Bottle #34: De Valcourt Brandy

Bottle #34 is a pretty little bottle of De Valcourt French Brandy, aged 10 years. The label is in both English and French, so I’m pretty sure this one was bought in Canada.

Searching for the name De Valcourt wasn’t particularly helpful in figuring out the story of this tiny bottle. There is still a De Valcourt brandy being made today, although it’s not labeled as a 10 year. Instead it’s called “Napoleon.” What does that mean? Well, as I talked about in my episode about bottle #7, Martell Cognac, the Cognac world uses different words to classify the age of bottles in addition to years: things like VS and VSOP. Most non-Cognac brandies have adopted the same terminology, even though they’re not required to. The word Napoleon isn’t actually regulated for anybody, but has come to mean a brandy that’s aged at least 6 years, and tons of producers use that name on their labels.

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Based on a couple of vintage bottles I have found online, there have been a DeValcourt Napoleon brandies at least back to the 1970s. But I couldn’t find out anything about the maker, De Valcourt & C. So I started looking at the maker of my tiny bottle, which was listed as Maison Briand, Negociants.

This turned out to be a much more fruitful search, immediately pulling up a court case where an American liquor importer was suing four companies, including Maison Briand, for breaching a contract. Among the other companies were Jules Robin, and both the French and US operations of Martell!

Just like in the rest of the spirits industry, Cognac has been subject to massive consolidation. The episode about my tiny bottle of Martell didn’t really go into that brand’s history, but they’ve been involved in their fair share of mergers and acquisitions. One of the companies they absorbed was Jules Robin, which they scooped up in 1964. Then, in 1983, Jules Robin (operating as a Martell subsidiary) bought the company that made Briand Cognac, a once-important Cognac brand, thereby bring them into the Martell fold.

So does this mean Martell was making De Valcourt brandy? Almost certainly not. Maison Briand is listed on the bottle as a negociant. This French custom started with wine in Burgundy and is also used for brandy. The negociant buys distillate from a variety of producers, and then ages, blends, and bottles it themselves.

What does all this mean for my tiny bottle? De Valcourt isn’t registered as a trademark in Canada until 1993, by which time Martell was actually owned by our recurring cast member Seagram, who purchased the company in 1988 and created the Augier Robin Briand structure under which De Valcourt was registered. In 2003 they sold the brand to Compagnie de Guyette, who continues to sell De Valcourt brandy today.

So that would put this bottle somewhere between 1988 and 2003. Which means that it makes absolutely no sense that the only examples of bottles that look like mine – De Valcourt 10 year rather than Napoleon – are two vintage full-size bottles listed on whiskey auction sites that have De Valcourt & Co listed as the producer rather than Maison Briand. But I’m giving up on trying to figure it out, and I’m just hoping this bottle will be tasty, because after all of this, I totally need a drink!

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Bottle #34: De Valcourt Brandy

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Bottle #34 is a pretty little bottle of De Valcourt French Brandy, aged 10 years. The label is in both English and French, so I’m pretty sure this one was bought in Canada.

Searching for the name De Valcourt wasn’t particularly helpful in figuring out the story of this tiny bottle. There is still a De Valcourt brandy being made today, although it’s not labeled as a 10 year. Instead it’s called “Napoleon.” What does that mean? Well, as I talked about in my episode about bottle #7, Martell Cognac, the Cognac world uses different words to classify the age of bottles in addition to years: things like VS and VSOP. Most non-Cognac brandies have adopted the same terminology, even though they’re not required to. The word Napoleon isn’t actually regulated for anybody, but has come to mean a brandy that’s aged at least 6 years, and tons of producers use that name on their labels.

Based on a couple of vintage bottles I have found online, there have been a DeValcourt Napoleon brandies at least back to the 1970s. But I couldn’t find out anything about the maker, De Valcourt & C. So I started looking at the maker of my tiny bottle, which was listed as Maison Briand, Negociants.

This turned out to be a much more fruitful search, immediately pulling up a court case where an American liquor importer was suing four companies, including Maison Briand, for breaching a contract. Among the other companies were Jules Robin, and both the French and US operations of Martell!

Just like in the rest of the spirits industry, Cognac has been subject to massive consolidation. The episode about my tiny bottle of Martell didn’t really go into that brand’s history, but they’ve been involved in their fair share of mergers and acquisitions. One of the companies they absorbed was Jules Robin, which they scooped up in 1964. Then, in 1983, Jules Robin (operating as a Martell subsidiary) bought the company that made Briand Cognac, a once-important Cognac brand, thereby bring them into the Martell fold.

So does this mean Martell was making De Valcourt brandy? Almost certainly not. Maison Briand is listed on the bottle as a negociant. This French custom started with wine in Burgundy and is also used for brandy. The negociant buys distillate from a variety of producers, and then ages, blends, and bottles it themselves.

What does all this mean for my tiny bottle? De Valcourt isn’t registered as a trademark in Canada until 1993, by which time Martell was actually owned by our recurring cast member Seagram, who purchased the company in 1988 and created the Augier Robin Briand structure under which De Valcourt was registered. In 2003 they sold the brand to Compagnie de Guyenne, who continues to sell De Valcourt brandy today.

So that would put this bottle somewhere between 1988 and 2003. Which means that it makes absolutely no sense that the only examples of bottles that look like mine – De Valcourt 10 year rather than Napoleon – are two vintage full-size bottles listed on whiskey auction sites that have De Valcourt & Co listed as the producer rather than Maison Briand. But I’m giving up on trying to figure it out, and I’m just hoping this bottle will be tasty, because after all of this, I totally need a drink!

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