Over the years we have built many relationships with suppliers and friends in the Charente and particularly in Grande Champagne. Although it is some months since we have been able to travel to France, we still talk frequently to them by phone and they, like ourselves, are having to cope with the difficulties that the coronavirus has created this Spring. Cognac producers and bottlers are having to prove that they are producing to get paid as the French authorities are worried about the cost to the country. Talking to one organisation, their concern is the receipt of orders as much of their business comes from the Far East. However, they are delighted to have received their first orders from Taiwan and Japan. Delivering orders is another challenge as European distribution organisations are finding that crossing borders takes longer than usual. All the big houses are continuing to bottle and ship cognac, except Hennessy. Their employees have gone on strike for safer working conditions. The industry has so far lost sales of over a million cases which of course has affected the side industries such as barrel producers and bottle suppliers. And if these problems were not enough, many producers woke up at the beginning of March to a covering of snow! The air force base in Cognac has also been helping during the crisis; 2000 extra staff have been taken on to ship food in and in some cases, cognac out. So, if things get desperate, we can always ask for direct supplies from Cognac to be parachuted in!!!
The Charentais have returned from their holidays confident in the knowledge that last years’ exports of cognac reached record highs. They are now busy worrying about when they can start the cognac harvest. The weather has been good and the vines have ripened well, the sun is shining and there is every prospect of another good harvest in Autumn 2019. Harvesting machines are at the ready and the grapes have been tested for their pH and sugar content, so what’s stopping them? Well, for one cognac producer, the discovery of 140 million year old dinosaur bones under the vines of his vineyard near Angeac has resulted in a group of scientists moving in. It is believed that the bones are from one of the biggest dinosaurs ever found in France and are just a little older than the oldest Hermitage cognac currently available on the market!
It seems that we haven’t got enough variations on the theme of cognac as Courvoisier are extending their range of cask finished cognac drinks. Of course, any cognac which is produced outside the rules established over the last hundred or so years, cannot be called cognac. However, consumers have come to recognise the big brand labels and happily buy what they believe to be cognac, when it has actually been finished in a cask that has held a different alcoholic beverage. Courvoisier, in their plight to obscure the taste of their cognac, have recently added a bourbon cask finish cognac drink to their sherry cask cognac drink. One wonders how long it will be before we see port finished cognac drinks, sauterne finished cognac drinks and perhaps even a Caribbean rum finish. Do they really need to hide the flavour of their cognac so badly?