The story of the Demi-John

We do a lot of research (really, it’s a lot!) when we start any new project. It’s the only real way of finding out everything we could possibly need to know or be inspired by before putting pen to paper or design mouse to computer. And over the years, we’ve discovered a lot of fascinating information – and it often seems a shame that some of this epic research goodness is left on the cutting room floor.

That’s why I wanted to mention a lovely story I recently discovered. I was writing the brand story and packaging for a new Courvoisier innovation. They were about to start selling their rare cognac by the Demi John (Dame Jeanne in French), which is a glass container with a large body and a small neck that now holds between 20 to 60 litres (5 to 15 gallons) of cognac.

Demi Johns used to be used a lot in the cognac industry in decades and centuries gone by and contain the rarest cognacs, often from their Paradis Cellar. They’re used to stop the maturation process once a cognac had reached perfection (a cognac can only continue aging in oak) and store it in the best possible way.

Demi John is an unusual word, and not much used nowadays, so I looked a bit further into its provenance to see if I could eek out a story. What I didn’t know was that the name came with an entire legend! One that I thought was so fascinating I wanted to share it…

The legend of the Dame Jeanne

Legend has it that Queen Jane, Reine Jeanne, was fleeing Naples to her countship in Provence in 1347 when her party was surprised by a sudden and violent rainstorm. Thinking quickly, she took refuge in the château of a gentleman glassmaker, in the small hamlet of Saint Paul Galline Grasse.

After spending the night in his castle, and hearing about his hobby, she wanted to see him at work. So in the morning she entered his workshop unexpectedly, and he was so surprised to see her he blew too hard into his blowpipe, creating an enormous glass bottle with a 10-litre capacity – the like of which had never been seen before.

But far from being a disaster, it was so greatly acclaimed by the Queen he decided to manufacture it and name it Reine Jeanne. The queen modestly suggested he call it Dame Jeanne instead. To protect this enormous bottle, he even dressed the glass in wicker.

The English word demi-john is a long-standing mispronunciation of the French name Dame Jeanne.

Great, isn’t it? If only all glass containers had such an amazing 650-year history. I can’t imagine the humble pint glass being so interesting, but you never know. I’ll look into it…




Jamie Fleming


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