The Saintonge vineyards were probably created in the last quarter of the 3rd century A.D. It was when the Roman emperor Probus extended the privilege.
Since the end of the Middle Ages, the wine trade had been developed from the port of Bordeaux.
The marriage of Alienor of Aquitaine with Henry Plantagenet had thrown the Guyenne over to the English, who established, in the 18th century, a monopoly of the wine production and commercialization in Aquitaine.
Facing this competition, the North European merchants developed, with the Dutch impetus, two new wine-growing regions :
- - one to the south of Bordeaux, which later became the Gers vineyard (Armagnac), with an access to the sea via Adour basin,
- - the other one to the north of Bordeaux, in the Charentes (Cognac), its production having been transported on the river Charente and from the port of La Rochelle.
Wine was then indispensable to provide daily drinking needs for the sailors, who were making long sea voyages and who couldn't keep their drinking water for very long. During the second half of the 16th century, many Dutch ships came to the Charente to look for the famous "Champagne" and "Borderies" vintages.
In the 17th century, the Dutch acquired a habit of importing the Charente vineyard's products in the form of brandy, which meant a reduced cargo volume and was thus cheaper to transport. Once mixed with water, this product recieved the name of "Brandywine". It was also noticed that this brandy, traditionally kept in cask, improved with age and could be drank dry.
That's how the "cognac" was born.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, certain enterprising merchants founded, in principal region's cities, trading posts and started to export their cognac to the North America, West Indies and Indian Ocean Islands.
Toward 1830, these companies acquired little by little a habit of exporting the cognac in bottles instead in casks. Apart from the specificities of each production, different kinds of cognac were distinguished by their origin and their age.
It's slightly larger than 80,000 hectares in the Charente and Charente-Maritime and is exploited by more than 20,000 winegrowers.
The region is divided into the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fine bois, Bon bois and Bois Ordinaires ; however, knowing that most of cognacs are mixtures of different origins, these appellations are only of a relative importance.
The cognac's age
As it gets better over the years, one can find on the market these appellations of origin :
- - the V.S. (Very special) or ***, which can be sold at the age of 2 years
- - the V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), 5 years of age at least
- - the Napoléon and X.O. (Extra Old), at least 4 years old, but often much older.