so detailed that each bottle carries on it GPS coordinates for the exact vineyard that Cognac originated in.
Even the water source used for downproofing their Cognacs is carefully considered and hyper-local. Bourgoin exclusively uses Fontaine Jolival, which owes its name to an ancient artesian well entombed 162 meters underground in an impermeable Portlandian aquifer, in the heart of the Charraud valley, a few kilometers south of Angoulême, in the Fins Bois cru of the AOC Cognac. Fontaine Jolival develops its purity and lightness via natural filtration carried out through the various layers of rock for more than 20,000 years. Through its long, undisturbed journey in the aquifer, Fontaine Jolival water has acquired its unique signature of trace minerals and exceptional purity, being completely free of all pollution linked to human activity, including nitrates, pesticides, and other chemicals.