Thursday, July 25, 2013

Drowned in Cognac: A beautiful death

Catherine Vallet with her husband Michel, left, and son Laurent
What's the best possible way to die? Nelson Rockefeller's exit would probably be top on my list, but Maurice Vallet can make a pretty good argument (from Heaven, of course.)

Maurice Vallet was the third-generation proprietor of Château de Montifaud, an artisanal producer of Cognac in the Petite Champagne region. As is often the case, the third generation was crucial.

Maurice began distilling with his father in 1904 and worked for 54 years. He survived two World Wars, expanded the vineyard holdings, and had three children to ensure the legacy of the house. Most of the great older eaux de vie used in Château de Montifaud's top bottlings were laid down by Maurice.

Maurice never retired. One day, at the age of 74, he went into the distillery, by himself, to check on a tank.

"He went up the ladder and the evaporation came up to him and he fell," says Catherine Vallet, wife of Maurice's grandson Michel. "And because there was nobody around ..."


"The Cognac sleeps," Catherine Vallet says. "It's not like wine, you move all the time. We keep quiet."
Maurice's death is like the punchline to a joke. It wasn't funny 50 years ago; not at all. Maurice Vallet was well-loved in the town of Jarnac and everyone turned out for his funeral. But the Vallets can laugh about it now, or at least Catherine can; she has an easy smile and a sly sense of humor. She told me she was pulled over by a police officer after drinking some Cognac, and "When I blew into the balloon for the police I said, 'It is Cognac in my veins'." Against all odds she passed; I know how that feels.

Maurice Vallet
About Maurice Vallet, she says, "He lived a colorful life so he had a colorful death. We can say it was a beautiful death. But he was too young."

I had to ask: What did they do with the Cognac in that tank?

"They did a filtration," Catherine says. "He wasn't in it very long."

Thus it's possible to say that some of the oldest Cognacs at Château de Montifaud have a bit of the, er, soul of Maurice Vallet. 

Château de Montifaud VSOP Fine Petite Champagne Cognac ($50)
The signature of this brand is its lightness. This is an introduction with caramel and honey flavors, and a long finish for a VSOP.

Château de Montifaud XO Fine Petite Champagne Cognac ($120)
Light-bodied for an XO, with pretty floral high notes and nice milk chocolate flavors on the finish. An easy-drinking, delicate XO.

Château de Montifaud L50 Grand Cru Meritage Louis Vallet Petite Champagne Cognac  (132 Euros [$175] at the distillery)
Not available in the US, unfortunately, because this is in the class of Hennessy Paradis Imperiale, which costs more than $2000. It smells exquisite: baked apple pie, caramel, honey, dried flowers, golden raisins. It's exquisite on the palate also, light, lengthy, complex and pretty. You could pester the importer, Anchor Distilling, to get you some. But beware: the good thing about its inavailability is that, after you drink a Cognac like this (or Hennessy Paradis), it's hard to go back. 

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1 comment:

Don Stone said...

What a great post/story... Thanks for sharing!