Cognac refers to a spirit, a city and also a vineyard. This spirit is one of the most famous in the world, but unlike many, it has been produced in the traditional way for centuries.
The city of Cognac straddles the river Charente and sits in the second sunniest region of France. It is small in size (20,000 people), but visiting the vineyard is to run through 2,000 years of French history and find traces of a history that is still very much alive.
This is the only vineyard in the world to claim the name "Champagne", because it is one of the oldest AOC in France. Visiting is to discover all stages of the development of one of the world's most famous luxury goods, meeting artisans, winemakers, distillers, and coopers with some of them installed for numerous generations.
The Cognac country is like a coin with two faces. The known face: fifteen trading houses, which sell 95% of Cognacs in the world, but have less than 5% of the vineyard, and the lesser known face: families of wine growers who own 95% of the vineyard, but sell less than 5% of the cognac in the world.
WHEN TO GO AND HOW LONG FOR
The grape harvest season usually starts at the end of September and lasts until the beginning of October. The autumn is a beautiful time in the vineyards. It’s a great time to visit and enjoy the Indian summer! The distillation generally starts in November and must end before March 31. A delicious aroma perfumes the villages and it’s the right time for understanding the Cognac making process.
We recommed you visit for 1 to 4 days for the best chance to discover the area. You can also make Cognac the base for an extended trip to explore La Rochelle and the Atlantic coast, Bordeaux and Saint Emilion that are 1.5 hour drive away. A good way to compare wine growing for wines and Cognacs.
WHERE TO GO
The Cognac region of France is steeped in history, from the 3rd century when the Romans brought their grapes and started to produce wine. King François the 1st was born in Chateau de Cognac in 1494. Today the Chateau is the headquarters of a renowned cognac house where you can experience a cognac tasting.
There are different wine growing areas (crus) in the Cognac region, and the most important ones are listed below:
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.
The Borderies Crus Cognacs are characterised by aromas of spring flowers such as iris and violets. The Fins Bois Crus Cognac have a more have fruity character..
The Cognac region is an area full of places to visit, all of them as if they had been taken from an architecture or a French history book: St. Pierre’s Cathedral in Angoulême (the comic book city), the Arch celebrating the birth of Germanicus in Saintes, the old port at La Rochelle, the legendary Rochefort Arsenal evocative of Colbert and Lafayette (in Charente-Maritime), and many more sites of France’s heritage.
WHERE TO TASTE
All visits to the trading houses end with a tasting. Some themed tours around chocolate or gastronomy are possible. Each house has its own program.
The Cognathèque, a shop dedicated to cognacs, organises tastings by appointment. Two bars in Cognac present a list of cocktails, based on Cognacs and a locally produced vodka famous worldwide (Grey Goose)
In the vineyards, a visit to a distiller may end with the tasting of... the whole range! When the visit is free, buying a bottle is always appreciated. Be careful when driving after such a visit.
At Saint Preuil in Grande Champagne, “Cognac Master Classes” are held in English on demand by a certified Cognac Educator.
To visit distilleries that produce specific Cognacs with a very original philosophy of their work, it is advised to tour with a guide who selects the right distilleries for his clients. As the driver, the guide will also allow his clients to fully enjoy meetings with the producers and their tastings.