“I have long admired, respected and loved Japanese people, ever since I first travelled to Japan in 1982,” says Denis. “Through encounters with a variety of people, even though I couldn’t speak the language, I realized that it is a truly wonderful country with a unique culture. From that point on, I was driven by a strong desire to do some business with Japanese people.”
Initially offering 30 brands, the still wine business was expanded to include Champagne and grew to incorporate 100 different products, before moving on to the spirits world. Denis credits his wife Mika, who is Japanese, for her role in founding the company and the support she has given him each step of the way – from the first foray into the Japanese market to today. “I couldn’t have done it without her. We have been together through the good times and the bad,” says Denis, who is quick to think of others and emphasises the role his friends and family have played in the growth of the business. Indeed, a number of his products have been created in honour of, and even named after, others who’ve had an impact on his life.
A few years later, one of Denis’s customers, a major supermarket chain, asked if he could create a Cognac brand for them. Seeing the chance to make his mark on the spirits scene, in 1994 Denis reached out to distillers and sourced a selection of high-quality Grande and Petite Champagne Cognacs which he blended to create a product that he’d be proud to put his name to. Next, Denis designed a bottle shape with seven waves (representing the seven seas across which Cognac travels to drinkers around the world) that would come to be his hallmark and make his range of Denis Charpentier (DC) Cognacs stand out from the crowd. This launch set the tone for all of his brands, which since then have always boasted elegant and exclusive bottle and decanter designs. Success was soon to follow.
In 1994, Denis decided for the first time to enter his flagship product, the Cognac XO Grande Champagne, for consideration by the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) and was awarded his first gold award, along with the trophy for Best Spirits Bottle Design. At a gala ceremony in Guildhall, London, Denis was called to the stage by none other than Whyte & Mackay’s master distiller Richard Paterson, a meeting which led to a strong and long-lasting friendship that endures to this day. The following year, the Denis Charpentier VSOP won the IWSC’s Cyril Ray Trophy for Best Cognac and was awarded the Drinks International Design Trophy for ‘The Most Impressive Spirits Presentation’, beginning a run of award wins that would see other products in the range scooping trophies and gold medals for six subsequent years and taking the business into the new millennium.
Though Denis made his name botting fine Cognacs and, later, brandies under the Robert Loston Extra Excellence brand (which he also created from scratch and named in memory of a very close friend) it has always been Scotch whisky that he personally drinks for pleasure. Introduced to Scotch whiskies such as Bells by his beloved father Hubert, with whom he would often go hunting in Scotland, many of Denis’s happiest memories are of drinking blended Scotch whisky with his dad during these trips. In fact, such is his love of the country, that he even named his Labrador Skye, after the Isle of Skye! In 1981, Hubert sadly passed away following an accident in Scotland while on one of the trips he loved so much. Denis decided that the most appropriate way to commemorate their shared passion for whisky and the marvellous times they had together in Scotland was to found his own brand of Scotch whiskies, called Eternity, that would honour his father’s legacy and introduce a new generation to the world of top-quality blends. After sharing this ambition with Richard Paterson, whose passion for blends is also well known, and in the wake of Denis’s resounding success in the Cognac category, a plan was hatched to create a range of premium Scotch whiskies that met Denis’s high standards.
Three expressions from the Eternity collection of Scotch whiskies from Maison Denis & Denis II Charpentier.
“I have always enjoyed many blended Scotch whiskies, such as The Famous Grouse, and my two favourite single malts are Cragganmore and Cardhu. For me, a good whisky must have an excellent nose and be very easy to drink,” says Denis. “Whisky must be delicate, elegant, smooth and, importantly, must always actually taste like a whisky – not just the cask it was matured in! I personally feel that many whiskies now have too much cask influence. I believe in tasting the character of the spirit and, in my opinion, if the finish is too strong it’s no longer a true Scotch whisky.”
With this opinion firmly in mind, Denis spent over 18 months working on his first blend, experimenting with stock of different ages and cask types. Meanwhile, the image of a diamond-shaped decanter slowly emerged in his mind. “As I developed the diamond decanter, I felt it appropriate to name my new range of Scotch whiskies ‘Eternity’ in honour of the eternal nature of the diamond,” explains Denis.
Monsieur Charpentier says it is patience and attention to detail that has allowed for success, though he recognises that his approach is a challenging and time-consuming way to work. “I always use the best spirit I can find,” explains Denis. “Then I taste my blend over and over again; I try eating different things before and alongside the whisky, adding different amounts of water and nosing once more. After three or four weeks I go back and do it all over again, this time returning with new ideas to develop the blend.”
This year, Denis is launching a new range of four Scotch whiskies that he has developed: a blend called Royal Reserve; the NAS Eternity Diamond Reserve blend, finished in Oloroso sherry casks; a NAS single malt called Eternity Prince Reserve American Oak Matured; and a 12-year-old single malt called Emerald Reserve.
Now that his son Denis II has joined the business, the family name will continue to be associated with fine spirits for many decades to come.