The first wine plantations in the Charentes region appeared at the end of the first century AD. In the Middle Ages, the city of Cognac was already known for its wine trade.
During the Renaissance, trade flourished. Dutch ships came to Cognac and the ports of Charente to collect the famous wines of the "Champagne" and "Borderies" regions. But these wines, with their low alcohol content, suffered from the long sea voyages. The knowledge of the art of distillation by the Dutch encouraged them to distill the wine, to better preserve it. They named it " brandwijn" (which literally means "burnt wine"), which gave the name " brandy ", wine brandy.
At the beginning of the 15th century, the double distillation appears which will allow the product to travel in the form of unalterable brandy, much more concentrated than the wine.
From the end of the 17th century, and especially from the following century, the market became organized and, to meet the demand, trading businesses were created. The "comptoirs", some of Anglo-Saxon origin, were established in the main cities of the region: Martell, Rémy Martin, Hennessy, Courvoisier, Camus...
But in 1875 the phylloxera crisis appeared in Charente. This insect, which attacks the vine by sucking the sap from its roots, will destroy most of the vineyard, which will only cover, around 1893, 40,600 hectares, against 280,000 hectares before the crisis.
TheUgni blanc became, around the middle of the 20th century, the most widely used grape variety, more resistant than the traditional grape varieties used before the crisis (notably the Folle Blanche).
In the first half of the 20th century, legislation relating to Cognac was put in place to enshrine local, loyal and constant customs:
- 1909: delimitation of the geographical area of production;
- 1936 : recognition of "cognac" as anAppellation d'Origine Contrôlée;
- 1938: delimitation of regional appellations(crus or geographical denominations).
Historically an export product, more than 95% of "cognac" is now consumed abroad by consumers in nearly 160 different countries.
Henri Coquand (1811-1881), a professor of geology, studied the geology of the region in the middle of the 19th century and validated with a taster a classification of the different areas, according to the quality of the eaux-de-vie that their soils could produce. Indeed, the eaux-de-vie obtained at the exit of the still are marked by a great analytical and organoleptic diversity resulting in particular from their origin. This diversity will require the use of different aging techniques, over varying lengths of time.
This work led to the delimitation of different " crus " around 1860 and served as the basis for the decree of 13 January 1938 delimiting these crus. The complementary geographical names to the Cognac appellation are still used under their historical names:
- Grande and Petite Champagne (40% of the production): rather superficial clay-limestone soils on soft, chalky limestone. Grande and Petite Champagne give birth to brandies of great finesse and marked by great distinction and length, with a predominantly floral bouquet. Slowly maturing, these eaux-de-vie require a long ageing in oak barrels to acquire their full maturity.
- Borderies (5% of the production!): silico-clay soils, with flint resulting from the decarbonation of limestone. This vineyard produces round, bouqueted and sweet eaux-de-vie, characterized by a violet perfume. They have the reputation of acquiring their optimal quality after a shorter maturation than the brandies coming from the "Champagne".
- Fins Bois (42% of the production): red superficial clay-limestone soils and very stony. The Fins Bois represent the largest vineyard. They produce round, supple eaux-de-vie that age quite quickly and whose fruity bouquet is reminiscent of pressed grapes.
- Bons Bois and Bois ordinaires (13% of production): sandy soils in coastal areas, in some valleys and in the whole southern part of the vineyard. The Bons Bois produce eaux-de-vie with fruity aromas that age quickly.
Its grape varieties
The vineyard dedicated to the production of Cognac today covers about 75,000 hectares, i.e. 95% of the area's vineyard.Ugni blanc is the most planted grape variety since the phylloxera crisis: it now represents nearly 98% of the vineyard, followed by Colombard, Folle Blanche, Montils, Semillon and Folignan (a cross between Ugni blanc and Folle Blanche).
Its distillation and aging
The distillation used in Cognac is a discontinuous distillation, or double distillation, also called " repasse ". The still used, called " Charentais ", has certain characteristics (shape, material, capacity and heating method) that have been defined since 1936 and which determine the quality of the eaux-de-vie.
During the ageing process, the new eau-de-vie will remain for several years (sometimes several decades) in oak wood, as soon as it leaves the still. The fine-grained oak(Tronçais) or coarse-grained oak(Limousin), Quercus petraea(sessile or sessile) or Quercus robur(pedunculate), depending on the use, was chosen because of its capacity to allow exchanges between the eau-de-vie, the external environment and the wood over long periods of time.
The following aging statements are commonly used:
- VS (Very Special): the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least two years old;
- VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale): the youngest spirit in the blend is at least four years old;
- Napoleon, XO (eXtra Old), extra or hors d'âge: the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least six years old, and ten years old after 2018.
In addition, unlike Armagnac, vintages are very rare, because the brandies marketed are, in the vast majority of cases, the result ofblending.