The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) is the organisation whose role is to promote, protect and develop the Cognac Geographic Indication and its culture. In September their technical arm, Station Viticole, reported that one of their research programmes had seen new varieties of vines, resistant to mildew and powdery mildew, harvested in the region. Six experimental plots are the result of 20 years of collective research work in partnership with the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE), the French Institute of Vine and Wine (IFV), and the main producers in the cognac industry. The newly harvested grapes will now be vinified and the wines distilled to help enable a better understanding of the cultural characteristics of these new varieties as well as the oenological qualities of the grapes and the profile of the eaux-de-vie obtained. The Cognac industry has been working for many years to preserve its terroir and natural resources. This long-term research programme, developing new vine varieties, is just part of the plan and in the long term should (1) reduce, by up to 90%, the phytosanitary treatments against mildew and powdery mildew, the main diseases affecting vines (2) produce distillation wines corresponding to the qualitative requirements of cognac production and (3) anticipate the effects of climate change.
Most people associated with cognac are aware that we make it principally with a single grape variety, the Ugni Blanc. Indeed, more than 80% of all cognacs are made only with this grape. However, few people are aware that this is probably the world’s most widely planted grape due largely to its big harvests and reliability against disease and adverse weather conditions. It produces fresh, fruity, very acidic and quite unremarkable wines often used as a base wine in blends. The Ugni Blanc is also known in France as the St Emellion du Charente but in the rest of Europe it is best known as the Trebbiano Toscano.
The Colombard is perhaps one of the more interesting grapes also used in cognac production. It was originally planted in South Africa and known as Colombar and is an offspring of the Chennin Blanc. Some of its many synonyms include Bardino Blanc, Bon Blanc, Chabrier Vert, Colombeau, Gros Blanc Roux, Red Tendre and Quene Vert.
The last remaining of the old varieties still used in cognac is the Folle Blanche. Today, it is only found in France in the regions of The Charente and Gascony but can also be found in Basque country under the name of Mune Mahatsa. It is, like the Ugni Blanc, acidic and quite unremarkable as a wine.
Although rarely seen these days, the other grape varieties that are permitted to be used in cognac production are Juranҫon, Blanc Ramé, Bouilleaux, Balzac Blanc and Chalosse.