Harvesting usually takes place in October and is carried out most often with the help of special harvesting machines, although in some places the grapes are still harvested by hand. Immediately after the harvest is completed, the grapes are sent to the press. The separation of the ridges (twigs to which the berries are attached) is not practiced. Apply various types of presses, often horizontal and pneumatic. The use of a screw press (with an Archimedean screw) that can crush bones is prohibited by law.
After separation of the wort (grape juice, intended for digestion) from solid parts (skin and seeds), its upholding (to get rid of suspended particles) and removal from the sediment. Alcoholic fermentation lasts two to three weeks in stainless steel vats or in tanks made of concrete, covered with epoxy from the inside. Add sugar to the wort to increase the alcohol content and the introduction of sulfur dioxide (SO2) is prohibited. In the course of alcoholic fermentation, the yeast, which naturally develops on the skins of grapes, processes the sugar contained in wort into ethyl alcohol.
Mmediately after the first-alcohol-should be the second, malolactic fermentation, which is also a completely natural process caused by the action of lactic acid bacteria that convert the wine contained malic acid into lactic. Filtration and pasting (processing of wine with adsorbing substances that attract suspended particles and precipitate together with them) is not practiced.
During the whole process, a good producer exercises careful control over him, since the quality of brandy directly depends on the quality of the wine, since distillation concentrates not only its strengths, but also its disadvantages.
The resulting wine (strictly speaking, not wine, but fermented wort) has optimal characteristics for distillation: its acidity is from 5 to 8 grams per liter, the pH level is low (from 3 to 3.1), volatile acids - less than 0.2 grams per liter, residual (non-fermented) sugar - less than 1 gram per liter, fortress - 7-9 degrees (a fortress above 10 degrees, which is inherent in wines of some crops, is highly undesirable because it does not allow to obtain high-quality alcohol). The wine contains many different substances: ethyl alcohol, glycerin, tartaric, malic, lactic and other acids, residual sugar, a huge amount of other components and, of course, water.
Distillation starts after the completion of the fermentation of grape must. Here the producer has two ways: to distill as soon as possible in order to preserve all the freshness of the wine, or to stand for some time (to enrich the bouquet) on the yeast sediment formed during the fermentation process. However, too long aging of Charente wine and spring thaw can lead to acidification (oxidation), therefore, the law requires that distillation be completed no later than March 31 of the harvest year. Distillation usually begins in November and continues throughout the winter. The law requires the use of only a traditional distillation apparatus — made of pure copper, a Alambic charantine — and to conduct fractional distillation twice.
Distillation is as follows. Unfiltered wine is poured into a cube (often without removing it from the sediment) and they begin to be heated, and always on an open fire, as required by the law, according to which fuel oil cannot be used because of its strong smell. Previously, the furnaces were heated with wood and coal, today they switched to gas, which is less troublesome and, most importantly, allows for more uniform heating. The purpose of distillation is the separation of alcohol from water, and its principle is based on the difference in the boiling points of water (100 ° C) and alcohol (78.3-78.5 ° C). The secret is to get alcohol, which retains all the aromatic substances in wine, separating unwanted components. It is not enough to have a suitable wine. Continuous monitoring of the distillation process is very important. The temperature and rate of heating are important, as well as the uniformity and continuity of the entire process, which, by the way, is reflected in the law prohibiting it from stopping. Of course, only the most experienced and often hereditary specialists are involved in distillation.
Copper from which alambik is made has a unique set of advantages: it is malleable, does not corrode, provides uniform heating of the cube’s contents, serves as an excellent catalyst for complex chemical reactions in wine, without altering its taste and aromas, and binds unwanted fatty acids, as a result, they stick to the walls (then the cube is, of course, cleaned). In order that the suspended particles contained in the wine are not collected in the corners, rounded shapes are given to the alambicu. This makes it easy to clean. Alcohol vapors, which begin to boil before water, accumulate in the helmet, then, under the action of increasing pressure, are pushed into the drain pipe (“swan neck”) and enter the coil in the tank filled with cold water. By cooling the alcohol vapor in the coil, a distillate is formed that flows into the receiver barrel.
The first distillation (première chauffe - prime-chauff) with a cube volume of 30 hectoliters lasts from 8 to 12 hours and gives a distillate divided into three shoulder straps. The first 10 liters obtained from alambika - “head” (tête) - contain too many esters, aldehydes and acetals, which have an unpleasant smell and roughness, therefore, like the last 100 liters - “tails” (queues), - they subsequently again distilled along with wine. The central shoulder strap (750-800 liters of turbid distillate with a strength of 27-32 degrees), called bruyas (brouillis), is cooled, and then, together with the two previous batches of distillate obtained in the same way, is poured into a cube for the second distillation (bonne chauffe - bon shof ), which lasts 10-13 hours. That is why in the autumn and winter in the rooms where the alambiki are located, they often put cots: it is out of the question to go to sleep home after interrupting the distillation.
The second distillation is carried out on the same principle as the first. By law, the content of the cube during the second distillation should not exceed 25 hectoliters (2.5 thousand liters with a cube volume of not more than 3 thousand liters). With simple distillation, the content of low-boiling components in the vapor and liquid phases continuously decreases. The first product obtained from the alambika distillate is too rich in higher alcohols, volatile substances and esters. For the production of brandy, it is not suitable, so it is cut off. The operation of separating distillate into epaulettes is called a coupe. It is based on the fact that the first portion of the distillate is the richest in low-boiling components, the second is less rich, the third is even less, etc.
All alcohol derived from alambika is divided into four shoulder straps: “head” (tête), “heart” (coeur), “second spirits” (secondes) —the alcohols are collected into the second barrel — and “tails” (queues; sometimes so called and "Second spirits"). After cutting off the “head” (approximately 25 liters: 1-2 percent of the total distillate volume, 72-80 degrees of strength), the following central condensation begins to condense (approximately 680 liters, with a volume of alambika 30 hectoliters), whose strength gradually decreases: from 72 degrees (it is forbidden to use stronger alcohols for the production of cognac) to 60. When the alcohol meter shows that the fortress begins to fall below this limit, another cut is made.
It is important to separate the "heart" before the first signs of fusel smell appear. Approximately from 60 to 10 degrees go “second spirits” (about 650 liters), from 10 degrees and below (according to some sources, below 5 degrees) - “tails” (about 100 liters). For the production of brandy is allowed to use only the "heart". Many manufacturers of its fortress ranges from 68-71 degrees.
“Heads” and “second spirits” (the latter have insufficient strength and contain many impurities, including many aromatic substances, but also fusel oils1) are distilled again. “Heads” - most often with wine, “second spirits” - sometimes with wine, sometimes with bruyas (here much depends on the strength of the wine). “Tails” are distilled with both wine and brewing, but many manufacturers do not use them at all.
It is very important whether the wine is distilled with or without yeast sediment. Distillation with yeast sediment gives a more intense and complex cognac with a particularly long aftertaste (Frapen, Pierre Ferrand, Remy Martin, Otar, Jean Filho, Menuet, Chateau de Bolon, and others. ). It is simpler to carry out the distillation of wine without sediment and does not require increased attention, since there is no risk that the heated sediment will give the future cognac a specific burning smell.
Distillation takes place during the autumn and winter and, according to the law, must be completed no later than March 31. The remaining mass in the cube (vinasse) is not used. Before it was simply poured out, which caused damage to the environment, today it is disposed of in factories.
The “heart” is colorless, perfectly transparent, very sharp in taste, but very aromatic alcohol (the goal of the Charenters is not to get rectified, that is, completely purified alcohol) - poured into oak barrels for aging, throughout which it cannot be called cognac . The Charenters use the term eau-de-vie (plural eaux-de-vie), which in this case is better translated as "cognac spirit". Naturally, this alcohol must be tasted, and by tasting it is meant that it is only sniffed, and not tried on the tongue.
By law, alcohol must be poured into oak barrels no later than April 1 of the harvest year. From this day begins the official countdown of his excerpts. For the manufacture of barrels usually use oaks. It is believed that oaks are best suited for aging cognac spirits. It is said that the qualities of both alcohol and oak, a tree with ideal properties for aging wines and brandies, are equally important for success. Oak enriches them with hemicellulose, tannins, lignins, polyphenols, coloring agents and aromatic organic acids (for wines and spirits aged in new oak barrels, the smell of vanilla is especially characteristic).
In addition to extraction, hydrolysis also occurs during aging - a complex of chemical reactions caused by wood enzymes or mold fungi on the surface of the barrels, as well as the interaction of alcohol and air penetrating through the pores of the wood. The latter is called "controlled oxidation" (oxidation). Contact with air and alcohol is necessary, but it is very important to what extent.
It is permitted by law to use trees no younger than 40 years old. For aging the best cognacs oaks are selected, having an age of from 100 to 200 years. Barrels of brandy spirit are placed in special storage facilities - chais (shee), whose floor is at ground level, and it’s better if it is rammed earth or limestone slabs. The coating of concrete or asphalt violates the natural temperature and humidity conditions and does not allow alcohols to "breathe" normally. Cellars are also undesirable: it is believed that the natural temperature variations in traditional storages are more favorable for the proper evolution of alcohols.
At this stage, maître de chai (maître de ché), the cognac master, who is now fully responsible for the future brandy, takes the baton from the grower, distiller and cooper. The role of the cognac master is hard to overestimate. A very high-class professional with vast experience, often a representative of an entire dynasty, from childhood devoted to the mysteries of cognac production and able to determine its origin and age by scent, he tracks the evolution of spirits, decides on the replacement of barrels, aging time and finally assembles - that is, mixing different alcohols to obtain the final product.
In the course of aging, in addition to the above processes of oxidation and extraction of dry oak extract from alcohols, there is also a decrease in the strength of the alcohols (about 0.3-0.5 percent per year) and a decrease in their volume due to evaporation through the pores of the barrels. Alcohol loses volatile substances and water, which leads to its softening and concentration of aromatic substances in it. These inevitable losses are called the “angels’ share ”(la part des anges), and they amount to no less than 2–3 percent a year, although the evaporation process somewhat slows down over time. On average, angels each year get the equivalent of more than 20 million bottles of brandy.
Since the alcohol gradually evaporates during the aging process, it is necessary to refill from time to time (presumably from alcohols of the same batch) so that the air cushion does not form too large an air bag: contact with oxygen should occur primarily indirectly through the pores of the oak.
Assemblage is the most mysterious and complicated procedure in the production of brandy. As a rule, accurate information regarding the number of components, their proportions, and sometimes each of them separately, is kept in the strictest secret known only to the cognac master, the head of the company, and maybe even one or two employees. Cognac, made by the method of assemblage, is almost always brighter, more complex and more refined than the milleosim because it, unlike the latter, is the result of skillful preparation of various components, each of which brings its own advantages and softens the other's shortcomings. The preferred is the assemblage of alcohols, which are quite close in duration of exposure. Before bottling, brandy is usually cooled to minus 5-8 ° C to cause the formation of tartar (salt of tartaric acid, precipitated in the form of small crystals), and then filtered, most often through filters made of cellulose.
Millezimny brandies - a very big rarity. Their appearance on the market is largely dictated by the competition with whiskey and the desire of many consumers to see the vintage on the label. Millezimny brandy is produced by very few houses, mainly small family-owned enterprises - in particular, Chateau de Beaulon, Croizet, Delamain, AE Dor, Pierre Ferrand, Jean Fillioux, P. Frapin, Godet, Hine, Guy Lhéraud, Menuet, Planat, Prunier, Raymond Ragnaud, Roullet. Not all listed companies, however, make millezyme brandy on a permanent basis. It should also be noted that some manufacturers (for example, Léopold Gourmel) often produce milleesimny brandies that are not officially registered as such, therefore the vintage does not appear on the label.