The history of Cognac actually starts in the third century. The region and the beverage Cognac has a long history and involves all kind of nations, merchants, kings and aristocrats, natural catastrophes, wars and cold winters. Despite all this, the product kept getting better and better, century after century. Read the full history of Cognac, “the spirit of the gods”.
The first vines in the region
First century: Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus forbids cultivating wine
III. century: Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus reintroduces the law and grants the Gallic people to own vineyards and to produce wine.
XII. century: Guillaume X., the Duke of Guyenne and Poitiers, orders to plant vineyards in the region of Poitou Charente.
1204: First merchants from La Rochelle come to England to sell wine.
1270: Salt and wine from the region of Saintonge are traded in Hamburg (Hanse).
13th century: The Frapin family settles in the region of Charente.
1337: With the beginning of the 100 Year War between England and France, wine from the Charente region is exported to Great Britain.
1411: First, ‘brandy’ is distilled in the region of Armagnac. The consumers are mainly farmers.
1494: Francois I. (later on to become King of France) is born in Cognac. Years later, Francois will allow Cognac to trade salt by using the local rivers such as the Charente river.
XI. century: Dutch merchants buy wine from the Champagne and Borderies area and ship them to the Netherlands. But they soon had to realise that wine suffers from transportation – so the Dutch started to distill the wine and call it Brandwijn. But distilling the wine was only a means for transportation, in order for them to be able to transport more. For consumption back in the Netherlands, they would add water again.
1500: Hieronymus Brunschweig from Alsace publishes the “Liber de arte destillandi” in Strasbourg: The book about the art of distilling. Even though the book deals with distilling from a medical point of view, it describes the technique of distillation.
1548: Farmers and aristocrats revolt against the salt tax in France.
1549: The first brandy appears in Cognac: Historian André Castelot reports about a merchant from La Rochelle, who produced four casks of good Cognac.
The word “Brandy” appears
1559: The vineyards of the Aunis region produce too much wine, as demands are much lower than the amount produced. At the same time people now know that wine suffers from too long transportation ways. The Dutch are already using wine in their distilleries, so the excess amounts of the Aunis wine are being distilled. The word Brandwijn leads to the word Brandy.
1571: Second appearance of an eau-de-vie in Cognac: A Serazin purchase is noted.
1624: Two Dutchmen, Van Der Boogwert and Loo Deyijck, found a distillery in Tonnay.
1636: Another riot occurs: the taxes on wine were simply too high. As a consequence the farmers were not able to sell their wine.
XII. century: Wine merchants test the ‘double distillation’: the eau-de-vie is distilled twice. Originally, the double distillation process was done because of lower transport costs, as it lead to less quantity and volume. This meant more space on the ships.
In the 17th century the Cognac was already transported in oak casks. This is when merchants found out that the taste of the beverage changed when stored in barrels.
The legend of the discovery of the eau-de-vie is a slightly different story: A knight (called Chevalier) lived in the area of Ségonzac and had the idea to distill wine. A little more romantic…
1638: Lewes Roberts mentions a wine called Rotchell or Cogniacke
1643: Philippe Augier founds Cognac Augier, 15 years later on the company is turned into Augier Frères
Cogniack first mentioned in London Gazette
1678: Cogniack Brandy is mentioned in the London Gazette
1696: Louis XIV. grants the family of Frapin a high aristocratic status
18th century: first trading houses are founded. They acquire eaux-de-vie (spirits) to resell them to buyers in Northern Europe, Netherlands and England
1709: The vineyards of Saintonge are destroyed by a very cold winter
1710: The historian Claude Masse claims that a man from La Rochelle invents the double distillation
1715: Jean Martell founds Martell Cognac. His family comes from the island of ‘Jersey’
1724: Paul-Emilie Rémy Martin and his father Jean Geay found Cognac Rémy Martin
1725: Isaac Ranson founds a trading house in the town of Cognac. The goods are shipped to Ireland and Holland
05.06.1731: Louis XV. forbids planting of vineyards without authorization
Cognac Export rises
1742: Cognac exports rises
1762: James Delamain becomes a partner of Ransom & Delamain in Jarnac
1765: James Hennessy, a former army officer under Louis XV., founds Cognac Hennessy
1779: There are now ten trading houses in the centre of the town of Cognac.
1783: More and more aging of Cognac takes place in oak barrels from the Limousin area
1794: Hennessy exports to Northern America, New York
1795: James Hennessy marries Marthe Martell; Baron Jean-Baptiste Antoine Otard and Jean Dupuy found Cognac Otard
Hine and Delamain
1797: Thomas Hine and Elisabeth Delamain marry
19th century: Cognac is no longer sold in barrels but in bottles. This leads to the birth of a whole new industry: bottles, cork. By the end of the 19th century the wine fretter catastrophe happens: 280.000 hectares of wineyards go down to 40.000 hectares.
1817: The classification of V.O.P. (Very old pale) and V.S.O.P. (very superior old pale) are used; Cognac Thomas Hine & Co is founded
1819: Cognac Bisquit is founded by Alecandre Bisquit
1833: King Louis Philippe receives his first cask of Pineau de Charentes
1835: Felix Courvoisier and Louis Gallois found Cognac Courvoisier in Jarnac
1848: Poet Alfred de Vigny produces his own Cognac at La Maine Giraud
1849: Martell uses for the first time labels on Cognac bottles
1850: Cognac is shipped to Australia
1854: The maps of the Cognac region show four different zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Premier Bois and Deuxième Bois
1855: Hennessy works together with Poilly Brigode in Folembray, the company produces bottles
1856: Hennessy starts to label bottles
1858: Cognac A.E. Dor is founded in Jarnac
1861: Martell sells its Cognac in Shanghai, China
1863: Cognac Camus is founded by Jean-Baptiste Camus
1864: Hennessy registers its name and trademark: it shows an ax in a hand
1865: Auguste Hennessy uses stars for his Cognacs
1870: the maps of the wine region of Cognac show the zones of Fins Bois and Bons Bois
End of 19th Century: Cognac is exported to Bombay, India
Destruction of Cognac vineyards
1872: The wine fretter appears in the region of Charente. Because of the destruction of Cognac vineyards, the Whisky market grows.
1876: Courvoisier labels its bottles
1877: There are about 300.000 hectares of vineyard in the region of Cognac
1878: Claude Boucher introduces a technique of producing bottles
1889: Cognac Frapin and Cognac Courvoisier receive gold medals at the tradeshow in Paris
1890: Because of the wine fretter, the vineyards of Charente are down to 46.000 hectares and also in 1890 : Hennessy is world market leader
20th century: Grape-vines are imported from Northern America, Ugni Blanc replaces Folle Blanche and Colombard. The production of Cognac become more restricted and controlled.
1909: Six Cognac areas are defined by law and protected
1923: Cognac brands Hennessy and Martell begin to exchange information about export markets. The knowledge agreement lasts 29 years.
1927: the words Fine Champagne appear on Rémy Martin V.S.O.P. bottles
1930: Cocktails with Cognac become popular
1934: Courvoisier uses the historic person of Napoleon to market its Cognac
1936: New rules for Cognac production: the wine for distillation must be produced out of white grapes. The addition of sugar is strictly forbidden.
1946: The Bureau National Interprofessionel de Cognac (BNIC) is founded
1964: Canadian Hiriam-Walker group acquires Courvoisier
1967: Pernod Ricard acquires Cognac Bisquit
1971: Hennessy and Moet-Chandon merge and Cognac Hine is acquired by The Distillers Limited Company
1986: Allied Domecq buys Courvoisier
1987: Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) is founded, Hine is integrated
1988: Seagram acquires Cognac Martell
US-Hiphop rescues Cognac
1993: 87.313 hectares of wine exist in the region of Cognac
1990’s: Busta Rhymes releases his song “Pass the Courvoisier” which leads to a massive upshift in cognac sales in the US.
2001: Seagram (Martell) is acquired by Pernod Ricard and Diageo; and Hennessy broke the sales record with 35 million bottles sold worldwide.
1995 – 2000: The market of the US becomes more and more important for the Cognac industry: Rappers and HipHop musicians make the beverage extremly popular in the US.
2005: Moet Hennessy wins a trial in China: Hanlissy-Cognac is forbidden
2008: LVMH acquired a 55% stake in one of China’s top producers, Wenjun Distillery.
2010: China becomes the largest market for Hennessy cognacs, in terms of value.
2011: Moet Hennessy has announced the planting of its first vineyard in China in partnership with Ningxia Nongken (the state owned agricultural company).
The Golden Age of Cognac
Today, Cognac is one of the most important export products of France, 98% of the produced cognac is exported. While the US became the most important market in the 90’s, in 2012 Asia, especially China, becomes the most important market for Cognac.