History of Cognac

 

In the south west of France, near Bordeaux, lies the region of Cognac, sheltered on every side between the hills of the Périgord and the mild Atlantic coast. It is from this town the world’s most famous brandy gets its name. Wine production in this region has its origin back to 3 century AD where the Romans introduced winegrowing to the region.

It does not sound obvious but it was in fact that Dutch that introduced Cognac. In the 16th century the Dutch where exporting wines from the Cognac region and the neighboring areas. However often the quality of the wine combined with weak alcohol content made it unsuitable for surviving long sea voyages. To solve the problem the Dutch started setting up distilleries transforming the wine into burnt wine or in Dutch “brandwijn”, hence the name brandy.

 

During the 17th century the process of double distillation was introduced transforming the wines to eau-de-vie (literally, "water of life"), which allowed even safer and more economical transportation conditions. Initially, this alcohol was to be diluted with water immediately upon arrival. However, the people of Cognac discovered that the eau-de-vie improved by ageing in the oak barrels (made with wood from the Limousin) in which it was stored. They began to drink it straight from the barrels and Cognac was born.

 

In the 18th century the Cognac business got better organized and more and more cognac trading house was setup focusing on exporting the product to the main markets in Holland, England, Northern Europe, and later in America and the Far East. Starting in the middle of the 19th century they began to carry cognac in bottles, instead of casks.  In turn, this new form of commerce gave rise to such industries as glassmaking, production of corks and packaging, printing.

 

Around 1875 are large tragedy hid the Cognac region as the phylloxera louse appeared in Charente, and destroyed most of the vineyards. The solution to this problem was to found some years later when the traditional graphs where crafted to an American root stock immune to phylloxera. However the traditional grape varieties (Colombard and Folle Blanche) were somewhat fragile due to grafting and were little by little replaced by the Ugni Blanc, which is more resistant. Ugni Blanc is now used for more than 90 per cent of the production of Cognac.

 

In the 20th century Cognac was becoming an evermore famous drink and efforts was made to protect is originality. In 1935 a decree was issued confirming that “real Cognac” was to be distilled twice and thereby ensure the double distillation process. In the following year the varieties of graphs that can be used for production of Cognac was likewise defined. In 1936 Cognac was recognized as a Controlled Appellation of Origin.