From its seat in the French region of Cognac and throughout its 250-year history, Hennessy has proudly perpetuated an exceptional heritage based on adventure, discovery and cultivating the best that nature and man can offer.
Available across five continents and selling more than 50 million bottles worldwide annually, few companies can hold a candle to Hennessy, in fact in the cognac world, there is absolutely none.
Jas Hennessy & Co. controls more than 50 percent of the world's cognac, making it the world's largest cognac producer.
Hennessy’s longevity and success across five continents reflect the values the House has upheld since its creation: the transmission of a unique savoir-faire, the constant quest for innovation, and an unwavering commitment to Creation, Excellence, Legacy, and Sustainable Development.
Business Insider SSA had a chat with Moet Hennessy Market Manager Eastern Africa, Alexandre Helaine over a glass of V.S.O.P during the 200th anniversary celebration of Hennessy V.S.O.P to try and understand how the 250 year old cognac house has manage to stand on its feet over the years and mastered the art of “Harmony Mastered from Chaos”
As part of the celebration, two members of the Hennessy family came to Kenya to mark the occasion.
Maurice Hennessy and Roch Hennessy represent the 8th generation of Hennessy and have quite a story to tell.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation;
BISSA: What is the agenda of today’s event?
Alex: “We are celebrating the 200 years anniversary of V.S.O.P Hennessy, as you know Hennessy was the first brand in the world to do V.S.O.P and even more special is the fact that we are celebrating the event with two representative of the Hennessy family, Maurice and Roch Hennessy who are the 8th generation of the Hennessy since the cognac was started and they are here for the first time together.
BISSA: That is great any reason why they choose Kenya and will they be mixing business with pleasure by any chance?
Alex: “They are on an African tour and Kenya is the first country they have visited, after that they will fly to Cape Town South Africa, followed by Lagos, Nigeria and then after finally fly to United States to show everyone that Hennessy is a big family with a big legacy”
BISSA: What makes V.S.O.P extra special than say Hennessy V.S?
Alex: Initially there was only cognac available but that changed in 1818 when the Royal family asked Hennessy to create a more superior cognac for the them and that is why the V.S is called (Very Special) but V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale) came about and that was a fantastic thing because Hennessy made it first and then all the other houses started to copy Hennessey.”
BISSA: Time plays a big role in the wine making business, how long does a V.S.O.P takes to mature?
Alex: “A V.S is stored for between 3 to 7 years before it is ready while a V.S.O.P is stored from 7 to 15 years and the way one prepares it also matters; making V.S.O.P takes more time and also a special focus on which kind of cask you are going to choose to do your V.S.O.P. It is not a matter of just waiting for 7yrs or 15yrs and then we plan everything and open our V.S.O.P absolutely not, you need to have an expert mind to know what you are doing, how to blend all the ingredients correctly and there is a philosophy at Hennessy that it should always be the correct balance and for that Hennessy has an eight member committee (best known as the Comité de Dégustation or Tasting Committee) who sit down every morning to sort, refine and blend their way towards the ultimate expression of Cognac, which is not the case for other houses so this committee in Cognac is really an establishment and makes a big difference in Hennessy cognac.”
BISSA: What separates Hennessy from the chaff that is other brands in the market?
Alex: “As we have more than 53% market share in Cognac, making us the largest producer of cognac in the world, we have the possibility to pick the best quality grapes for our drinks, So you have the wine growers who grow grapes for us to buy and what happens is after the harvest, Hennessy is so big that they have the right to first choose the best quality grapes, secondly farmers also prefer working with Hennessy because of the large volume they buy at once and for that you need to have the best quality of grapes so a lot of people want to work with Hennessy because it is much easier”
BISSA: How long has the Hennessy brand been in Kenya?
Alex: “Hennessy has been in Kenya for a long time even before us, people were importing Hennessy brands long time ago to different countries, but we officially entered the Kenyan market eight years ago and we have a marketing rep office here, we don’t sell directly though we just do marketing and pushing the brand to Kenyans.
BISSA: How has the market reaction been so far, what has been your single most challenge?
Alex: Unfortunately we understand that not everyone was born into the cognac world so you need to train and educate them to understand why they are paying a lot of money to buy Hennessy cognac brands. It costs a lot of money to make Hennessy brands; you know when you have the best grapes, the best way of distillation, blending, maturations, 15yrs in a cellar cask that costs money. Do you know every year 1.5 percent of a casket evaporates into the air we like to call it sharing our Hennessy with the Angles.”
BISSA: If I walk into a supermarket today how much will I need to fork out to buy a bottle of V.S.O.P?
Alex:“If you go to the supermarket today a bottle of V.S.O.P will cost you between Sh6000 – Sh8000 ($80) depending on the supermarket and the Hennessy V.S is between Sh3500 – Sh5500 ($55).”
BISSA: A lot of people falsely label Hennessy as a whiskey which must drive you nuts what is the main difference between a cognac and a whiskey?
Alex: “True, a lot of people unfortunately think that Hennessy is a whiskey because it is finished with Whiskey Hennessy but no it is a cognac, you do cognac with grapes and you do whiskey with grains so that should be very clear.”
BISSA: What is Moet Hennessy strategy for Kenya and Africa say in the next 5 years?
Alex: “Our strategy is to grow Hennessy to become the leader in the brand spirits as well as number one in the category of cognac, Hennessy as a brand is very big and well known worldwide, a lot of famous Hip Hop rappers like NAZ, Drake, Eminem, 50 Cent and many more have sang about Hennessy and in the process make it very popular but a lot of people still don’t know what is inside, which is a pity because what is inside is precious, so our strategy is we also want to educate people what is inside the bottle of Hennessy brands and make them appreciate different ways of drinking it be it neat, on the rocks, with mixers etc. so it’s a lot of education.”
BISSA: Any last words to someone out there who is yet to taste V.S.O.P?
Alex: “What we want to achieve is not a question for our consumers drinking more but rather drink quality, we have a philosophy of drinking better so instead of drinking say three or four bottles of something else save a bit of money and drink something that will give you an experience, that you would love to drink because I am sure when you go to a club at night to drink and you buy some alcohol you end up mixing it with a lot of mixtures, why? It is because you want to mask the taste of it because it is not good, it is cheap and you don’t want to taste that, when you drink Hennessy you just mix it with a nice mixture that doesn’t kill the taste and you have all the flavours of the cognac family, you can drink it neat, on ice or with a nice mixture like ginger ale, apple juice tonic and totally enjoy it.”