“The Delamains, a Jarnac firm and family, are Protestants. Originally from Saintonge, one member of the family travelled to London in 1625 as chef-de-suite to Henrietta-Maria, bride of Charles I. Deciding to stay in a country more hospitable than his own to his religion, Nicholas Delamain was knighted in 1639, and settled in Ireland as a Protestant landowner, and one of the Farmers-General of Ireland. One descendant was the Dublin potter, Henry Delamain, who was granted £ 100 by the Irish Parliament in 1753 for having been the first to fire delftware with coals, ‘as well as was ever done with turf and wood.’ (“The Irish Georgian Group put on a splendid exhibition of his work at Castletown House, near Dublin, in 1971″). Cyril Ray, Cognac, P. 44.
Since this work was published, some of Henry Delamain’s finest delftware has been illustrated in a series of stamps issued by the Republic of Ireland.
Henry’s nephew James, son of the constable of Dublin Castle, returned in 1759 to the land of his forefathers and entered the Cognac trade. In 1762, James became a partner of his father-in-law, Isaac Ranson, head of a well-established Jarnac firm that had been shipping Cognac to Ireland and Holland since 1725.
After the upheavals of the Revolution and Empire, the Restoration (1815) marked the take-off of the Cognac trade. With his Roullet cousins, James’s grandson Henry Delamain founded in 1824 the house of Roullet and Delamain, which stayed in business under this name for four generations. In 1920, the Delamain family was left as sole owner, and the firm’s name was changed to Delamain & C°.
Thus, the origins of the house of Delamain can be traced back to the very beginning of the Cognac trade, and make the firm one of the oldest names in the business.
Thanks to this long family tradition, the Delamains have successfully established and maintained a mutually trusting relationship with the grower-distillers of the region. This has enabled the firm to obtain brandies from the best sources, i.e. in the choice “Grande Champagne” district, which alone can provide a quality that meets Delamain’s exacting standards.
The very distinctive character of the house of Delamain never fails to surprise those visitors to Jarnac who expect to find the firm installed on spacious and luxurious premises similar to those of other famous Cognac houses. The Delamains prefer a more intimate setting. Their small offices are tucked away in a narrow, secluded street. Only a nameplate on the plain door of its elegant façade distinguishes the Delamain townhouse from the adjoining buildings. The back windows look out on an exquisite bower that seems to have preserved the secrets of all the children and adolescents who ever played there. The tastefully decorated interior, filled with memorabilia accumulated by successive generations, is an expression of the family spirit. This is not the place for flashy modern design. The offices are still those of the counting-house of old -and the sheen on the furniture is that of passing years.
Above all else, the Delamains are humanists. They consider trade to be no more than a means of satisfying their aesthetic needs, to which, like all good Charentais, they attach the highest importance.
Among the firm’s more recent directors, Jacques Delamain was a pioneer in France of modern ornithology and nature studies. He wrote several celebrated books on bird life, one of which won a prize from the Académie Française. His son Jean, a botanist, was one of the leading authorities on the wild orchids of Europe : some rare hybrids bear his name. Robert, one of Jacques’ two brothers, displayed his deep knowledge of the Cognac region and its past in L’Histoire du Cognac (1935), now a standard reference work for Cognac-lovers and specialists. Jacques’ other brother, Maurice, owned and managed the Stock publishing house in Paris in partnership with the writer Jacques Chardonne.
The Delamain brothers’ loyal friends included many other writers, artists and intellectuals.
The Delamains have always abided by the simple principle that loyalty and a personal signature on a work are part of the natural order of things. Their ambition is not to please at any price : they are happy enough -if one may say so -in the knowledge that their taste and their personal notion of Cognac’s clarity of expression are recognized and intensely appreciated by the world’s finest connoisseurs. Their sole concern is to live up to these standards and remain true to their ideal.
The firm’s directors have always personally supervised the key stages in Cognac-making : purchasing brandies, maturing, blending, and proof-reduction. This explains why the product’s character is so remarkably consistent, and why its uniqueness can be unfailingly reproduced year after year despite the ever-changing nature of the ingredients.
Today, Patrick Peyrelongue and Charles Braastad, whose grandmother where Delamain, run the firm in accordance with these same family principles. Steeped in this family heritage, they are pursuing the goal defined several generations ago : that of achieving Cognac’s noblest expression.
The Delamain “style”
Despite the imposing presence of an antique pot-still in their warehouse, the Delamains, true to the distinctive character of Cognac shipping houses, do not distill their brandies themselves. Instead, they purchase them from the best grower-distillers and continue or complete the aging process on their own premises. The matured brandies are then blended to produce the three traditional varieties of Delamain Cognac :
– Pale & Dry X.O Très belle Grande Champagne
– Vesper Grande Champagne
– Très Vénérable Cognac de Grande Champagne
The annual sales volume of Delamain Cognac is minimal compared to those of the big commercial brands ; nevertheless, they are sufficient to make Delamain grace the world’s finest tables. True, Delamain sales are confined to the very small market for premium-quality Cognacs, which account for only ten percent of total Cognac output. But this policy is deliberate. The house of Delamain remains a place of craftsmanship : bottles are washed and rinsed with Cognac before filling ; after filling, they are individually checked, hand-labelled and sealed with gilt netting as in the early days, when capsules were not yet used.
The workforce is very small : some twenty employees altogether. The premises may aptly be described as a craftman’s workshop filled with beguiling scents and precious flasks. Admittedly, the “bottling line” may raise a smile, as may the presence in the courtyard of a venerable wheelbarrow, in use since time immemorial. But the relaxed, confident manner of the colorful maître de chai (cellar-master) is a sure sign that “the heart of the matter lies elsewhere.”
Delamain’s objective is simple : to offer the finest, purest, most authentic expression of Cognac. The idea is simple, but it is most difficult indeed to fulfil.
The finest brandies obviously come from the best vineyards of the Grande Champagne. They are purchased only after tasting, even from grower-distiller families with whom the Delamains have maintained ties of mutual loyalty for over a century.
Moreover, it would be impossible for Delamain to mature all of its Grande Champagne brandies from start to finish. This would require enormous warehouses and investments. Growers actually often prefer to hold on to some of their finest brandies as long as possible in order to sell them at the highest price and to provide themselves with a hedge against hard times.
The task of a quality-conscious négociant is to seek out these treasures in the country warehouses where they are held by growers who are never in a hurry to sell. The négociant must also be on the lookout for sales of old brandies. At present, such transactions are particularly sensitive, so rare and small are the stocks remaining in the hands of local grower-distiller families. Purchaser loyalty to good producers is also a major guarantee of quality. For example, a number of Delamain’s suppliers distil and mature their brandies in compliance with the house’s recommendations, so as to develop the characteristics of the finished product.
A Cognac’s authenticity and purity are evident as soon as the colourless brandy emerges from the pot-still at 70 % alcohol. The spirit gives off a miraculously exquisite fragrance of vine in flower.
This perfume was latent in the wine ; it must now be preserved so as to be delivered intact in the glass of whoever will enjoy it twenty or forty years or more hence. For this, Cognac must be subjected to the most beneficial yet dangerous treatment imaginable : aging in wood. If improperly managed, aging can disguise, distort, dry out or quite simply destroy a brandy -no matter how fine.
The cardinal virtue of Delamain Cognacs, so often invoked by connoisseurs in describing them, is unquestionably their diaphanous lightness. This characteristic
helps to accentuate Cognac’s proverbial tonic qualities. In a certain sense, it also perpetuates a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, when the region’s table wines were famed for their delicacy. However, the lightness of Delamain Cognacs in no way diminishes their breadth, structure, “backbone” and liveliness-which form a balance that the greatest connoisseurs find unequalled.
4. The Delamain signature
Their six Cognacs described in the following pages are characterized by a single, consistent style: a miraculous balance in which strength, vitality and mellowness blend into pure, diaphanous unity. That is the Delamain signature.
Delamain “The Delamains, a Jarnac firm and family, are Protestants. Originally from Saintonge, one member of the family travelled to London in 1625 as chef-de-suite to Henrietta-Maria, bride of Charles I. Deciding to stay in a country more hospitable than …