Why Visit Cognac?
Cognac is undoubtedly one of the most famous spirits in the world, produced for centuries in the diminutive French town of the same name. The city of Cognac straddles the river Charente, just a stone's throw north of Bordeaux on France's Atlantic Coast where it basks in the distinction of being the second sunniest region in France. A tiny population of just 19,000 people gives Cognac and the surrounding area an intimate feel, where it is possible to explore 2,000 years of French history and tradition alongside a more modern way of life.
The Cognac region of France has been creating fascinating history ever since the 3rd century, when the Romans brought their grapes and started to produce the first wines in the region. In 1494, French king François I was born here at Chateau de Cognac, which today is the headquarters of a prestigious cognac house. This is a wonderful destination for lovers of history and culture, with plenty of ancient landmarks where secrets and amazing tales abound; St. Pierre’s Cathedral in Angoulême (also the home of the International Comic Book Festival), the Arch celebrating the birth of Germanicus in Saintes, the old port at La Rochelle, and the legendary Rochefort Arsenal, a former French naval base which is a fantastic stop for any budding military historians! There are also many shrines and churches, built for the many pilgrims who crossed the region on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Particularly worth seeing are the churches at Saint-Preuil, Bourg-Charente, Bouteville, and the Bassac Abbey.
However, just as important is the history of the town's most famous export ... the Cognac brandy which has become a symbol of decadence and luxury the world over. Cognac was first produced in the 16th century when Dutch winemakers began distilling their wine in order to preserve it during long journeys - they named the result brandewijn (burnt wine), and it grew in popularity to the point where it became one of the world's most sought after spirits. Even today, brands such as Courvoisier, Rémy-Martin and Hennessy are bywords for indulgence.
Today, grapes are still grown here in order to achieve the final spirit. In fact, the areas which produce the finest grapes are named Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne - not to be confused with the sparkling wine region of the same name! There are around 200 producers here, but it is estimated that a core group of around fifteen trading houses sell 95% of Cognac worldwide, but have less than 5% of the vineyard area; whilst the remaining family growers own 95% of the vineyard, but sell less than 5% of the Cognac in the world.
There are six different wine growing areas (crus) in the Cognac region, ranging from the very best at Grande Champagne to the entry-level Bois Ordinaires: Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne are well known for the production of high-quality Cognacs which need to be aged for a long time to gain their top quality and floral aromas. Borderies Crus is the smallest cru, where Cognacs are characterised by aromas of spring flowers such as iris and violets. Fins Bois Crus Cognac display more youthful, fruity character, whilst Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires create the most basic, entry-level Cognacs
Once you've indulged in the history of the region, it's time to taste - all visits to the cognac houses end with a tasting. Some themed tours focusing on Cognac and chocolate pairings or gastronomy are possible. Take care as it is highly likely that the convivial and welcoming nature of the Cognac houses may mean that you find yourself feeling a little merry - be careful when driving! We recommend that the best way to tour Cognac is with a driver or tour guide, who will be able to share the secrets of the region and ensure that you return safely to your hotel!