Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Vintage cognac a boon to Hospice of Haines fundraiser

 

May 10, 2018 | View PDF

Friends reconnected Harrell with her 25th birthday present on Monday. "I haven't seen this for awhile," Harrell said.

As residents across Haines unburied and dusted off belongings to donate to the annual Hospice of Haines fundraiser, one lucky rummager found a hidden treasure-a roughly 72-year-old bottle of Rémy Martin cognac worth several thousand dollars.

Last Thursday, Heather Lende found the bottle of the Grande Champagne Trés Vieille Age Inconnu in a cardboard box as she and other volunteers were sorting through donations from Lucy Harrell.

After opening the box, Lende discovered what looked like a wicker basket. After toiling with the lock, a wooden dowel rod secured through two loops, she opened it to find a bottle of liquor and a crystal stopper.

"It looked really pretty," Lende said. "I thought this must be something genuinely fancy. There were a bunch of guys eating chips and they said, 'Hey, why don't we just have a little nip? We can't sell that at hospice.' We protected it from everybody having a little sip with their bag of Doritos."

Jim Studley and Kip Kermoian brought the bottle of cognac to Haines Assisted Living to show Harrell. "I haven't seen this for a while," Harrell said Monday as she held the bottle of brown liquor. "That's something you'll never see again."

Harrell, 93, said she acquired the bottle in 1946 when volunteering in France after World War II. "We went at the invitation of the French government to set up a camp to train camping counselors," Harrell said. "They'd never done summer camping in France before the war. We accepted and they commandeered a chateau out in the country in Normandy."

Their first task, Harrell said, was to build an outhouse for the 200 people at the camp. "That took a little digging," Harrell said.

The French carpenter who built the bench across the pit forgot to plan ahead, Harrell said. When he carved the six holes for the latrine, he didn't take into account the cross-log used to support the outhouse. "When you went to the outhouse you better hold your feet up because whatever came out, came down," Harrell said. "There was this log across the ditch and everything bounced."

Although the area distillery owner and manager, who was involved with the camp, wasn't impressed with the carpenter's outhouse, he was appreciative of the American volunteers. He gave Harrell the bottle on her 25th birthday.

The cognac was served "at the Royal Banquet offered to their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elisabeth at the Chateau de Versailles on July 21st 1938," according to a tag tied to the bottle's neck. The king and queen visited France to strengthen the two countries' relationship as war loomed in Europe; the cognac was served in Versailles where a large military revue was staged. Harrell abstains from alcohol, but under the right circumstances said she'd consider taking a nip. "If the king were to come and have an aperitif with me, we'd open the bottle, yes," Harrell said.

On her return to Haines, Harrell stored the bottle in her bedroom closet at her father's house. Nobody ever took a sip. "Nobody had the nerve," Harrell said.

Hospice director Beth MacCready contacted an auction house that specializes in selling rare and vintage cognacs. "They auction it worldwide and they take 10 to 15 percent depending on what it is," MacCready said. "In the meantime there has been some interest even locally. We're in the business of making money for hospice, of course, so I will pursue it and find the highest value."

On a blog post at cognac-expert.com, interested buyers offered between $2,000 and $6,000 for a similar bottle of cognac. Vintage-liquors.com lists a bottle for 4,250 euros-or about $5,072.

According to a 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal, a bottle of the Champagne Grande sold for more than $70,000 at a charity event in Singapore. The article quotes Augustin Depardon, global marketing director for Rémy Martin. He said some of the eaux-de-vi, a fruit brandy used as an ingredient in the cognac, dates back to the 19th Century.

"More than 1,200 brandies were blended to form this cognac," the Journal article said. "The ugni blanc, colombard and folle blanc grapes used to make them were harvested in the Grande Champagne area, which Mr. Depardon says possesses the "most prestigious" vineyards in Cognac."

 
 

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