Whenever you read an article about Cognac, a common theme is how slowly life moves in that part of France. Life is anything but slow, however, for Eric Forget, Cellar Master at Hine, the Cognac house renowned for its single-vintage bottlings.
Since joining in 1999, he’s been at the heart of this acclaimed house. Now 58, Forget was born in nearby Angoulême. He first got involved in Cognac in the mid-1980s, working for Prince Hubert de Polignac/Reynac, where he headed up the production of Pineau des Charentes, the sweet vin de liqueur made by blending Cognac with unfermented grape juice. Then followed spells as cellar master at Monnet, and later as a member of the tasting team at Hennessy, by far the biggest name in the business.
In his two decades at Hine, he’s overseen countless releases, including the mixer-friendly H by Hine and the single-estate Bonneuil bottling, at the same time overseeing the core range, including the highly regarded Triomphe blend.
At the same time, Forget was serving in the French reserve army, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. “I love the mentality where you know that some things are allowed and some are forbidden – I like order,” he says. He gave up the role last year, after a quarter of a century of dutiful service. “I’m involved in so many projects, it wasn’t possible to continue. And spending two to three weeks in northern France in February surrounded by snow is not the same as staying in a five-star hotel…”
Forget’s role is manifold. One day he’ll be out in the vineyards, checking the harvest; the next he’ll be in the distillery keeping a watchful eye on the precious eaux-de-vie that flows from the alembic Charentais stills; on another he’ll be in Hine’s tasting room, meticulously assembling blends – the best Cognacs are made up of hundreds of eaux-de-vie, and mastering the balance between spirit from different areas and widely differing ages is not easy.
So where does Hine sit in relation to the big four producers: Hennessy, Courvoisier, Martell and Rémy Martin? “Hine is the opposite of Hennessy,” Forget explains. “Hine is elegant, delicate, light and aromatic. But compared with Hine, Hennessy is quite heavy, with a lot of body and power, and rich in wood. In the middle you have Courvoisier and Martell. Rémy is more on the Hine side, as it has the delicacy. People often say ‘I don’t drink Cognac because it burns when I drink it’. But with Hine? Never.”
What was your childhood ambition?
I read lots of comics as a child, and my ambition was to become a fighter pilot, just like Buck Danny, and fly real fast.
What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you were 21?
That it pays to be patient and to enjoy the moment.
What exercise do you do?
Running, skiing, all kinds of sport.
What is the character trait you most wish you could change in yourself?
I would like to moan less, but I am afraid it is in my French nature.
What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought (aside from property)?
A sailing boat, and my vineyards. I bought a couple of hectares 10-15 years ago. My family is originally from the Cognac area and we had a small estate, which I continue to run with my sister. We make the wine and distil it – and then sell it to a competitor of Hine.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
Germany. My wife is German, and I like the mentality of German people. I have a Carthusian approach – you know, one plus one equals two. The French are more Latin at times.
If you could do any other job what would it be?
I’d be a park ranger. I love nature; I love plants and animals. Nature is so important, and more and more I believe that young people understand this better than us. I’ve visited several national parks in the USA – I like to hike.
What luxury item would you take with you to a desert island?
No need for any luxuries when you are on a desert island…
What haven’t you yet achieved that you want to?
I would like to travel around the world as much as I can. I’m very keen to visit South America properly, even though I don’t speak Spanish. Or places like Alaska and Canada; I prefer the countryside to big cities.
If you were king or queen of the world, what’s the first law you would enact?
I would ban all weapons.
Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
The Dalai Lama. He’s the perfect example of kindness; he always shows respect to people.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
To take a few risks while skiing, horse riding or sailing. I always want to push my limits. I’ve ridden horses for decades, and sometimes I gallop a little too hard or too dangerously. But I love taking risks.
What’s your secret talent?
I have many talents, but none of them are secret!
When were you happiest?
On my wedding day and when my children were born.
Who do you most admire?
Barack Obama. If you compare him with Trump, it’s another world. He is a great example for all politicians, for his personality and the example he sets. I have huge admiration for him.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
The French word fatalement, which means “inevitably”. I use it when something goes wrong. It’s not my favourite word, but it’s the one I say the most. And also “That’s it, full stop”.
What’s your greatest regret?
When I was 22 I had a fantastic job opportunity to manage a winery near Melbourne, but I couldn’t take it because of my military service. It was just after I passed my oenology exams, and it would have been a great experience. I can’t remember exactly where it was now, but it would have been making red wine with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
What album, boxset or podcast would you listen to on a night in alone on the sofa?
I listen to a lot of pop and rock music – I love U2, for example.
What’s your favourite thing in your wardrobe?
My lumberjack shirt from the Canadian Olympic team. It’s the official uniform they wore in the opening and closing ceremonies from a few years ago. My daughter got it for me, and it’s really comfortable.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Before the pandemic I loved to go to a really nice local restaurant called L’Essille just outside Jarnac that serves innovative French cuisine. It’s a family-run business and very good indeed.