Call it what you like: Climate change, global warming, a natural occurrence–it doesn’t matter how you dress it up. The irrefutable proof is that our climate is changing. And it’s a big problem.

Cognac and Climate Change: Adapt and Move Forward

And in France, and let’s talk specifically about our little South-Western corner, there is no doubt that the temperature is gradually creeping up. Well, unless you talk about the summer of 2017, that is, which was particularly dismal and one that seemed to never stop raining. That alone brought along it’s own challenges for the Cognac farmers.

Cognac and Climate Change: Adapt and Move Forward

Cognac grapes in danger

To make good Cognac, you need to produce acidic wine. And therein lies the problem. The warmer the climate becomes, the less acidic the grapes are. Instead they become higher in sugar. And such grapes do not make for good Cognac.

If the seasonal temperature rises early on, this leads to the vines coming into bud sooner than usual. They are then at high risk of being destroyed by late frosts and hail. This is a secondary issue, but one that’s no less important.

Another huge threat for the Cognac grapes are insects, bugs, and diseases that breed way more when temperatures rise. Also, when temperatures don’t drop in the winter, bugs don’t get killed off for the coming season and keep multiplying. This could potentially lead to an increased use of pesticides, which is a prospect we are not at all into.

Challenges for the Cognac industry

The problems affecting Cognac differ from those of other wine makers. The reason for this being that Cognac can only be made from grapes grown in this limited geographical region. So whereas other wine regions can consider planting new vines in other areas, this option simply isn’t available to the Cognac farmer.

Cognac and Climate Change: Adapt and Move Forward

Instead, the industry has been adapting. For instance with earlier harvests. On average, the harvest today is a massive 10-20 days earlier than it was 30 years ago.

Innovate and move forward

Of course, earlier harvesting is only a short term solution. Companies such as Courvoisier, Hennessy, and Rémy Martin are looking for ways to fight this continuing challenge. One such way is by experimenting with different varieties of grape, as well as testing different soils.

Cognac and Climate Change: Adapt and Move Forward

The difficulty is that the terroir of the region differs dramatically in soil quality. Issues in Grande Champagne will not be exactly the same for those in the Fins Bois growth area, for example. Experiments are being carried out as we speak, although there won’t be any definitive results until at least 2021, according to the BNIC.

The Cognac industry has fought and overcome natural disasters in the past, such as the phylloxera crisis where the majority of the vines were lost. Locals are scared to face new pests or natural catastrophes, which could potentially ruin their vineyards–and their livelihoods.

The more mature a vine becomes, the better placed it is to deal with warmer climates and lack of water. But it takes time for a vine to age–just as it takes time for Cognac to while away the years in a barrel.

Cognac and Climate Change: Adapt and Move Forward

Cognac is, and has always been, a product that takes patience and time. And the producers of this iconic French brandy are going to need these attributes by the bucket load, that’s for sure. Man against nature, versus the slow, yet relentless, ticking of the clock.

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what solutions the scientists and experts can come up with. But no-one can deny that it’s a worrying time for the industry. Of course, Cognac Expert will keep you updated with the latest news, as and when it happens. And we’re truly hopeful that the producers will utilize every possibility to find a way around what is a very 21st century issue.

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Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

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