History & Region

History of a legendary spirit

Coming from the best vineyards and transported on ships to Northern European countries, the wines of the Poitou, La Rochelle and Angoumois have been greatly appreciated by the English, the Dutch, and the Scandinavians since the 13th Century. Starting in the 17th Century, they are transformed into eau-de-vie and improved by ageing in oak casks. Cognac is born. And this is how the adventure of a city that was to become the capital of a world class business began.
Expansion of the Saintonge vineyards: The roman emperor Probus extends to all Gauls the privilege of owning vineyards and making wine.
Guillaume X, Duke of Guyenne and Count of Poitiers creates a large vineyard known as the “Vignoble de Poitou”.
Dutch ships bringing salt from the area to Northern European countries also carry wines from the “Vignoble du Poitou”. This early wine trade helps develop a business mentality in the Charente region. The success of the local wines leads to the expansion of the vineyard of Poitou into the Saintonge and Angoumois. The city of Cognac becomes renowned for its wine trade adding to a reputation for storing salt since 11th Century.
Dutch ships come to Cognac and Charentais ports in search of the famous wines of the “Champagne” and the “Borderies” areas. The wines from the vineyards in Aunis suffer from excessive production and dropping quality. Because of their weakness, they can’t survive long sea voyages. The Dutch start using them in their newly established distilleries where they are transformed into “brandewijn” – burnt wine – hence the name Brandy. It is drunk with water in an attempt to recreate the original wine.
At the beginning of the century, double distillation makes its appearance in the region. It will allow the transformation of local wines into eau-de-vie and their transportation by sea without damage. Given its concentration, eau-de-vie is also much cheaper to ship than wine. The first distillation stills in the Charente were built by the Dutch. They are progressively modified until French distillers refine the method of double distillation also known as “distillation Charentaise”. Delays in the handling of ship cargo leads to the realization that eau-de-vie improves when it spends extended time in oak casks (made with wood from the Limousin) and that it can even be consumed straight from the cask.
From the end of the 17th century, and most especially from the beginning of the 18th century, the market becomes organized. In order to meet demand, “Counters” -most of them of an Anglo-Saxon origin- are created in the main towns of the region. Some of them still exist nowadays. They collect eaux-de-vie and establish long-term commercial relationships with buyers in Holland, England, Northern Europe, and later in America and the Far East.
Starting in the middle of the 19th century, many trading houses begin to ship eau-de-vie in bottles instead of casks. In turn, this new form of commerce gives birth to related industries such as glassmaking – since 1885 Claude Boucher works with full dedication in the St. Martin de Cognac glass factory, with the aim of automating bottle-making procedures –, case-making, corks, and printing. The Vignoble now occupies nearly 280 000 hectares. Around 1875, phylloxera arrives in the Charente and destroys most of the vineyards, leaving only 40 000 hectares by 1893. This tragedy will lead to the creation of a Viticulture Committee which is established in 1888. It will become today’s “Station Viticole” – Cognac’s technical center – in 1892. The economic recovery of the region will take many years of patient effort.
The vineyards are slowly replanted using American rootstock immune to phylloxera. Somewhat fragile due to grafting, traditional grape varieties (Colombard, Folle Blanche…) are little by little replaced by the Ugni Blanc, which is more resistant and is now used for more than 90 per cent of the production of Cognac. On May 1st, 1909, the geographical area for production is delimited by the government. From 1936, Cognac is recognized as a Controlled Appellation of Origin. During the Second World War, a wine and eaux-de-vie distribution bureau is created to protect the stocks of Cognac. When the war ends, it is replaced by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac and in 1948 the Station Viticole is placed under its authority. Henceforth, all the stages involved in Cognac elaboration are subject to regulations destined to protect the product, and thus its reputation is increasingly known and respected. On May 29th 1989, the Geographical Indication (GI) Cognac was recognized by regulation (UE) n° 1576/89.
Cognac is exported to over 160 countries. Regardless of the way it is consumed, it is, from the Far East to the American continent and in Europe, a synonym of great quality, a symbol of France, and her lifestyle. Like all luxury products, the success of Cognac is dependent on the international environment. That is why all the producers make every effort to protect Cognac’s unrivalled quality, its uniqueness and its authenticity in the face of global competition.

Geographical Indication

More than a century was needed for Cognac professionals to define a framework that preserves the authenticity and uniqueness of Cognac, from vineyard to market.

The Cognac growing area

The Cognac Delimited Region is located at the north of the Aquitaine basin, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. To the West, it borders the Gironde estuary and the islands of Ré and Oléron and to the Eastit neighbours the region of Angoulême and the Massif Central foothills. The landscape is formed by plains and small hills with smooth reliefs. The Charente river crosses the region, nourished by other streams: the Né, the Antenne, the Seugne rivers… The production area covers the Charente-Maritime and most of the Charente departments, and several districts of the Dordogne and Deux-Sèvres. It has a homogenous and mild seaside climate. Annual average temperature in the area is of about 13oC (55 oF), and winters are normally mild. The Delimited Region has a total area of over one million hectares, but the actual vineyards only occupy 75 300 ha. Approximately 95% of them are used for Cognac production. The Cognac production area has been delimited by the Decree of 1st May, 1909

Specifications for the Cognac Appellation

The Cognac AOC (meaning “Controlled Appellation of Origin”) is strictly regulated to follow longstanding local use. The product specifications of the AOC Cognac are laid down in the «Cahier des charges» Cognac approved by the French decree of 16 June 2011. At European level, Geographical Indication Cognac was recognized by Council regulation (EC) n°110/2008 of 15 January 2008 on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks and repealing Council regulation (EEC) n°1576/89. According to Article 15 of this regulation, a geographical indication «shall be an indication which identifies a spirit drink as originating in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of that spirit drink is essentially attributable to its geographical origin». To benefit from the Geographical Indication Cognac, wine spirit has to be from the delimited area defined by Decree of the 1st May 1909 and respect the whole product specifications written in the «Cahier des charges» Cognac.

The 6 crus of the Cognac Appellation

The Cognac production area was delimited by the decree of May 1st,1909. Based on the soil features described by the geologist Henri Coquand in 1860, 6 Cognac growing areas (Crus) were delimited and then ratified by decree in 1938: Champagnes (Grande and Petite Champagne), Borderies, and Bois (Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois à Terroirs). The crus received their names when the local forests were cleared at the beginning of the 19th century. The central Cognac crus, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and the Borderies are the most densely planted with vines.

Growing Areas (the crus)

The Delimited Region is made up of six growing areas known as crus that reference the various appellations.
Grande Champagne is planted with about 13 538 ha* of vines used in the production of Cognac white wines. These wines produce fine, light Cognacs with a predominantly floral bouquet, requiring long ageing in casks to achieve full maturity.
  • CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EAUX-DE-VIE: Breed, elegance, subtlety, power, long finish, suppleness
  • AROMAS: Mostly floral: grape-vine flower, lime blossom, dry wood
  • AGEING: Slow
  • COGNAC PRODUCTION: 18,3 %
Petite Champagne has 15 657* devoted to Cognac production. The resulting eaux-de-vie are very similar to those of Grande Champagne, but without their finesse.
  • CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EAUX-DE-VIE: Breed, elegance, suppleness, delicacy
  • AROMAS: Mostly floral: Floral (grape-vine flower) and fruity
  • AGEING: Slow
  • COGNAC PRODUCTION: 21,4 %
The Borderies is the smallest of the six crus. Its soil contains clay and flint stones resulting from the decomposition of limestone. Lying North-East of Cognac, its 4 148 ha* of vines produce fine, round Cognacs, smooth and scented with an aroma of violets. They reach optimum quality after a shorter ageing period than Cognacs from the Grande and Petite Champagne.
  • CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EAUX-DE-VIE: Breed, elegance, subtlety, power, long finish, suppleness
  • AROMAS: Mostly floral: violet, iris
  • AGEING: Faster than GC and PC
  • COGNAC PRODUCTION: 5.5 %
Most of this area is covered by clayey, chalky soils known as «groies» very similar to those of the Champagne crus, except for their red color and hard stones from the Jurassic. Lying in a lower area known as “le Pays Bas” (Low Countries) north of Cognac, heavy clayey soils can also be found (60% clay). The Fins Bois surround the first three crus. Their 31 866 ha* produce round, smooth Cognacs that age fairly quickly, with a bouquet that recalls the scent of freshly pressed grapes.
  • CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EAUX-DE-VIE: Intensity, roundness, smoothness
  • AROMAS: Mostly fruity (crushed grapes), lightly floral (grape-vine flower)
  • AGEING: Faster than GC and PC
  • COGNAC PRODUCTION: 42,6 %
In the Bons bois crus, we find sandy soils on coastal locations, in certain valleys, and most especially in all the southern part of the vineyard. These are sands that have eroded from the Massif Central. Vines are quite dispersed, mixed with other crops, surrounded by forests of pine trees and chestnuts. The Bons Bois form a vast belt, of which 9 097 ha* are destined to Cognac production.
  • CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EAUX-DE-VIE: Dominated by terroir character
  • AROMAS: Fruity: crushed grapes
  • AGEING: Fast
  • COGNAC PRODUCTION: 11,2 %
This growing area has less of 994 ha* of vines destined to Cognac white wine production. The soil, almost exclusively sandy, lies along the coast or on the islands of Ré or Oléron, producing fast- ageing eaux-de-vie with a characteristic maritime flavour.
  • CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EAUX-DE-VIE: Dominated by terroir character (strong maritime influences)
  • AROMAS: Fruity
  • AGEING: Fast
  • COGNAC PRODUCTION: 1 %