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In the same chapter :
 Historic parts
 Larsen sold to the group Rémy Cointreau
 Le cognac sur les rails
 Reading a label
 The anecdotes
 The delimited region of Cognac
 The different vintages
 Visiting cognac houses
About the cognac

Historic parts

-  The relationship that Cognac has with foreign countries is not new and its evolution has relied on this relationship for centuries.

(GIF) Cognac is famous the world over and numbers speak for themselves. Out of the 126,5 million bottles of cognac sold in 1996, 119 million (94,3%) were exported. The United states of America are the greatest amateurs with over 27,7 million bottles, followed by Japan (with 18,2 million), the United Kingdom (12 million), and Hong-Kong (11,2 million).

International commerce

The origins of cognac are closely related to the commerce of two products : salt and wine.

Vinyards have existed in Saintonge as far back as the gallo-roman times. The vinyards of Saintonge were probably planted during the last part of the third century AD.

Probus, the roman emperor, extended the privilege of owning vines and making wine to all Gauls, but the extent of the plantation was still very limited. The real extension came during the 12th century when salt shipments for Norway started to include local wines. The vinyards began to appear inland especially on the banks of the Charente river. (GIF) The wine, unfortunately, would not travel very well and was also very bulky. The Dutch transporters, along with the French wine producers from Charente thought of distilling the wine. The product became indeed considerably reduced in volume but also more stable and resistant to transportation.

For practical reasons, the spirits were stored in oak casks, it was then realised that the spirits had matured with age in the casks and could be drunk pure. During the 12th century, the product was improved yet again when double distillation was discovered.

At the end of the 13th century sales abroad tripled with the signing of the first international sales treaties. Later, the Dutch became the main suppliers for a large part of Europe but also for the States. The English remain remained important clients. Many merchants in fact established sales counters to sell their goods straight from the ship.

The phylloxera virus crisis

(GIF) If there is one crisis that really affected the history of cognac it is that of the invasion of the phylloxera virus during the 1870’s. The origins of the disease are still unknown. The phylloxera is a minute six legged insect that is only just visible to the naked eye. It has two long antennae and looks a bit like a tic or a louce or even a cicada when it has wings.

The animal attacks the vine from above and from below. It lays its eggs on the leaves. The eggs cause a rash. Other eggs on the roots produces nymphs that attack the fine root hairs. The roots rot away slowly and the plants dies progressively.

Phylloxera spread devastatingly accross the region. Many vineyards were destroyed and land values plummeted. Before the arrival of phylloxera, a hectare (247 acres) was worth 7000 french francs. After the crisis it was not worth more than 600 french francs...

In order to rebuild the devastated vineyards, a new method was used for the first time in 1876. Vines from Texas, which are resistant to phylloxera, were used as hosts for grafting.