“I spent a lot of time in Cognac and throughout France visiting all of these distilleries, looking at the tradition of craftsmanship, how they were making it, and what made it unique,” Grant says. “There’s a lot there, but what I felt and what I still feel is that cognac doesn’t fit the consumer taste profile in a way that allows them to truly enjoy it—after all, most cognac is still consumed with coke.”
For Grant, it’s the differences in terroir and the freedom in production methods that put California brandy into a class of its own. “The warm climate in California is perfect for making a quality product,” he says. “Cognac, on the other hand, is a cold grape-growing region, so their grapes are high in acidity. I didn’t want to lose the acidity, but I also wanted to create something that was fruit forward.”
Another contrast is in the type of barrels used for aging brandy. Omage is aged in charred and toasted American bourbon barrels as well as French barrels, while traditional cognacs only use French barrels. In Cognac, they only distill with pot stills, but both Omage and Argonaut use column in addition to pot stills, which Herzog says lends the brandy a brighter flavor, allowing it to retain the natural fruitiness from the wine.
Like most brandy labels, Omage is offered in three expressions in the traditional age grading system of VS (very special), VSOP (very superior old pale), and XO (extra old). Argonaut eschews tradition altogether with its own naming system, offering a 91-proof “Saloon Strength” brandy; “Speculator,” a blend of brandy stocks aged 4 and 19 years; “Fat Thumb,” brandy stocks aged 2 to 16 years; and a one-off release called “The Claim” with rare brandy stocks that are aged 14 to 25 years.