In the XVII century, viticulture and winemaking are at a very low level. The vast majority of wines are drunk young, as they deteriorate rapidly - and in the first place, Charentais, characterized by lightness, low alcohol content and high acidity. The Dutch, who had long since bought salt, wheat and wine in western France, but received alcohol from grain and at that time experienced a shortage of raw materials due to several successive crop failures, begin to distill Charentaise wines, first in their homeland and then directly in Charente. Local growers follow the example of the Dutch. Pushing them to this and increasing wine duties in the first half of the XVII century.
Between 1600 and 1650 (according to other sources, between 1620 and 1650), the Charenters begin to practice double distillation. There is a legend about a certain chevalier de la Croix-Marone, who was extremely dissatisfied with the quality of alcohol and saw in a dream how he distills the distillate a second time. Historical documents show that the Chevalier de la Croix-Maron actually lived in Charente at the end of the 16th century, but did not contain any evidence of his involvement in the invention of the double distillation method.
Be that as it may, the alcohol thus obtained has a volume several times smaller than the wine from which it is obtained (which greatly eases the tax burden), is distinguished by high quality and is no longer susceptible to spoilage. The idea of sharantsev, who still do not understand what kind of drink they have created, is simple: the consumer dilutes the alcohol with water and thus restores the wine. However, the northerners quickly find that the “concentrate” is very good in itself and has a pleasant fruity aroma - instead of the disgusting fusel smell of grain spirit, which had to be masked with aromatic additives and insisting on the fruits of juniper (that's how the genie was born).
Moreover, the spirit from Charente is noticeably superior in quality to the other “Brandweins” - as the product of distillation of wine is called in Holland (brandewijn - “burnt wine”, from where the English brandwine and its shortened version are brandy) distillations, while the wines of other regions need to be distilled several times to completely purify them from unwanted impurities, and this procedure deprives the final product of any flavors.
Soon, another discovery is made: it turns out that after a long stay in oak barrels, which is due to fairly frequent delays in transportation, Charentais spirit significantly improves, acquiring a wonderful golden color, additional flavors and greater softness.
Meanwhile, another happy circumstance determines the future success of brandy. Louis XIV orders to plant oak forests for shipbuilding in central France (Limousin, Tronse). It is these oaks that will later become the most suitable material for the manufacture of barrels. In the meantime, the Charentese cut down forests in the vicinity of Cognac, to plant the vine, and the wood is used to heat distillation cubes.
At the same time, strict requirements for the production of cognac are developed. The first cognac firms ("houses"), including the still existing Augier ("Ogier"), founded in 1643, appear. Around the same time, the first mentions in English sources of a great drink called "cogniacke", since the best vineyards are located just around Cognac.
The abolition of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 only strengthened the ties of Cognac with the Protestant part of Europe. Huguenots from La Rochelle who have settled in England, Holland and other countries maintain close contacts with their countrymen. Since for much of the 17th and 18th centuries wars were fought between England and France, and trade was difficult, the role of smugglers, whose main base is located on Jersey, an English island with a French-speaking population, is growing. It was from there that Jean Martel moved to Cognac, who in 1715 founded the famous company that still bears his name.
Beginning from the late 17th century, the distribution of bottles for storing and transporting wine affected Charente least. Cognac is still exported in barrels, so that the consumer can withstand it as he pleases. Even at the beginning of the XIX century cognac is shipped in bottles only to the most prestigious customers. Mass use of bottles begins in Charente only from the middle of the XIX century, but even nowadays, individual companies, at the request of the client, supply their cognacs in barrels for aging (in England such cognacs are called early landed).
During the XVIII century, the production technology of cognac, which acquires all the qualities inherent in it today. Some of the existing and still brandy houses are based: "Remy Martin", "Gauthier", "Ennessi" ("Hennessy"), "Otar". Begins exporting to America. World cognition comes to cognac.
In the 19th century, cognac sales increased, the production of labels, corks, and bottles developed. New houses are emerging: “Hein”, “Courvosier”, “Ardi”, “Camus”, “Deni-Mounier”, “Salignac” ... Significant progress was achieved thanks to the signing in 1860 on the initiative of Napoleon III of an agreement with England on free trade .
A major problem was the appearance on the French market of a large number of fake wines and brandies. The reason was rooted in the disaster of unprecedented disaster, which had the scientific name phylloxera vastatrix, which hit France and Europe at the end of the 19th century. Phylloxera — the aphid, which was accidentally imported from America — in a few years destroys almost all French vineyards. The country is experiencing a profound economic and social crisis. The area of the vineyards of Charente is reduced from 280 thousand hectares to 40 thousand. In connection with the sharp decline in the production of wines and brandies in the French and world markets, voids arise, which are filled with numerous fakes. Fraudsters selling their brandy as brandy are based not only in France. Many such "cognacs" are produced in Italy and Germany. The French government begins to fight impostors.
The first step was taken back in 1891, when at the Madrid Conference the participating countries undertake to respect the names of agricultural products by their origin. Then follow the laws and government decrees from 1903, 1905 and 1907 (in particular, the prohibition to add flavors to cognac). By this time, and find a way to deal with phylloxera - stock. French grape varieties are beginning to grow on the roots of phylloxera-resistant wild American vines that do not belong to the species vitis vinifera; its roots are protected by thicker bark, which the cursed bug cannot gnaw. Gradually, everything starts to return to normal.
The situation in Charente, however, even in this difficult period was not as bad as in most other winemaking regions - for example, in Champagne, where it came to an open riot. But in Charente, large cognac houses have always maintained good relations with their suppliers-growers, never refusing to support them in difficult times. In addition, thanks to the excellent harvests that preceded the emergence of phylloxera, considerable reserves of cognac spirits were accumulated at Charente, so many manufacturers managed to stay afloat and resume production by 1910, although not at the same scale. It was during this period that whiskey manufacturers went on the world stage, taking advantage of the temporary difficulties of competitors and since then firmly holding the leadership in the market of strong alcoholic beverages, forcing cognac houses to constantly improve their working methods and look for new forms of promoting their products.
The French authorities meanwhile continue to tighten control over the production of wines and spirits. May 1, 1909 a government decree sets out the exact boundaries of the Cognac wine-growing region. Then follows a series of new laws and decrees (1919, 1921, 1929, 1936, 1938, 1940, 1946, 1951, 1952 and 1983). The boundaries of the Cognac subregions are drawn, grape varieties, production technology and record keeping by producers are regulated.
In 1938, Cognac received the status of AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée - Apellation d'orizhyn control), which is usually translated into Russian as “name controlled by origin”. This status, or category, is assigned by the state to wine-making regions, which are officially recognized as especially valuable. Thus, the right to the name "cognac" (cognac) is legally confirmed for those producers who not only use the permitted grape varieties grown in this territory, but also comply with all other requirements of the law in the production and aging of their products.
The period between the two world wars was marked by the loss of two important markets: Russia, where the Bolsheviks came to power, and the United States, which imposed a dry law. As for the wars themselves, they have not caused any irreparable damage to the business. During the Second World War, at first there were concerns about the safety of stocks of old cognac spirits, but apparently the guardian angels of Charentes, feeding on cognac pairs, again stretched their protective wings over it. However, the Charenters themselves were able to help themselves quite well by convincing the occupying authorities that after the end of the war and the victory of the Reich, the cost of old cognac spirits would increase significantly. The Germans, however, tried to requisition part of the brandy for the needs of the army, but in the end they had to agree to pay for everything. The then president of the Chamber of Commerce, Maurice Ennessy (Hennessy), and the mayor of Cognac, Paul Firino-Martel, played a major role in this. To protect the interests of brandy producers, the Bureau for the Distribution of Wines and Spirits (Bureau de Répartition des Vins et Eaux-de-Vie) was created.
In 1946, the Bureau for the Distribution of Wines and Spirits was transformed into the State Interprofessionnel Cognac Bureau (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac - BNIC) - the organ that plays a crucial role in the life of the entire region. Its financing is carried out at the expense of compulsory deductions from each bottle of brandy sold. The functions of the Bureau are very numerous and varied: participation in the preparation of laws and government decrees; accounting and control; issuance of certificates confirming the origin and age of cognacs; protection of the appellation and the interests of workers engaged in the production of brandy; scientific research, etc.
Materials from the book
"Cognac. Guide" Yuri Zybtseva