A Drink With… Bernard Hine, Hine Cognac8th February, 2013 by Richard Woodard
It’s nearly 50 years since Bernard Hine joined the family business – 50 years of tasting, blending and living Cognac, not to mention hunting, gardening – and DIY. He spoke to Richard Woodard.
We’re in the chair, Bernard, so what’ll you have?
For me, Cognac and ginger ale – dry ginger ale, because ginger is a great complement to aged Cognac. And using H by Hine: the best elements are the floral and fruity elements, and the ginger on top will give it age and balance, and that’s exactly what you need. Sometimes maybe a sprig of mint and a couple of ice cubes.
Perish the thought, but what if there’s no Hine?
What I like is a variety of malt whiskies. I was educated in English at Edinburgh University and went around many distilleries with my Scottish friends. I love the differences between all of them – the same as we have in Cognac with different vintages. We don’t talk about different distilleries in Cognac; we talk about vintages.
Hine’s famous for its vintage Cognacs, and you’re about to bring out two 1983s and a 1953. Do you have a favourite year?
No, I’ve got two or three which have a lot behind them. There’s 1914 which we call “the ladies’ vintage”, and 1948, which was a fantastic year, and the balance is there. That’s a great thing.
It’s been awful! Disease everywhere, mildew. We’ve had very big difficulties, so the quantity of the crop is very variable. Now we want to wait for the quality of the first distilled batches. But with Cognac, we never say good or no good – we say is it appreciated by the drinker or not? Some prefer something a little big and rounded, some like them lean and charming – a bit like pretty girls! Each drinker should be left free with their own feelings.
I hear you like hunting wild boar. Any tips for a novice?
Oh, it’s aggressive and there’s just one rule: shoot and don’t miss. If it’s not him, it’s you! I’ve had a few interesting experiences… I was shooting in Chambord once, and a big one got out of the beat a couple of yards away from me. I was very proud of myself – it was one of the first big ones I got, about 120kg. But this shooting thing is always the same: you remember the good ones and you forget about the others. It’s like that with shooting – and it’s like that with your friends!
You also find time for a little gardening and DIY?
With gardening, I’ve got to do the hard work – I’m under the thumb! Turning the soil over with a little rotovator, but normally I’m under command: I’m definitely the under-gardener! I like working with wood, mending things and all the decoration with woodwork. If you need a plumber, you’ve got to wait ages and pay a fortune for a couple of minutes. There are plenty of things you can do yourself.
These are great times for Cognac in China, but do you worry that sales could collapse as they did in Japan?
We are used to this – after all, Cognac exports 97% of its production. So the sales of Cognac are very much subject to the political situation of the markets. We’ve had difficulties with the Russians in the past, we’ve had problems in the 1950s with the Venezuelan government and taxes. We are used to that – we have overcome these problems and we are ready to overcome some more, but the less we have to overcome, the better we sell!
And, after so long in the industry, what’s your favourite Cognac memory?
The most emotional thing I have ever done was one evening in Sydney in a restaurant overlooking the harbour, opening a bottle of Hine and saying to the friends I was with: “I prepared the blend, I made this.” At the far end of the world!