Cognac is an eau-de-vie made from white wine and is produced in a specific geographical area. Popular eau-de-vie appreciated throughout the world, the process of making cognac is often misunderstood.
Discover below the different stages of the production of this spirit.
Les vendanges à cognac
The harvest takes place every year between September and October. It is during this period that it is possible to obtain grapes that have reached an optimal ripeness.
Different grape varieties can be grown in the crus of cognacThe main grape variety used is Ugni Blanc, which represents 90% of the vineyards in Charente. This is the variety we use for Guillon-Painturaud cognacs.
Once the grapes are picked, it is time to press them. The juice obtained is then called grape must. It is directly fermented for a week to obtain white wine which is then distilled twice in a traditional Charentais still.
To find out more about our harvest click here.
La double distillation ou distillation “à repasse”
The distillation is done in two steps. The first step consists in introducing the wine obtained by fermentation in the Charentais still. The wine is then brought to the boil (Number 1 on the drawing). The alcohol vapors then accumulate in the head Number 2 on the drawing) and then in the swan neck before flowing into a serpentine, thus crossing a cooling basin (Number 3 on the drawing). The vapors condense on contact with the cold water (which is in this basin) and flow out in the form of a liquid called brouillis (Number 4 on the drawing). This first heating is 30% alcohol. Aromatically, the brouillis obtained is rather heavy. This is why it is reintroduced into the still using the same process. This second heating is called the good heating. The solution obtained is this time 70% alcohol and is composed of four parts (the heads, the heart, the seconds and the tails). Only the heart is kept and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years. The distillation must imperatively end on March 31st to preserve the aromatic bouquet of the wines.
Did you know ? At the Guillon-Painturaud estate, during the distillation period, Elise and Mathilde meet every Saturday morning to taste the new eaux-de-vie produced each day. This allows them to continuously check the quality of their eaux-de-vie.
Le vieillissement en fûts de chêne
However, distillation is not the last step in the production process and the new eau-de-vie still has a long way to go before it becomes a cognac.
During the first months, it is sent to an ageing cellar and stored in new barrels so that the tannins of the oak can color and perfume it. Only then is it transferred to a "red barrel", a barrel that has already contained cognac.
The eau de vie must age for a minimum of 2 years before being marketed. This is the minimum time required to obtain a VS Cognac (Very Special). Over time and under the effects of evaporation, the cognac evolves and gradually takes on an amber color. But above all, ageing allows the cognac to develop an exceptional aromatic bouquet.
Did you know ? At the Guillon-Painturaud estate, the eaux-de-vie only spend 6 months in new barrels in order to preserve a perfect balance between the wood of the barrel and the aromas of the eau-de-vie. The rest of the ageing is done in "red" barrels. This results in light cognacs.
Réduction et assemblage des eaux-de-vie de cognac
After having patiently aged in barrels, the eaux-de-vie are blended.
Each eau-de-vie is distinguished by its aging potential and its aromatic notes. Like a perfumer, the Cellar Master must compose with all the eaux-de-vie to create their cognac. Blending is a very meticulous job that requires great precision. In this delicate phase, the cellar master relies on an ancestral savoir-faire to allow the cognacs to develop complex aromas with great delicacy.
Once the blending is done, some cognacs will be reduced. The eaux-de-vie that go into the composition of a VS are at least 2 years old, their alcoholic degree is often close to 70°. It is then necessary to proceed to the reduction stage.
The reduction consists in progressively adding a quantity of distilled water to the eau-de-vie in order to reduce its alcohol content. It usually takes 1 to 2 years to perform the reduction. However, this operation is not necessary for the oldest cognacs which naturally reach 40° with evaporation (the angels' share).
Did you know ? At the Guillon-Painturaud estate, Elise, our cellar master, keeps an inventory every year where she precisely lists the aromatic notes of each barrel.
La mise en bouteille
At the end of all these steps, it is time to bottle the cognac. It is finally ready to be tasted. In cocktails or as a digestif, there is something for everyone!
En résumé :
Le cognac, c’est quoi ?
Le cognac est un assemblage d’eaux de vie vieillies en fût de chêne issues uniquement dans l’aire d’appellation de la région de Cognac.
What fruit is used to make cognac ?
Pour fabriquer du cognac, il faut du raisin issu principalement du cépage l’ugni blanc et cultivé uniquement dans l’AOC Cognac.
What are the stages of Cognac production ?
Les différentes étapes de fabrication du cognac : vendanges, vinification, distillation, vieillissement, assemblage et mise en bouteille.