Unlock the secrets of making spirits
Winter is a key time for the vineyards that produce the grapes from which cognac is distilled – it’s this season that imbues cognac with its unique character. So, if you were wondering what is there to do in Charentes during the winter-time, you need wonder no more!
Welcome to Europe’s largest white grape-growing region!
Open doors time for our distilleries
Cognac’s hallmark is its manufacturing process whereby white wines are distilled twice in copper pot stills. It’s during the winter months that the real magic happens – the ideal time for cognac-makers to introduce the public to the old-world charm of their distilleries. Against a backdrop of copper stills and the low hum that these produce, these experts will give you a glimpse into their world and the passion and craftsmanship that go into making cognac a top-quality product that’s famous the world-over. Why not have a look at the different events on the menu at the ‘Distilleries Festival’ organized by the ‘Etapes du Cognac’, a non-profit body which promotes wine tourism in the Cognac region.
Making cognac – an age-old art
From December to March, it’s all go in the Cognac region, with the distilleries in constant operation. The first distillation produces what is called the ‘brouillis’, from the French word for cloudy, which is an apt description of its appearance at this stage. Next, this liquid is redistilled, this second stage being known as the ‘bonne chauffe’ (literally, ‘the good heating’). The first part of the distillate is called the heads, which have a very high alcohol content. This is set aside. Then comes the ‘heart’ cut, a clear, fragrant spirit, which is aged in oak barrels to create cognac.
Up close and personal with the cognac experts
Distillers take wine and distil it to produce a spirit. There’s something almost magical about how they manage their copper stills, (which must be heated by a naked flame), watch over the ‘chauffe’ and make the ‘cuts’ at just the right time. Up to the month of March, distillers offer a window onto their world by means of the various activities of ‘Les distilleries en fêtes’ (The Distilleries Festival). This includes everything from distillery tours to lots of original events for people to get involved in. Have breakfast beside a copper still, set off on the discovery of the aromas associated with cognac through a scent workshop, enjoy a delicious brûlot Charentais (a flaming coffee with cognac) – the choice is yours.
Another profession is critical to creating this most delicate of spirits – that of the cooper. Why not call in on a cooperage and see at first-hand how the oak barrels in which cognac is aged are made?
Wind your way through Cognac’s vineyards
The Cognac grape-growing region in winter-time offers a perfect backdrop to getting away from it all in a Citroen 2CV, a buggy or even on foot…The local cognac-makers aren’t short of ideas to help you explore the countryside of the Charente, a place where the sweet aromas of cognac hang enticingly in the air.
Distilleries are also becoming stops on the culture trail, hosting shows, concerts, artists’ events and exhibitions. A visit to the Musée des Arts du Cognac and/or the Espace Découvertes en Pays de Cognac (examining the Cognac industry and local history and heritage) is also highly recommended for anyone wanting to know more about the so-called ‘spirit of the gods’!
Cognac: where flavours run riot…
Whether in the kitchens of local chefs or cognac-makers themselves, cognac and numerous local food products are a match made in heaven: truffles, foie gras, chocolate, caviar, trout and more besides… The Cognac grape-growing region is the place to come to treat your taste-buds to culinary experiences they’ll never forget in the shape of cocktail-making workshops and cognac and food pairing events!
See the full Distilleries Festival program of events