As the effects of climate change have been increasingly experienced by winemakers, cognac houses are working together to try and tackle their own set of problems.
Courvoisier, Hennessy and Rémy Martin have created a research committee to plant test sites with the Monbadon grape in a collective effort to address global warming.
One of the key requirements for any grapes used to make cognac is that they are high in acidity – a key characteristic of Ugni Blanc, which comprises the majority of vineyard plantings in Cognac.
However, as the temperatures are rising with global warming, these acid levels in the grapes are at risk of being compromised.
‘We’ve so far been able to compensate for global warming by doing an earlier harvest,’ Benoît De Sutter, master distiller at Courvoisier, told Imbibe. ‘In 30 years, the date of the harvest has moved 10 days earlier.’
While the shifting of the start of harvest has so far worked, cognac producers realise that they need a longer-term solution, and so are looking at alternative grape varieties.
‘We planted areas with Monbadon and a mix of Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche in April 2015, testing different soils,’ De Sutter continued. ‘Courvoisier’s vines are planted in the Fins Bois region, while Hennessy and Rémy Martin’s are in Grande Champagne.
‘We’re doing the research to find whether the aromatic profile of Monbadon will be similar to Ugni Blanc. We already know that it has a higher level of acidity and lower level of alcohol than Ugni Blanc.’
The first crop of Monbadon will be harvested in 2018, and the resulting eau de vie will then be aged for a minimum of a further three years. The overall experiment will take nine years.
‘It’s a very long experiment, but it’s for us to be ready in 30 years when global warming will really impact us,’ explained De Sutter.
A spokesperson for the Station Viticole at the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac spoke to Imbibe about their own work on the matter. ‘An increase of 1°C in the maximum daytime temperature during the growing period of the vine – from April to August – results in about a 10-day advancement for the harvest in the Cognac vineyards. To anticipate these changes, the cognac profession is performing selections among the Ugni Blanc variety, looking for plants with a later harvest date and a higher acidity level.’
With a cross-region approach to the problem, it’s hopeful that cognac producers will find a way to face the issues that global warming throws at them.