Cognac and Climate Change: Interview Part 2

Cognac-Expert.com and Cellarblog.com thought it would be interesting to find out a bit more about climate, vineyards and cognac. So we interviewed Jean-Baptiste Pinard, the producer of the biological cognac Guy Pinard & Fils.

The interview is split in two parts, read the first part here – the second part you read below.

Second Part of the Interview

Question: Jean-Baptiste, what kind of effect does extreme heat have on the actual grape juice, and if there is one, what would be the effect to the wine, and finally to the eaux-de-vie?

Guy Pinard & Fils: First effect is on the crop yield: for now, we don’t have an accurate idea. It will depend, in part, on the amount of rain that will fall during August’s storms.

Grilled Cognac Grapes

Grilled Cognac Grapes

Second is about the date of harvest: The beginning of September usually has hot days, and if grapes are harvested at high temperatures, grape juice is too hot to ferment (brew) properly. For now, many Cognac winegrowers don’t have material to lower the temperature of grape juice, but it will probably be necessary in the future.

Another effect: high temperature years make more sweet juices, with a high level of sugar and low level of acidity (both are usually correlated). But it’s known that we need high acidity to make good eau-de-vie. For this reason, AOC Cognac limits the level of sugar at average 12% abv potential in juice.

But there are two good effects of high temperatures years:

– No rain during the vine flowering provide us a – potential – good level of production;
– This year, there is no hilliness at all in the vineyard (fungal diseases need water to grow) and there is also no problem with weeds ;
– Before 80’s, the major disaster in Cognac vineyard was the spring frost: winegrowers were very frightened by this disease. Since the 80’s, we can say we have good harvest with no sever climate damage.

Q: Weather conditions are critical and have an important impact on agriculture. What were the most extreme weather conditions in the history of Charente you can remember (from drought, ice rain to storms) – and how did those translate to the region?

G P&F: In 1980 (notthat long ago), the harvest occurred at the end of October when temperatures suddenly dropped to under minus 7°C: grapes were frozen in the vineyard. We are far away from this situation today…

Temperature Climate Change, Source: BNIC

Q: The climate changes, and the rumour has it that in some time, theoretically, it would be possible to grow vineyards & produce Champagne in England. What happens to the cognac region in 300 years?

G P&F: In 300 years… Cognac has been produced in the Charente region since about 300 years, I bet the Cognac terroir will continue producing coveted eaux-de-vie in 300 years!

Of course, we can observe significant changes with climate, but we have to remember many other changes that have occurred in Cognac vineyards. For example the 1870’s Phyloxera crisis was more severe than the current climate shift. During this period, the Cognac region reacted and found a solution. I’m sure it will be the same with climate changes: Cognac can only be produced in a small area in the world and nobody – consumers and winegrowers – wants Cognac to disappear.

Cognac Vineyard Guy Pinard

Cognac Vineyard Guy Pinard

Q: If you could order your customized weather, what would be the perfect condition from seeding, flowering and harvest for the grapes you need for your cognac?

G P&F: The recipe is quite simple and corresponds to Charente Oceanic main climate: a lot of rain during winter and spring to build water reserves in the subsoil; no more frost after March when vines begin to grow; no rain and a gentle wind during the flowering; sunny and hot temperatures during July and August; good rain storms at the end of August; refreshing temperatures during the harvest and until distillation.

Missed the first part of the interview? Read the first part, here.

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