Cognac, celebrated throughout the world for centuries, is an eau de vie made from distilled white wine and produced in the region of the same name. Distilled in pot stills, nowadays cognacs are usually blends that seek to convey the finesse and elegance of their base wines.
A French wine-growing region of international renown
Within a century, cognac has become more sophisticated and is now a symbol of French luxury and refinement. Paradoxically, this French success story was orchestrated by wine merchants from all over Europe. Entrepreneurial talent is responsible for this international success. Although cognac’s reputation was built thanks to its traders, this does not lessen the importance that cognac houses place on their land and their vines. Some, often the smallest producers, highlight this unique heritage and continue the tradition by communicating the ideals of their profession as growers to the entire world.
A market with many stakeholders
Cognac production brings together people from very different circles: from the wine-maker to the home-distiller who controls each stage of the production process (from the planting of the vines to bottling the cognac) via the <i>négociants</i> (whose production depends a great deal on home-distillers and professional distillers); worlds which are both distinct and intimately linked in the production and marketing of the cognac.
The cognac market is basically structured as follows:
- Owner-producer cognac: from vine cultivation to bottling, these houses cover al aspects and professions of the cognac industry. It is not unusual for those involved to have more than one job. Their destiny is inextricably sealed to the terroir of their estate.
- <i>Négociant propiétaire</i> (merchant-owner) cognac : from vine cultivation to bottling, these houses cover all aspects of the cognac industry. The owner reserves the right, according to market demand, to vary its stocks depending on the age counts, and to buy eaux de vie in bulk for ageing or directly for bottling. Generally, blending takes place before bottling.
- The 100% integrated trading house: the most demanding cognac trading houses are those that go back the furthest in the cognac production chain. And this starts with the wine-maker. Certain houses have well established links, bound by contract with the wine-makers who grow their grapes and produce their wine according to strict specifications. Once the wine is produced, the houses then take over for the following stages. This way of operating allows them to be closer to the finished product, like the owners’ cognac.
- The semi-integrated trading house: this is based on the trading house being able to outsource distillation of the eaux de vie, while conserving the ageing phase: <i>négociant –éleveurs</i> (merchant-producers). These trading houses begin their cognac production by buying in the eaux de vie which they then put into casks in their cellars. Their expertise is implemented from the casking and the ageing process, a determinant phase for final product quality.
- Wine merchants: the wine merchants relies on the producers from whom they buy the finished product (distilled and aged). The merchant’s first job is therefore to select the casks which is generally bottled directly. Generally, blending takes place before bottling.