Cognac is obtained by the distillation of white wines harvested in the Controlled Appellation area. These wines have a high acidity and a low alcohol content.
Distillation is carried out in two "chauffes", that is, in two separate heatings, using a special Charentais copper still. It is made of a uniquely shaped boiler heated on a naked flame topped by a still-head in the shape of a turban, an olive, or an onion, and prolonged by a swan-neck tube that turns into a coil and passes through a cooling tank referred to as "the pipe".
Unfiltered wine is poured into the boiler and brought to the boil. Alcohol vapours are freed and collected in the still-head. They then enter the swan-neck and continue into the coil.
Upon contact with the coolant, they condense, forming a liquid known as "brouillis". This slightly cloudy liquid with an alcohol content of 28 to 32 % alcohol is returned to the boiler for a second distillation, known as the "bonne chauffe". For this second heating, the boiler capacity must not exceed 30 hectoliters, and the load volume is limited to 25 hectoliters. The master distiller must then carry out the delicate operation known as "cutting" or "la coupe": the first vapours that arrive, called "the heads", have the highest alcohol content, and are separated from the rest. Then comes "the heart", a clear spirit that will produce Cognac.
Afterwords the distiller gets rid of "the second cut" when the alcoholometer registers 60%. And finally he eliminates the tails. The "heads" and "second cuts" are redistilled with the next batch of wine or "brouillis". The success of the distilling cycle, which lasts about 24 hours, lies in the constant supervision it requires and in the extensive experience of the master distiller, who may also intervene in the distillation techniques (proportion of fine lees, recycling of "tails" in batches of wine or "brouillis", temperature curves ), thus conferring Cognac facets of his personality.
The distillation season for white wines destined for the production of Cognac closes on March 31st following the harvest.
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, six 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 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 East it 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.
The Delimited Region is made up of six growing areas known as crus that reference the various appellations.
Clayey, chalky thin soils on top of soft chalk from the Cretaceous. From the surface down, the limestone content is very high and in excess of 60% in some places. Montmorillonite clay provide these fertile soils with good structure and water reserve. Despite their thinness, these soils do not suffer from lack of water as the sub-soil acts as a giant sponge through which water may slowly rise as the summer dryness increases.
The Grande Champagne Appellation
Grande Champagne is planted with about 13,159 hectares 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.
The Petite Champagne Appellation
Petite Champagne has 15 246 devoted to Cognac production. The resulting eaux-de-vie are very similar to those of Grande Champagne, but without their finesse.
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 3 987 hectares 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.
The Fins Bois Appellation
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 colour and hard stones from the Jurassic. Lying in a lower area known as the "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 31 001 ha produce round, smooth Cognacs that age fairly quickly, with a bouquet that recalls the scent of freshly pressed grapes.
The Bons Bois Appellation
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 9,308 hectares are destined to Cognac production.
The Bois à Terroir or Bois Ordinaires
This growing area has less of 1,101 hectares 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.
The Fine Champagne appellation
Fine Champagne is not a cru, but rather a Controlled Appellation of Origin composed of a blend of Grande and Petite Champagneeaux-de-vie, with at least 50% of Grande Champagne.