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Joe Bates: “Truth is to be found in adventure”
Published:  22 October, 2015

Monsieur Bates. Je suis ici!” shouts a leather-clad biker, gesticulating wildly outside the roar and bustle of the Gare du Nord on a sunny October morning.

Used to more sedate four-wheel transportation, I’d been expecting a taxi, but hey ho, when in Paris and all that. Minutes later and I’m riding pillion, clutching on for dear life as we weave through the honking rush-hour traffic. Whenever the slimmest of gaps between two lorries presents itself we accelerate to dizzying speeds only to lurch to a halt seconds later as a terrified pedestrian makes a mad dash across the road.

It’s the first time I’ve been on the back of a bike in nearly 30 years and I’m loving it.

Fifteen breathless minutes later I’m standing at a heliport on the outskirts of Paris. I and a small group of mainly French journalists are here for the launch of a travel retail Hennessy cognac, but the venue for the big reveal is being kept a secret. None the wiser, we’re soon airborne, whizzing over the French capital, taking snaps of the Eiffel Tower, and heading out north towards Normandy and the imposing 17th-century Château de Champ de Bataille, now owned by Jacques Garcia, a wealthy interior designer.

A secret garden, Le Jardin des Rêves, lovingly created by Garcia over 30 years to look like an Indian palace, has been set aside for the launch of James Hennessy – a new €140 permanent travel retail exclusive, three years in development. It transpires the exciting journey to our grand final destination was not merely meant to impress, but to echo the general travel theme. It transpires that James Hennessy, the son of the cognac’s founder, Richard, was something of a trailblazer, opening up exports in markets such as Russia and America and once writing to his father: “Truth is to be found in adventure.”

The last Hennessy travel retail exclusive expression was Hennessy Privé, launched back in 2009 in the boom years when many wealthy Chinese travellers were spending huge sums on rare and ultra-premium duty-free wines and spirits. Interestingly, James Hennessy is around half the price of Privé. It sits between the existing Hennessy VSOP, priced at around €50-60, and Hennessy XO, which is positioned at over €200.

Speaking at the launch Hennessy president and CEO Bernard Peillon said James Hennessy was a “missing link” in the brand family, but insisted the new cognac was not a reaction to a more austere trading climate in Asian travel retail created by slowing regional economies and the China government’s crackdown on corruption. James Hennessy. In fact, Peillon later explained to me that plans were being drawn up for James Hennessy well before Chinese president Xi Jinping launched his war on corruption in 2013.

Travel retail exclusive cognacs are still a rarity compared with the profusion of exclusive single malts currently hogging airport store shelves. I suspect, then, that travel retail buyers will welcome this new release from Hennessy, the top-selling cognac in travel retail.

Hennessy may be a very old brand – 2015 is, of course, the house’s 250th anniversary – but as the opening of a standalone store at Paris airport also proved last year, this old timer is not afraid of trying something new.