Camus has revamped its Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac to showcase its unique island origin. The expression is a rare example of a single-provenance Cognac with a distinctive aromatic profile which is indisputably linked to its island origin: smooth yet fresh and crisp, naturally iodine-rich, with typical marine notes.
Located in the middle of France’s Atlantic coast, three kilometers from the port of La Rochelle, Île de Ré stretches 32 kilometres in length with a total land area around 85km2 or 8500 hectares, which is roughly twice the size of the Borderies cru, and is oriented west-northwest. On account of its mild and dry climate, which is influenced by warm currents from the Gulf Stream, the Île de Ré has been home to charming strips of vineyards for centuries. The average altitude of the island is just five meters above sea level, but, importantly, around 20 percent of the land area sits below sea level. These low-lying areas play an important role in capturing and holding sea mists resulting in a special development of grapes grown on the island.
In the north of the island, where land and sea merge, there are marine clay swamps that are well suited to salt production. In the south, the more favorable soil and climate instead led to the emergence of intense vine-growing activity from the 12th century onwards. In this early period, thanks to land donations made by local lords, different communities of monks set up on the island and gradually started to tend vines.
Historically, monastic living was closely intertwined with agriculture and, by extension, brewing, winemaking and distilling. These communities thrived on the island and, as a result, vineyards soon occupied a major part of the island plains, reaching more than 45km2 or 4,500 hectares in total at the end of the 17th century.
Viticulture prospered here in parallel with the booming of the neighboring port of La Rochelle. Founded as a fishing village in the 10th century, from the 12th century this port town became an important commercial hub, mostly revitalized by wine export. The success of the wine trade continued well into the 19th century, when phylloxera began to seriously impact French vineyards. At that time, vineyards still represented 70 percent of the cultivated island surface. Although the infestation reached the mainland region of Charente in 1872, Île de Ré managed to preserve the integrity of its vineyards up to 1883, thanks to its isolated position and the nature of its abundant sandy soils, which hindered the pest’s proliferation. The subsequent spread of phylloxera led to an inexorable decrease in cultivated land on the island and by the dawn of the 20th century the vineyard covered only 18km2 or 1,800 hectares.
Today, the island’s vineyards cover a combined surface area of approximately 5km2 or 500 hectares, 50 percent of which is used to produce Cognac. The most common grape variety is Ugni Blanc, which constitutes about 98 percent of total Cognac production, while the remainder is Colombard. The local cooperative that deals with most of the island’s grape production has 89 members and is responsible for the entire Cognac production cycle, from distillation to aging.
Despite small differences in composition of the soil found in different areas of the island, most of the territory is recognized for a mixture of clay, limestone and sand. This mix provides the perfect blend of nutrients and drainage, which contributes to the vigour of the vines and promotes full maturity of the grapes.
The proximity of the ocean plays a critical role in creating the unique aromatic profile exhibited by grapes grown on Île de Ré. Atlantic sea sprays often sweep over the vines, covering the grapes with a fine layer of saline condensation. This salty deposit has the dual effect of drawing out water from the grapes via osmosis, which causes a slight wrinkling of the skins and concentration of the juice within, while also slightly increasing the presence of iodine, which is one of the most abundant micronutrients in seawater.
Nature also provides an organic fertilizer in the form of local seaweed or ‘kelp’, which is harvested at low tide and spread over the vine rows. Iodine naturally accumulates at relatively high concentrations in seaweed and, after centuries of fertilization in this manner, a further marine signature has been taken on by the soil. The vines absorb iodine and other marine-derived micronutrients from the soil, which in turn impart a distinct aromatic profile to the grapes produced in this area. As a result, Île de Ré Cognac boasts both a freshness and minerality in its flavour profile, like no other spirit in the category.
Ile de Ré also enjoys the highest number of sunshine days in France after the Mediterranean coast and the lowest summer precipitation in the mid-west Atlantic. In fact, total annual rainfall on the island is lower than that of the mainland. These climatic conditions are almost unique in the context of the Cognac region and are linked to the fortuitous geographical positioning of the island, which takes advantage of the Gulf Stream’s warming and stabilising influence. This blend of climatic factors is extremely favourable to the cultivation of vines, as they significantly decrease the likelihood of critical issues such as spring frosts and deliver the conditions required for an optimal and consistent ripening cycle. At the same time, this combination of elements creates the perfect environment for the steady and consistent cask maturation of the spirit.
Camus Ile de Ré Fine Island is distilled at the historical facility of Le Bois Plage en Ré, a distillery which dates back to 1972 and is positioned at the center of the island. The site is equipped with copper pot stills of different sizes, ranging from 2500 to 12500 litres in capacity.
Once distilled, the new spirit is mostly filled into 400-litre casks made from French oak sourced from the forests of Limousin and Tronçais. These vessels are usually at least ‘thirdfill’— meaning they have been used at least twice before—and on average are around 30 years old. By utilising well-used oak, the delicate and elegant Ile de Ré spirit will not be overwhelmed by intrusive oaky notes, which would otherwise be extracted in abundance during even just a few short months of maturation in a new oak or firstfill cask. Instead, a slow and gentle maturation takes place that’s driven by oxidation, evaporation of both water and alcohol, interaction of compounds already present in the spirit, and just a small amount of extraction of wood-derived flavors from the well-used, wide-grain French oak.
On the nose, the Cognac is elegant and fresh, with lively notes of white fruits such as peach and apricot. The palette features crisp orchard fruits, such as apple and pear, with sweet caramel and a nutty framework of almonds balanced by rich cocoa, cinnamon, and a subtle minerality. The finish is smooth, with fine briny notes of iodine
Camus recommends serving the Cognac in a tulip-shaped tasting glass at room temperature, about18°C (64.4°F), in a short tumbler glass on the rocks, or in a cocktail. As an aperitif, it should be paired with seafood canapés or oysters, or after dinner, with fine pastry.
The revamping of the Camus Ile de Ré Fine Island pack aims to reinforce the communication of the unique flavor profile of this Cognac and its island origin. For this reimagining, Camus worked in collaboration with the Scottish design studio Breeze Creative. The island’s most symbolic locations, which are key to the Cognac’s production and character, are visually represented on the box.
With its iconic flared shape, the bottle is accompanied by a label that reproduces the design of the box, with a horizontal orientation that completely covers the front side. The closure includes a laminated cork stopper that is decorated with a capsule which illustrates the fundamental symbols of the Cognac production process: the grape harvest, the distillation in pot stills and barrel Ageing.
Camus Île de Ré Fine Island is priced at €38.90 and is available in selected specialist stockists as well as Camus’ official website.
In April, Camus unveiled Return to Saint-Aulaye, a 2016 vintage Cognac made from Colombard grapes. The new offering follows last year’s Camus Caribbean Expedition, which explored the impact of aging the French brandy at sea.