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Sustainable Wine Review: Where Are All The Organic Cognacs?

I love a challenge.  When I read that The Cognac Board and The Palate Press Advertising Network were running a blogger writing contest I was intrigued.  I haven’t given much thought to Cognac or sustainability trends among Cognac producers.  Was there a post here?

When it comes to sustainability and cognac, organic seems to be where most efforts in that region are focused. I’ve written about how organic wine grapes are not the be-all-and-end-all in sustainable wine trends, but organics for cognac are undoubtedly a good thing (we know that organic vine agriculture most certainly leads to improved quality.) Curiously, not much can be found about other sustainability efforts among cognac producers. For example, I found only one example of a cognac house that still hand picks its grapes. And no mention of water conservation, energy efficiencies, transportation or even goats.

Why the lack of news around sustainability efforts? It may be due the fact that, according to Slate, 90% of cognac is produced by only four companies: CourvoisierHennessyMartell, and Rémy Martin. A post in Cognac Expert points out that although the main cognac houses have experimented with organic agriculture, they are reluctant to engage in organic methods since “organic vine agriculture is less productive than chemical one.” As always, the costs of additional labor and time in the vineyard are the culprits. I’m also sure the marketing folks at the big four know that it doesn’t make sense to put an organic label on wine or spirits. So, we have to look yet again, to indie producers. And there are a few.

One such producer is Guy Pinard & Fils which has produced award-winning organic cognac since 1969. Although owner Jean Baptiste Pinard wouldn’t say that organic methods make a better tasting Cognac, he offers this:

[Organic methods] … is a philosophy and an approach which strongly involves the producers “savoir-faire” and leads to authentic and sound products…[it] combines the best of the tradition and innovation.”

Sadly, however, very little organic Cognac is available in the United States. One that is available in the US is Leopold Gourmel BIO Attitude Certified Organic Cognac, a new entrant to the organic Cognac category. Last year Luxist wrote: “Gourmel’s process completely excludes the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers, other than natural ones; in effect a return to the way cognac was made centuries ago before the advent of the machine age.”

Cognac house Berard Blanchard, which has been organic since 1972, puts it nicely (as the French often do): “A vineyard “organic” is raised more carefully, more slowly than others. Cleaning and care are most often at hand; grown without any chemicals, it breathes “his” smell and juice it produces, we can expect the same sincerity.”

And, for those of you who want to know how to read Cognac labels…

  • V.S. (Very Special) or ✯✯✯ (three stars), which can be sold at the age of 2 years
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), at least 5 years of age
  • Napoléon and X.O. (Extra Old), at least 4 years of age, but often much older

As for the contest, it turns out that I missed the contest rule: Stories should not relate to specific brands. Oh well, I guess I won’t be going on a grand tour of Cognac this year.  At least I learned all about organic Cognacs.

2 comments
  1. Theo

    thanks for the article. organic cognac is indeed an interesting topic. just one quick correction, and admitted, it’s a complicated subject: the ageing and grades how you described it here is not quite correct.

    it’s actually like this: the youngest brandy in the blend is at least X years old…

    VS 2 years minimum
    VSOP 4 years minimum
    XO/Napoleon 6 years minimum, soon to be 10 years minimum

    see here http://blog.cognac-expert.com/vs-vsop-xo-what-does-mean-napoleon-grade-blending/

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