A Gentleman of Cognac

Cognac. Even hearing the word spoken evokes a smile on my face. A warmth inside as I recall the taste. The moments I have celebrated with a glass of cognac signify milestones in my life. Slow, mindful, and reflective celebrations. 

To me, there is a special mysteriousness around cognac. Nostalgic in ways. Distinguished, you could say. It’s what drew me to this story. The desire to delve into the world I appreciated however, knew little about. And of all places to find this, it was just around the corner from my home at the time. In Geelong, a regional city in Australia, an hour south of Melbourne. 

Often, and often being mostly, when I was out at a bar or restaurant in Australia, and felt like a cognac, it was rare to find someone who could tell me about the cognacs on the menu. When the prices ranged into the hundreds per glass, I wanted to know more about the cognac, because for me it’s not only about what I am drinking, but also the story behind it. 

With this drink signifying something special to me, a moment in time I want to remember, that story that goes with my coming to the moment of this drink of celebration or new beginnings, I want the experience to be even more by having the story of the cognac be part of that memory. After all, I am a storyteller. I enjoy, even thrive, combining these stories. How two seemingly different stories come together because of a common connection.

The smell as I breathe in the cognac is setting it in my memory as the senses go further than what I taste. Each time that wonderful smell is breathed in, I am transported back to the times in my life I have enjoyed a cognac.

One of the reasons I started The Man Has Style back in 2012 was for the nostalgic feeling I get when I see beautiful design, taste exquisite food and drink, smell scents that evoke memories, and all those little moments that spark a light in me to shine a light on the beauty of creation in life. 

Welcome to Wine {Domaine}

After living interstate for many years, upon my return to the region, I had driven past a store that caught my eye each time. The sign said Wine {Domaine} with another on the same premise, SNIF Perfumery. My first year back, I was recommended to visit there by a man who I valued his recommendations. It took me another two years, and much of that time in lockdowns, before I would take that step inside the store. I finally went to visit this place that had captured my attention from afar. 

Upon stepping inside Wine {Domaine}, I was immediately welcomed and felt a sense of warmth. Not only from the staff, but also the interiors. I felt like I had stepped into another city. Cognac lined the cabinets on one side and further through, were the wines. Every sense was sparked, with the smell captivating. 

SNIF perfumery was in a separate room at the back of the store however, they had candles amongst the bottles of wine on large tables in the centre. Straight off when speaking with the wonderful staff, their product knowledge and enthusiasm for what they presented was exceptional. I enquired about the masterclasses I had seen they hosted (lockdowns permitting at the time) and they took my details for the owner could call me. 

It wasn’t until the owner called me, that I realised I knew him from years ago!  We had worked together on some wine projects around 15 years prior. From there, I knew I must interview him for The Man Has Style. A gentleman of cognac. I recalled his passion for fine details and storytelling. A cognac is not simply a cognac. It is a story, an experience, it has history, and it is one that fascinates me. 

Cognac Prunier and Dale Cooper

The Cognac Prunier Connection

The founder of Wine {Domaine}, Dale Cooper, has almost 30 years’ experience in the wine-making industry, including a stint working alongside the revered, world-renowned French champagne houses Veuve Cliquot, Moët, Krug, Dom Perignon and Ruinart. He also studied at the famed Hennessy Academy in Cognac, France, to hone his understanding and appreciation of the luxury French brandy.

Dale and I sat down for a chat on a few occasions to discuss cognac and how a request from a valued client for a particular cognac changed his life. It was around six or seven years ago when a client asked about the Cognac Prunier, one of which Dale didn’t have. Conversely, he went to investigate. When the client asked Dale about the Prunier, he never thought it would turn into such a huge part of his life and business. This simple request led to a strong partnership with the Prunier family and a special friendship with them.

Cognac Prunier

Cognac Prunier is one of the oldest family-owned Cognac Houses. The family business started in 1701, with the blending of the cognacs starting is 1769. Since 1769, and eleven generations, the House of Prunier has been bottling and shipping in the heart of the town of Cognac, France. It was Jean Prunier who recognised rail would be a future of transport and in 1850 built near the railway station. This is where you will find the family house and cellars still to this day. 

Since the Second War, in addition to these, in the village of Gimeux, you will also find Prunier’s other cellars. Gimeux is reputed for their ideal ageing conditions. Generation after generation have played their part in growing and developing the original premises, with the walls and grounds full of memories, embodying the heart of the company.

The House of Prunier explain it well, “What would be cognac without the earth and the special light of the district? Full of sun, the vines of the Charente and the Charente Maritime express their opulence in the quality of the exceptional cognacs.

We are proud to own a “Paradise” which is now the testimony of the qualities as they were consumed in the 19th century. Legend leads us to believe there is an underground river flowing under the Cognac cellars and that it contributes to the inimitable taste of Prunier cognacs.”

The Australian Connection

The connection with the Prunier and Australia has a long history. Prunier set up in Australia in the 1880s at 483-485 Collins Street Melbourne. One of the family members had a pet dog and a pet kangaroo at their home. Consequently, there is photo of the kangaroo and dog on the label. 

There’s a great story from The Australian Financial review that talks more on the background – Why an Australian wine shop sells more Prumier rare cognac than any other shop

From his initial enquiries into the Prunier cognacs, Dale went to visit the Cognac House, receiving an open invitation to return to the European country for the next 20 years to work on the brand’s Family Series XXO blend. In this first limited release with Prunier, there were 500 bottles, all signed and numbered from Wine {Domaine}. The release was a success, being named in the Top 10 Outstanding Cognacs in Forbes.

The Second Limited Edition Release

Dale went back to Cognac in mid-2022 to work on the second Cognac Prunier blend. Arriving in France, he went straight to Cognac, having dinner that night with the family – Stephane, Ann-Maree, Alice and Claire, back at their house where he was staying. He reflected how it felt like coming home. 

Dale explained, “It felt like family going back to Cognac. It’s like going back home. I didn’t necessarily notice didn’t things had changed much there when I returned, it all felt familiar and welcoming.” And whilst he isn’t fluent in French, Dale does speak a little, “I can eat, and drink and survive! The three main things”.  

Unliked his first release, Dale didn’t blend from multiple vintages as had done in the past. He went to the village of Gimeaux, about 20 minutes away, to the damp cellars and went through the barrels with Stephan. The actual barrel he wanted was being saved for a vintage. Dale wanted the full barrel, as it wouldn’t be blended. It had been sitting there for 40 years. A 1985 vintage, Grande Champagne. The best of the best. Still cask strength, sits at 49%. 

I asked Dale if it was hard to choose what to use. He explained, “Yes, but this one stood out. As much as the first one I did was amazing, I think this one is going to walk all over the first one.” 

The wax seal on each limited-edition bottle of Prunier Family Series XXO No 2 is special. The labels in themselves have a story.  The wax seal features the Prunier family coated arms. The label rarely changes, although, this time is from the Gemeux region. You’ll also find the East Geelong Post Office stamp on left-hand side. Showing the roots of both places, honouring the collaboration. 

The Taste of Cognac

Dale tried a lot of cognacs that were over 100 years old while he was there. 1914 was the oldest cognac tried on his trip. On his prior trip, three years ago, a bottle was pulled from the cellar by Stephan from 1865 which he shares was a special tasting. Dale prefers cognac over whisky because you can taste the complexity of the wine. He says it’s like wine, in that it shows the variation of the vintage of the wine as it is distilled from that. 

As a loose rule of thumb, Dale explains, the vintages in Burgundy and the vintages in Cognac – when it’s good in one, it’s not always good in the other. So, one of the two regions will always be good each year.

“The smell is intense around the barrels. It smells like plum puddings, Christmas cake. It’s got that beautiful smell to it. The cellar is naturally temperature controlled at around 7-10c naturally as it’s on the Charente River and there is a lot of humidity, and they dig it into the ground. It’s a stable temperature all year around.

There are 25 million people that live in Australia – in Cognac there are the equivalent of 25 million bottles of Cognac that evaporate from the angel-share from the barrels per year. The size of the barrels each are between 380 – 420 litres. 

One reason why cognac is so expensive is you pay a tax on the evaporated part. With an evaporation rate of around 2% each year, you can understand why, especially for those older vintages. Add to that, a cognac in Australia will mature four times faster than in France.” Dale goes on to clarify.

In was hot in the last few days of his trip to Cognac. The temperature was between 39c and 42c. The heat is dry, like Geelong in Summer, with a little breeze coming off the Charente River. 

The Town of Cognac

You can hear the excitement and passion for the creation of cognac and all that around it in his voice. There’s no denying, his commitment to producing not only an exceptional cognac, but also sharing the story behind it, is evident. Dale is a storyteller in the best sense. He weaves in the little moments that have you imagining you are there in the town of Cognac.

Walking along the streets, the short distance of around five minutes from the family chateau to the town – which he explains is best to walk, after all, you miss so much when you travel by car or bike. Walking allows you to take in the tiny details you miss when you pass quickly. Cognac is a small town of around 25,000 people so not big by any means. 

“When I’m walking past all the heritage houses in Cognac, one thing that always gets me is the timber window shutters. The carvings on the window shutters, signifying the history of the building, and the importance of the people who lived there. They have clips that tie them back and have figurines on the little clips. All cast iron and have representations of the people from the house. It’s amazing being able to walk along and touch the buildings. All those little details that make up the special connections to the town.” Dale shares with me.

I resonate with his sentiment. Walking is one of my all-time favourite activities. The ability to take in all around you, slowly, savouring the small details, the intricacies of your surrounds. The broken, the new, all creating an eclectic mix of creation over time. When you walk, and if you open your eyes in a way of exploration, you will find something new each time you go.

He continues, “A lot of the houses are made from limestone and have black soot on them. The soot is a fungus that is from the angel-share. When the cognacs are evaporating, the fungi feed off the gases and turns the fungi black. So, whenever you see houses with a black roof or black walls, it’s likely they have cognac within the walls of the house.”

How to Order the Prunier Family Series XXO No 2

Cognac is having a rebirth of sorts in Australia. Dale invests his knowledge, time, and passion to this each day. The evidence in this is through the highest sales of Vintage Prunier anywhere in the world. Right here in Australia. 

The Prunier Family Series XXO No 2 is limited to only 300 bottles, with 200 coming to Australia and the remainder for France. The first 100 bottles are due to arrive in Australia in September. 

The Prunier Family Series XXO No 2 is $399 AUD with an ALC/VOL 49%. 

To order visit https://www.winedomaine.com.au for more details, or contact via Instagram @winedomaine

It’s time for you to create your stories with this limited-edition. Once you taste it, you are sure to savour in the moment, reliving the experience many times over.

SNIF Perfumery

Wine Domaine is paired with SNIF Perfumery. All part of the same location. After all, taste and smell go hand in hand. We were talking about the perfumery and the way the scent can transport you to a particular time in life. When I breath in the essence of the scent, my mind automatically tells a story. It rolls out, like a movie playing in my mind. Characters form. The conversations, relationships, and locations are as clear as the light of day. A film script in the waiting. But that’s for another time, another story.

Words by Sarah Crawford, Founder and Editor at The Man Has Style.

For more exclusive interviews visit our Interview page.

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