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The Cognac Process – Part 5. Tradition and Quality

The tradition of quality was slow to develop but was largely in keeping with the local temperament. During the 17th century the Champagnes, known today as the best growing areas, improved steadily and just as the region had produced the best grain, so too they produced the best grapes. By the time of the French Revolution the last areas devoted to growing grapes (the Borderies, an area of land just north of Cognac) had succumbed. Their sweet wines were much prized but a terrible frost in 1766 enabled their rivals in Sauternes, south of Bordeaux, to replace their offerings.

Even before the French Revolution the Cognaçais were not unduly hampered by feudal restrictions. After the death of King Francis 1 the Cognaçais were affected by religious wars. Jarnac, a few miles upstream, was a centre for Protestants, the scene of a crucial battle and later of Protestant redoubt which provided a natural link with the Huguenot mafia, so important for European trade. Even in the 18th century when the Protestants were not officially tolerated, the Cognaçais refused to help the authorities search them out. The region had become prosperous and socially homogeneous.