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The Cognac Process – Part 7. A Change in the Law

In the decades after the fall of Napoleon, newly rich merchants like Messrs Otard and Dupuy built large houses in the woods around the town and with the growth of other firms, such as Martell and Hennessy, the town expanded beyond its walls. It was these big houses who set the price at which the growers would sell their brandies to the merchants who formed hereditary relationships with the growers. They were bound not by contracts but by the habit of regular trading between them in an agreed form and style of cognac. In 1857 the merchant’s position was strengthened by a new law which allowed them to register their trademarks and thus assert their own individuality. Previously most cognacs, especially those sold in Britain, had been sold under the names of the merchants who had imported them in cask, rather as buyers’ own brands are today.

The reduction of customs duties in 1861-62 heralded a brief period of glory when sales tripled in 15 years to nearly 65 million bottles annually. Britain was the biggest market but everywhere in the world, from Latin America to Tsarist Russia, cognac became the most fashionable of spirits and the Charente became the biggest vineyard in France.