The first stage in making Cognac involves planting vines. This takes place in the spring, generally with “bare-root” vines, usually prepared by nursery growers.WATCH VIDEO →
In order to create optimum growing conditions, the young plots benefit from meticulous care and attention: from watering to manual weeding in between the ceps, vine stakes, protection against rabbits and other care and attention, conducive to vine growth.
One, two, or three years later, and the vines are well-developed and ready to produce grapes.
DID YOU KNOW?
Only spirits made from grapes harvested and fermented within the Cognac delimited area, listed below, can legally lay claim to the registered designations of origin “Cognac”, “Eau-de-vie de Cognac”, or “Eau-de-vie des Charentes”:
- almost all of the Charente-Maritime department;
- a large part of the Charente department;
- a few villages in the Dordogne and Deux-Sèvres departments.
Harvesting generally begins in mid-September, when the first grapes are ripe, and finishes around mid-October. Harvesting is by machine, except for a few winegrowers who choose to pick by hand. In both cases, emphasis is placed on handling the grapes carefully.
The grapes are pressed immediately after harvesting.
Pneumatic presses are used in a batch process, to ensure low-pressure extraction of high-quality must, containing low proportions of grape solids and phenolic compounds.
Musts fermented into wine intended for distillation have a low potential alcohol content (around 9% vol.), conducive to optimum concentration of aromatic substances in the grapes and high acidity, ensuring good natural conservation.
The unique feature of winemaking in this area is that adding sugar and sulphites during fermentation is strictly prohibited. This ensures that the intrinsic fruitiness of the grapes is preserved.
CHARENTAIS DOUBLE DISTILLATION
A batch process is used for double distillation. This method consists of two successive steps, called “chauffes”:WATCH VIDEO →
- The “first chauffe” is the initial distillation of wine, resulting in the brouillis, or first distillate.
- The “second chauffe” (also called “repasse” or “bonne chauffe”) designates the distillation of the brouillis, and produces Cognac wine spirit once the beginning and the end of distillation (also called “phlegme”) are eliminated.
- Heads or tails from the first or second distillation may be added to the wine or brouillis and distilled a second time.
Distillation must be completed no later than March 31st of the year after the harvest. Time is of the essence.
DID YOU KNOW?
Only wine spirits from the double distillation of wines from the most recent crop are entitled to the registered designation of origin “Cognac”.
As soon as it comes out of the still, the new wine spirit is put into oak barrels to age for several years, where it develops its color, aromas, and flavors. The aging process may last several decades.WATCH VIDEO →
The combination of the origin of the oak, type of grain, humidity in the cellar, and age of the barrels provides an immense playground where cellar masters can age the wine spirit as they wish to produce the desired result.
Long aging results in soft, rich, concentrated wine spirits with good aromatic complexity.
In the long term, the wine spirit develops the characteristic rancio flavours, characterised by notes of autumnal forest floor, mushrooms, and walnut oil. Once again, time is crucial.
Once aging is completed, it is time for blending. This age-old tradition is not covered by any precise requirements in the Cognac AOC specifications. This is the crucial moment when the cellar master, assisted by their team, selects and purchases the wine spirits from winegrowers, and monitors them throughout their aging process to create blends which serve as veritable trademarks for each brand.WATCH VIDEO →
Just like the perfumer’s “nose”, the cellar master composes subtle blends of wine spirits of different ages and origins to give the Cognac its full aromatic complexity.
Over time, the spirit is tasted regularly to monitor the aging process, enhancing its intensity, silkiness, roundness, finesse and aftertaste by carefully adding distilled water to bring the Cognac to the desired alcohol level and balance. This process is called “dilution“. The result is an outstanding Cognac with personality, length, and subtle aromatic nuances.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Cognac is traditionally made by blending wine spirits of different ages from different production areas, although this is not mandatory.
- The Cognac production process conforms to a set of PDO Cognac specifications guaranteeing its quality.
- Cognac always retains the age at which it is bottled since, unlike wine, spirits do not evolve after bottling.