Who doesn’t love to enjoy a carefully crafted cocktail in a gorgeous foreign country?
Earlier this month, I had the unique opportunity to travel the South of France, with selected journalists and influencers, on behalf of D’USSE Cognac, the bold spirit founded by Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter and conceived by noted cellar master Michel Casavecchia. Casavecchia is one of the world’s greatest authorities on cognac, as he’s been curating spirits for more than 20 years at the prestigious Château de Cognac, the 200-year-old venue — one of the oldest Cognac houses in France.
While this week-long trip immersed me in the iconic French spirit at the brand’s home, the prestigious Château du Cognac, which has a storied legacy of producing some of the world’s finest cognacs, we also had the opportunity to explore and enjoy vineyards in the French countryside, delight in gastronomic experiences, free time in Paris, which included a Seine River yacht cruise, and a spectacular Eiffel Tower fireworks show at the swanky GiGi Paris restaurant in honor of Bastille Day. Cognac, 45 minutes from Bordeaux, France (the famed wine-growing region), is perfect for a restful stay if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Paris.
With the company of Maître de Chai Casavecchia, cellar master of Château du Cognac and one of the world’s greatest authorities on the spirit, and Sullivan Doh, lauded mixologist and D’USSE Global Brand Ambassador, we also learned about the meticulous production process and how D’USSE was curated for modern palates using centuries of tradition, which included an introspective tour at the five-year generational Rechou Vineyard, led by lead distiller Eve Rechou located in the Grande Champagne region, about 30 minutes away from our ultra-chic contemporary hotel, Chais Monnet Hotel, which is the renovated home and distillery of founding father of the European Union, Jean Monnet.
And yes, cognac is made from grapes.
During the tour, Rechou broke down the important distillation process they use at Chateau De Cognac to establish fruity, floral, rich, and elegant eaux-de-vies.
First, there’s an intricate heating process in the 25-degree Celsius copper container that evaporates the alcohol to collect the heads and tails of the wine residue and kill the yeast but keeping the sweet aroma. Finally, the evaporated alcohol, which transforms into liquid (and can blacken the surrounding walls and buildings of the vineyard distillery), is distilled an additional time, and the “heads,” which are produced in the first distillation phase, and the tails (mixed for a second time in the last phase of distilling) come together to create a delicious “water of life” or eau-de-vie, which is a glorious alcohol level, which then gets transferred to the oak barrels or casks.
It’s important to note that while cognac is a wine-based spirit solely produced in the Cognac region of France, to be considered cognac, it must be made from white grapes from one or more of the six approved growing regions: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois, Bois Ordinaries. After the Rehou Vineyard tour, I realized just how intricate the production and distillation process is to enjoy a glass of my beloved D’USSÉ XO (which is naturally aged at least ten years in the cellars of France’s Château de Cognac).
To further educate me, I sat down with D’USSÉ leaders, cellar master Casavecchia and brand ambassador Doh to understand how the spirit remains a cultural icon but manages to reinvent itself. They told me that the essence behind cognac is integrity; boldness transcends cognac as we know it by standing for integrity, boldness, freedom, and the elevation of authenticity.
Of course, we had our interview after a private tour of Chateau De Cognac, where we had a blindfold tasting of D’USSÉ Cognac led by Doh (I was able to differentiate the difference between D’USSÉ VSOP and XO); we also experienced another exclusive tasting this time led by Casavecchia, as we savored a 40+-year-old Cognac straight from the barrel in the centuries-old cellar of the castle. Lastly, we enjoyed a sunset-lit cocktail hour and a delicious 3-course meal. While I enjoyed the spirit in a castle, I wondered if there was another way to consume cognac.
Casavecchia let me know that there’s no particular way. “Cognac is about pleasure. The only right way to enjoy cognac is up to you,” he stated. Although the brand is rooted in enjoyment, pleasure, and decadence, the primary mission of Casavecchia is to ensure integrity as D’USSÉ continues to expand. “So as the brand continues to grow fast, my main mission is to maintain consistency and quality,” he said.
He’s previously said, “What I love about Cognac is that there are so many different ways and occasions to enjoy it. As a Maître de Chai, I kept this versatility in mind when crafting the D’USSÉ® VSOP blend. I wanted to create a cognac that transcended palatable expectations — a spirit that could be savored or harmoniously blended with cocktails. The result is our coveted D’USSÉ VSOP, a Cognac that unveils an intense bouquet of aroma with oak and spice notes and distills the French Art de Vivre into memorable experiences with cocktails, like D’USSÉ & Lemonade or The D’USSÉ Sidecar.
To support its popularity in the United States and beyond, the D’USSE team is taking a brand-first approach with expansion but keeping its history in mind. Doh shared that Casavecchia surrounds himself with people he trusts and who understand the company’s vision to nurture the quality of the spirit to maintain healthy brand growth.
Doh also spoke about where the brand is headed globally, mentioning the importance of the Black consumer. “We are looking to expand to new markets such as Nigeria and South Africa, as those are two popular markets. I was just in Nigeria a month ago. I went to South Africa last October.”
Outside of the opportunity for continuous expansion, what continues to excite Casavecchia the most about his role is being able to curate the product for 30 years. “The one thing that drives me is patience; I could not do this role without the passion for cognac,” he shared.
The Black Consumer And Cognac:
As many know, The United States is Cognac’s largest market, and it’s believed that the African-American community now accounts for anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of U.S. Cognac sales. A big reason for that is, of course, hip-hop, but also geopolitical issues like war.
During my interview with Doh, we discussed Black consumers’ integral impact on the brand for ages and the symbiotic relationship between the spirit and Black culture. “So, let’s jump back to World War II when segregation was still happening in the army. Many Black soldiers were sent to the South of France, where cognac was made. Then those same soldiers started to get along with French farmers, discovered their French liquor, fell in love with it, and took the spirit back home with them,” he said.
He continued, “Instead of drinking like whiskies as the white folk, they wanted to have their product, and so cognac was the spirit of choice, as it is considered French luxury and holds a specific status. When hip-hop started to showcase success, Black rappers began to identify themselves with a bottle of cognac.”
While the brand is synonymous with luxury and success, it also holds a coveted place in certain people’s lives, making it a distinct lifestyle brand. Doh believes that D’USSÉ is a premium lifestyle brand because it seamlessly fits into consumers’ lives. “We’re present at key moments in time that matter. People can easily integrate D’USSÉ into various celebrations that run the gamut of weddings, graduations, promotions, and more, but it’s not forced. D’USSÉ is at the center of those moments, without taking the spotlight for those celebrations.”
Paris and Bastille Day:
After visiting Château du Cognac the next day, we traveled to Paris by train and checked into the gorgeous new boutique hotel, SO/ Paris. After settling in, we had a fun cocktail hour and dinner at the hotel’s swanky BONNIE restaurant and experienced sweeping views of the entire city.
Friday, we all enjoyed some free time before the Bastille celebrations, so of course, I went to visit the Eiffel Tower. Later the group experienced a yacht Seine River Cruise and viewed the Bastille Day Fireworks at Gigi Paris’ rooftop. I enjoyed my return to France ten years later to learn about the beauty and tradition of cognac.