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The Charente Scene

  • The Charente Scene - Winter 2019

    Cognac regionOfficial figures for the bumper 2018 harvest have yet to be published but it is anticipated that for the first time ever, the quantity of eau de vie produced will exceed 1 million hectolitres of pure alcohol. Despite the much-publicised growth in cognac sales over recent years, sales over the last 3 months, including Christmas, have been down, year on year. In particular, exports to North America and China have been affected with the latter seeing a 4% reduction. The authorities in China are trying to reduce their imports across the board so this is likely to be a contributing factor. Interestingly though, Bordeaux wine has also seen a drop of 13% in sales worldwide during the Winter 2019.

  • The Charente Scene - Autumn 2017

    Harvest in The Charente

    The CharenteHarvest this year in the Charente region was particularly early.  It started on 10th September when historically, the average date is 23rd September.  According to the BNIC it is expected to be the smallest harvest since 1945 due to various weather conditions, in particular the late frost in May.  They say that the vineyards not damaged by frost can expect 110 to 120 hectolitres per hectare of wine, whereas the frozen vineyard areas will only make 40 to 50 hl/ha - normally, the average is over 100 hl/ha.  Our friends in the region tell us that even though they escaped the frost, the skins are tough and the grapes have not filled out much due to lack of sunshine.

    BNIC

    Better news may come from the BNIC shortly as they are looking for a new president.  The bookies favourite is Patrick Raguenaud, the president of Grand Marnier.

  • The Charente Scene - Summer 2017

    The CharenteMuch of the news from the Charente recently has been about the severe frosts that occurred at the end of April. The air temperature dropped to between -3 and -4°C on two consecutive mornings, affecting around 70% of the vineyards in the cognac growing region. The frost, which was the worst since 1991, damaged the young shoots emerging from the vines and is thought to have affected 40% of total production. A BNIC spokesman said that in a few cases this year’s grape harvest has been completely wiped out and some growers may find it difficult to recover. To help raise the production level of this depleted grape availability, the BNIC have allowed production levels to rise from 10hl to 12hl of pure spirit per hectare. However, some growers, who concentrate on the high quality of their vines, believe this is far more than their vines can produce. We shall wait and see but one consequence could be an increase in cognac prices next year.

  • The Charente Scene - Spring 2017

    The CharenteThe 31st of March in the Cognac region (also known as The Charente) is the last day in the year when cognacs may be distilled from the wines produced from the previous grape harvest. Most will have been distilled in the last part of 2016 but larger vineyards will have continued distilling through to this year. On the 1st of April, all the cognacs from the 2016 harvest will move from age ‘compte 00’ to ‘compte 0’. In one year’s time, they will become ‘compte 1’ and a year after that ‘compte 2’ etc.. The 2016 harvest was good and both quality and quantity are said to be above expectations - always music to our ears. However, most of it will be purchased by the big houses, probably in about a year’s time. Market demand for VS and VSOP is such that it will be blended along with thousands of others and probably sold around 2020.

  • The Charente Scene - Winter 2017

    Christmas is always a time in The Charente when the end of year figures are important, both financially and commercially, to assess the sales and market growth. In a way, the Christmas lights and festivities in the town mean more to its main industry, cognac, than they do to its people since the holiday period is only for two days and very few people take extended holidays. However, cognac is by far the biggest industry in the town and the prosperity of the people depends very much on the success of the industry.

    Over 90% of all cognac produced is exported to other countries. It is estimated that value gains over this last year will be 2.3% higher and volume gains 3.6% higher. Remy Martin and Martell were the biggest winners in the market with sales growth over the previous year of 15.15% and 13.99% respectively. The biggest loser was Courvoisier who posted a 3.7% decline in growth. Christmas celebrations this year should have been relatively joyous in the town as it prepares to take on the whisky and white spirits market.

  • The Charente Scene - Autumn 2016

    Major Houses Require More Vines in The Charente

    Hennessy, with sales to America alone of 4 million cases of mainly VS and VSOP a year, have successfully pressed the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) for an increase of 1% in new vine plantings. This increase is the biggest ever approved by the Bureau and represents an increase of around 800 hectares. The vines are to be planted next spring and will be ready for their first harvest in three years’ time. With yields of around 9.5 hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha) it means that growers will be able to produce a further 7,500 hl of pure spirit. The crop this year looks as if the quality will be high and although there was some hot sun earlier, the quantity available should be up to the current maximum level permitted of 9.5 hl/ha. Good news for the cognac industry in The Charente Scene this autumn.

  • The Charente Scene - Summer 2016

    The Charente SceneWe have come to expect the Charente to have relatively calm and normal weather at this time of the year but heavy rain and hail storms have hit the region, as they did 2 years ago. The storms, which caused much damage and flooding in Paris, went through Grande Champagne in a north easterly direction. The vines in Gimeux were wiped out by hailstones the size of one’s fist and it has been estimated by the BNIC that between 12 – 15% of the total region was damaged. Although the storms have had a significant effect, they are not expected to have created a crisis since the top cru, Grande Champagne, has been producing greater quantities of wine in recent years. It now has about 75,000 hectares of vines planted which provide around 750,000 hectolitres of pure alcohol. To put it another way, sufficient to make around 25 million bottles of cognac, some of which may not mature until 2100!

  • The Charente Scene - Spring 2016

    It seems that in order to get a bit more brand awareness, some cognac houses on the Charente Scene have been changing their image. Larsen has updated its style and changed its strapline from ‘Cognac of the Vikings’ to ‘Spirit of Adventure’. Hine has changed its colour from purple to gold and moved away from ‘Vintage Cognacs’ to ‘Maison fondée en 1763’. Not content with one brand update they have reintroduced the salamander to one of their other brands, Monnet, and repackaged it in fresh blue and white. Brand changes for Deau and Tessendier with their Park range of blends continue the theme but what difference will it make? Here at Hermitage Cognacs we believe in brand longevity so the only change we make on the labels is for a new age statement, like the Hermitage 1965.

  • The Charente Scene - Winter 2016

    Very much as expected, the grape harvest in 2015 is producing one of the best and biggest quantities of distilled spirit ever.  It looks like the total will be well over 800,000hl, indicating a record year.  Despite this, many distillers are fearful of a new demand on cognac from export markets, especially the USA where a record 4.3 million cases (51.6 million bottles) were sold last year. The US market is predominantly led by Hennessy whose share is 67%, the majority of which is of VS quality.  It has been made popular by influential rappers such as Nas and Jay-Z and the trend seems to be increasing.  Many of the distillers who sell their cognacs to Hennessy believe that surges in demand, such as that from China a few years ago, will lead to their instability; the current large production requirement may not be needed in 2 -3 years’ time.  In contrast, many of the Hermitage vintages have been aged for decades and are now in extremely short supply.  Take a look at the Hermitage 1903 for example, only a couple of bottles remain.

  • The Charente Scene - Autumn 2015

    Strange, in our last edition we commented how attitudes had changed in the Charente vineyards as the wet and cold weather had changed to warm and dry.  We went from doom and gloom to great optimism and indeed the current news on the harvest is that it will beat last year’s whopping 770,000 hl pure alcohol.  Many are predicting that it will exceed 800,000 hectolitres of pure alcohol or 112 million bottles at 40%.  So far so good but there is a problem.  It seems that the markets, especially those in the Far East and Russia, have not increased and some have dropped in their purchases of cognac.  Now we have more than we can sell and the growers are worried that the big houses will not buy their cognacs.  Guess what, its doom and gloom again over there!

    Read more cognac industry news on our blog.

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