Cognac has a rich history through the centuries to become what we all know: a fantastic and amazing liquor for everyone.
Many civilizations have made the cognac area a crossroads where goods and services were exchanged.
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The cognac beginnings
The Cognac region during Roman centuries
Once upon a time was the cognac… It all began with the French region during Caesar’s reign: they invaded Gaul territory, especially the “Aulnis”, the “Saintonge” and the “Angoumois” old provinces, and Saintes became a gallo-roman capital.
This cognac region was well known for the richness of its soil and means of communication, a crossroads for commerce (via Agrippa: Saintes Lugdunum).
First, it was just a production area: wheat, sea salt, and of course wines! Wines develop the region and make it prosperous!
The Cognac region during the XII-XV centuries
Then came boats from Northern Europe to La Rochelle, Saintes, or Saint-Jean-d’Angély, especially Norwegians, Belgians, and Englishs tradespeople. They came for goods like salt for fish salting but also wine which was a famous beverage for Vikings and London’s taverns.
Then came the war times, especially “The hundred years war” (1337-1453), totally devastating the region and causing a massive migration of people and craftsmen.
From wine to “eau-de-vie”
Transporting Charentais wine by boat was a real problem; the wine kept very badly.
Charentes people had the idea to distill wine: the cognac was born!
First, the cognac was a single distillation that preserves the product during transport; the conservation problem was solved.
Another advantage: the product volume was reduced, and taxes were lower.
During the XVII-XVIII century, cognac production was massive; and cognac producers with a surplus began to keep the “eau-de-vie” in oak barrels. They discover the benefits of such an operation: incredible colors, more perfumes, more aromas… Cognac becomes a treasure!
Since then, the distillation of “eaux-de-vie” became widespread all across the Cognac region, and La Rochelle became the port of spirits served worldwide: Europe, the Caribbean, the Americas…
Cognac became the most famous liquor: fine, pleasant, simply the best in the world!
Big trading companies gradually specializing in the production and sale of cognac were also born during this period :
- Martell was created by Jean Martell (1694-1753),
- Hennessy by Richard Hennessy (1724-1800),
- Delamain et Cie by James Delamain (1738-1800),
- Hine (1763) by Thomas Hine.
Phylloxéra crisis and World Wars
During the XIX century, the phylloxéra bugs, born in the US, came to Europe by cargo ships creating a massive crisis in the wine sector.
Phylloxera infestation of a vine stock leads to its death in three years. The whole wine production was decimated.
Only one-sixth of the wine-growing area had been replanted when the First World War started. Hopefully, lots of cognac stocks were already in the cellars.
Cognac producers also faced the 1929 stock market crisis.
Then came World War II, and France and the Charentes were occupied by Nazi Germany. During this period, a special occupation authority tried to preserve the production system.
At the liberation, the US boys adopted cognac to make it an emblem of freedom and the sweetness of life and bring back the famous cognac drink in their communities.
The BNIC was created in 1946 and is still a coordination and decision-making body for the Cognac industry.
Cognac to the moon 🚀
Then came the cognac golden age. Between 1947 and 1972, the worldwide sales figure was multiplied by 5. New vineyards were planted to meet global demand, and techniques and winemaking were improved and modernized.
Cognac has always been an important exported product (90% to 98% of the production). During the eighties and nineties, the United Kingdom was the biggest market.
Then came a switch in the cognac market. The USA became the cognac far-west and the place to drink cognac. Show Business people and black communities adopt the famous cognac beverage to make it an emblem of luxury, wealth, and success. It’s also a kind of distinction with the whiskey-drinking white elite.
Nowadays, the rocket cognac is launched to the moon: USA, China, and Singapore are trusting the market podium, and more than 223 million cognac bottles are sold worldwide for 3,6 billion euros in sales figures.
The cognac History continues…
Today, cognac still has a wonderful history: 4,276 winegrowers, 117 professional distillers, and 283 cognac merchants. There are so many stories of talented and passionate people making and developing the famous drink.
Don’t forget the tourism part (hôtels, restaurants, museums…), discover cognac region! Such great places to visit and stay with cities like Cognac, Jarnac, Jonzac, Angoulême…