These varieties aren’t currently approved by the Cognac AOC, but the rules have been changed elsewhere in France.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated April 01, 2020

Shifting grape varieties to combat the negative effects of climate change has been a recurring theme in the wine industry. In 2018, France even altered its AOC rules to allow new varieties of grapes specifically for this reason. And now, a new battle line has been revealed: Cognac. Producers of the French brandy are now considering changing rules to allow them to use more resilient varieties of grapes.

The region’s Ugni blanc grape—which accounts for 98 percent of vines—is ripening too quickly in the increasingly hotter and dryer summers, according to The Guardian. “There is more extreme weather in Cognac than there used to be,” Patrick Raguenaud, president of the BNIC, Cognac’s governing body, was quoted as saying. “We would sometimes have hail, but not this big.”

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Baptiste Loiseau—cellar master at Remy Martin, one of Cognac’s best-known producers alongside iconic names like Courvoisier and Hennessy—further explained the problem. “The grapes are ripening much sooner than they used to,” he told the British paper. “What is key is the balance between sugar and acidity. In cognac we need a lot of acidity to maintain the conservation of the wine because we are not using sulphur.”

Producers have reportedly already started harvesting Ugni blanc grapes earlier—in September instead of October—to combat over-ripening, but beyond that, they only have so many options. Cognac must be grown in the Cognac region, and the allowed grape varieties are strictly regulated. One of those factors may have to give, and, apparently, swapping grapes is easier than relocating. The Guardian reports that producers like Remy Martin and Martell have started experimenting with grapes not currently allowed by the AOC—all with the support of the BNIC.

“We need to prepare as an industry to be resilient and we need to manage long-term actions—we need to experiment,” Pierre Joncourt, vice-president of cognac at Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët, told the paper. “Then, we need to engage all the stakeholders, all the winegrowers [to] do something really consistent at a regional level.”

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