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Uncle Nearest to expand into Cognac

Tennessee whiskey producer Uncle Nearest will launch a Cognac brand next year after acquiring a vineyard in France.

Uncle Nearest-owned Domaine Saint Martin, a vineyard and estate in Cognac, France
The estate dates back more than 350 years

Located in the Cognac region, Domaine Saint Martin traces its lineage back to 1669. The vineyard has since been owned by Cognac makers including the Martell family.

With more than 100 acres along the Charente River, the site also adjoins a cooperage, cellars and a distillery. Fifty acres are within Grande Champagne, representing 40% of the cru.

“The Uncle Nearest brand thrives on its profound story of love, honour, respect and heritage. Our mission in Cognac echoes this essence,” said Fawn Weaver, Uncle Nearest’s co-founder and CEO.

Adrian Parker, the former vice president of global marketing for Patrón Tequila, will become president of the Cognac venture, which will be owned by Uncle Nearest but will operate under a new name.

Brielle Caruso will be chief marketing officer, while Chauncey Hamlett from The Formulation Group will lead innovation.

Fawn Weaver, CEO and co-founder of Uncle Nearest

Speaking exclusively to The Spirits Business, Weaver said: “For as long as America has been in the spirits industry, it has predominantly been controlled by a single race and gender.

“Over 90% of sales volume is attributed to six spirits conglomerates (and Tito’s), all established, owned and led by white men – despite America being a diverse nation, with 70% of its population comprising women and people of colour, a number that continues to rise.

“Back in 2020, when I first shared in the press that we were building the first spirits conglomerate to be built by a woman or person of colour, it may have gone unnoticed by many. But this is the culmination of that vision.

“Uncle Nearest has always served as the solid foundation, and premium whiskey was our initial stepping stone. We will persist in crafting Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey with the same unwavering passion and sense of purpose as we always have. But our ultimate destiny was always centred around expanding upon this very foundation.”

Weaver claims that 97% of Cognac is sold outside of France, despite the fact that it can only be made in its namesake region. “Out of this, over 52% makes its way to America, and approximately 20% to China,” she continued.

In the US, she noted that more than 80% of Cognac consumption is attributed to three groups: Black Americans (54%), Hispanics (19%) and Asians (10%).

“Yet, the incredible story of how and why Cognac gained such popularity in America and China, especially among minorities, remains largely untold,” Weaver added.

Untold narrative’

“Much like the story of Nearest Green and Jack Daniel, I assembled an exceptional research team to uncover the intricate path of Cognac exports and the reasons behind its popularity among minorities, with over 75% of global consumption. It’s an untold narrative, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to share it with the world,” Weaver continued.

“If there exists a narrative of love, honour, respect and heritage within a spirit, rest assured that I will unearth it, making it a foundational pillar as we strive to create the first-ever spirit conglomerate led by a woman or person of colour.”

Before the brand is officially launched, Weaver and her team will unveil a short film at several film festivals. The film will track Cognac’s ascent across America, Europe and Asia and will be narrated by actor Jeffrey Wright.

“Under Fawn’s guidance and innovative approach, the Uncle Nearest team has created a playbook for independent spirits that has never before been seen,” said Parker.

“In four years, they have grown Nearest Green Distillery to the seventh-most-visited distillery in the world. While there recently, I observed cars backed up for 1.5 miles each way trying to get in, with more than 14,000 visiting that weekend.

“The Uncle Nearest team went from distribution in one state to all 50 states in less than two years and their sales now rank them in the top 10 of all ultra-premium American whiskey companies, the only independent company in that ranking.”

Uncle Nearest won a Master for its Single Barrel Black Label whiskey at the DB & SB Autumn Blind Tasting earlier this month, as well as Master medals in three categories at the Luxury Masters 2023.

Earlier this year, we spoke to Keith Weaver, the brand’s other co-founder, about opening the world’s longest bar.

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