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Regions of Cognac: Exploring the Prestigious French Terroirs

Regions of Cognac

Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Cognac, often referred to as “the nectar of the gods,” is more than just a drink; it’s a masterpiece crafted in the heart of Southwestern France. 

Before delving into its flavors and craftsmanship, let’s grasp the importance of understanding the different regions of Cognac.

To ensure the utmost accuracy and depth in our exploration, we had the privilege of speaking with a Cognac expert, a seasoned authority in the field. 

What You Need To Know About The Regions Of Cognac

Glass and a Bottle of Cognac

Cognac, the renowned French brandy [1], is produced in six designated regions called “Crus.”

Among these, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne are considered the top-tier regions, famous for producing the highest quality Cognac and fine Champagne. 

Borderies, with its separate terroir, add distinct flavors to the brandy, while Fins Bois region cognac producers offer a mellower character. 

“Cognac is not just a drink; it’s an expression of the terroir, culture, and craftsmanship of the region.” -Liquor Laboratory 

Further out, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires (or Bois à terroir) contribute to Cognac’s diversity with their distinctive profiles. 

Cognac Regions Cheat Sheet

RegionTotal Land SizeMajor CitiesSoil TypeMain Characteristics
Grande Champagne13,450 HaCognac, SegonzacChalkQuite hilly, featuring premier cru chalk soils.
Petite Champagne15,870 HaJonzac, BarbezieuxChalk but more compactedGently sloped, compact, distinct from Grande Champagne.
Borderies4,070 HaBurieClay with flintstonesPlateau terrain with clay soil and flint stones.
Fins Bois33,670 HaAngouleme, Saintes, St-Jean d’AngelyStones, red clay, and limestoneVaried soils: stones, red clay, and limestone.
Bons Bois12,260 HaSaujon, Montlieu-la-GardeClay, sand, and  limestone,Varied soils: limestone, clay, and sand.
Bois Ordinaires1,530 HaLa Rochelle, RochefortSandy Predominantly sandy soils, encompassing Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron
Calum Ecroyd    

6 Cognac Regions

1. Grande Champagne

The Louis XIII de Remy Martin Grande Champagne Cognac

Total Cru Size: 34,700 ha

Vineyards: 13,250 ha

Topography: Rolling hills

Climate: Maritime

Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 17%

Notable Cognac Expressions: Rémy Martin Louis XIII, Delamain Pale & Dry, Hine Antique XO, Frapin XO Chateau de Fontpinot

History:

Grande Champagne is the most renowned among the six crus, often regarded as the finest due to its superior eaux-de-vie. 

The Grande Champagne terroir, nestled in the heart of Cognac’s regions, is primarily characterized by its chalk-rich soil where 

“Champagne” came from the old French word “champagne,” meaning countryside with chalky soils.

This chalk is abundant with exceptional purity and is ideally suited for cultivating grapes grown for making wine

In this Cognac Region, they require substantial aging, typically peaking between 35 to 50 years, and some can excel well beyond 60 years. 

Fun Facts

  • Within Grande Champagne, three distinct chalk types exist Campanian chalk at higher elevations, Angoumous chalk, and Cognacian chalk at various regional points.
  • Grande Champagne’s soils give rise to Cognacs, celebrated for its extreme finesse.
  • Some eau-de-vie from Grande Champagne need a century or more of aging within oak barrels to reach their peak quality, showcasing the region’s commitment to producing the finest Champagne Cognac.

2. Petite Champagne

Man Holding Bottle of Jacques Esteve Petite Champagne Hors d'Age Cognac

Total Cru Size: 65,600 ha

Vineyards: 15,250 ha

Topography: Less hilly with several streams

Climate: Maritime

Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 22%

Notable Cognac Expressions: Normandin Mercier VSOP, Bertrand X, Chateau de Montifaud XO

History

With a percentage of Annual Cognac Production of 22%, the terroir in Petite Champagne primarily comprises compact chalk, covering a larger geographical area than its sibling, Grande Champagne. 

Grapes cultivated in this area yield eaux-de-vie that are light and delicate, featuring predominantly floral aromas. 

Similar to Grande Champagne, eau-dex-vie from Petite Champagne regions require an extended aging period to reach their full maturity.

Fun Facts

  • Surprisingly, the Cognac region is roughly twice the size in terms of area compared to its sibling, Grande Champagne.
  • Petite Champagne shares its borders with Grande Champagne, Borderies, and Fins Bois, creating a unique interplay of terroirs.
  • The eaux-de-vie from this Cognac region reach their peak after aging for a considerable period, typically around 30-40 years.

3. Bois Ordinaires

Total Cru Size: 260,000 ha

Vineyards: 1,066 ha

Topography: Mostly coastal land with two islands

Climate: Maritime

Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 1%

Notable Cognac Expressions: Augier L’Océanique, Camus Ile de Ré Cliffside Cellar

History

Spanning a vast 260,000 hectares of land, this famous region hosts a relatively modest 1066 hectares of land where grapes grown (usually ugni blanc and Folle Blanche) are used for making cognacs [2].

What sets the cognac region apart from this terroir is its rapid aging process, resulting in a pronounced maritime taste that reflects its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Massif Central Foothills. 

Fun Facts

  • Bois Ordinaires covers a larger area than Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderies combined.
  • Like Bons Bois, cognac houses use these soils to produce eaux-de-vie with minimal aging.
  • While Bois Ordinaires (ordinary woods) boasts the fewest plantations of all the crus and contributes only 1% of the annual output, the cognac region offers a unique maritime influence.

4. Fins Bois

Man Drinking Cognac Lheraud 1977 Fins Bois Cognac

Total Cru Size: 350,000 ha

Vineyards: 31,200 ha

Topography: Flatter open land (Former woodlands)

Climate: Maritime

Annual Cognac Production Percentage:43%

Notable Cognac Expressions: Fevrier Réserve Familiale, Leyrat VSOP Réserve

History

Fins Bois (fine woods) holds the title of the largest cru in terms of planted vines and ranks as the second largest by area.

The cognac region contains significantly less chalk content, and the chalk present is of a distinct variety, less porous and akin to the chalk found in the renowned wine regions of Burgundy and Champagne. 

Grapes cultivated in this terroir yield eaux-de-vie known for their rounded, supple character and a bouquet redolent of freshly squeezed fruit.

Fun Facts

  • Fins Bois (fine woods) derives its name from the fact that much of the wine-growing region was covered in woods when the vines were first planted.
  • The cognac region shares the stage with two champagne crus, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaires. However, Cognac produced in these latter regions is of lesser quality and typically not favored by prominent Cognac houses.

5. Bons Bois

Total Cru Size: 370,000 ha

Vineyards: 9,300 ha

Topography: Flat land and valleys

Climate: Maritime

Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 12%

Notable Cognac Expressions: Godet Single-Cru Bons Bois 15 Year, Pineau des Charentes

History

Bons Bois holds a hidden treasure – areas with high-quality chalk deposits that help generate more wine every year.

These spirits undergo an accelerated aging process after double distillation compared to many other Cognac-producing areas, resulting in a unique flavor profile.

Fun Facts

  • The cognac region earns the distinction of being the largest crus in terms of area, yet it contributes to only about 12% of the annual production.
  • The soil composition of the cognac region features a mix of sand and clay.
  • The cognac region encompasses the inner four crus in all directions of the AOC. There’s a small break to the south by the Gironde River and another to the north, close to Aigre.

6. Borderies

Total Cru Size: 12,500 ha

Vineyards: 4,000 ha

Topography: Plateau with wooded areas

Climate: Maritime

Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 5%

Notable Cognac Expressions: Park Borderies Single Vineyard, Camus XO Borderies

History

With a Percentage of Annual Cognac Production of 5%, Borderies is the smallest cognac region, encompassing approximately 12,500 hectares, yet only a modest 4,000 hectares are dedicated to the grapes plantation. 

This wine-producing region is unique as it contains the fifth and final soil type identified by Coquand-Groies. 

Fun Facts

  • Borderies is the tiniest among all the Cognac terroirs, nestled above the two champagne crus and to the north of the town of Cognac.
  • This cognac region boasts the oldest soil within the Cognac region, dating back to the presumed Jurassic era.

Who Was The First Man To Map Out The Different “Crus?”

Henri Coquand (1813-1881), a renowned geology professor, holds the distinction of being the first individual to meticulously map out and categorize the different “crus” within the Cognac region. 

“It [Cognacs] comes only from the Cognac region in Southwest France.” -Malo Le Mestre, Brand Ambassador

During the 19th century, he embarked on a comprehensive study of the region’s soil and terroir. Collaborating with an experienced taster, Coquand skillfully classified the diverse soils based on the type of eau-de-vie they yielded. 

FAQs Related to Regions of Cognac

What are the main regions of Cognac production?

The main regions of Cognac production are Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois. These regions are collectively known as the “crus” of Cognac.

What is Grande Champagne in the context of Cognac production?

Grande Champagne is considered the premier cru of Cognac, known for producing high-quality and aromatic eaux-de-vie. The chalky soil in this region contributes to the grapes’ exceptional flavor and aging potential.

How does Petite Champagne differ from Grande Champagne in Cognac production?

Petite Champagne is another distinguished cru of Cognac, characterized by its limestone and clay soils. While it shares similarities with Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne typically produces eaux-de-vie with slightly different flavor profiles and aging characteristics.

What is Borderies known for in Cognac production?

Borderies is a smaller cru within the Cognac region, renowned for its distinctive eaux-de-vie with floral and fruity aromas, as well as notes of violets and nuts. Cognacs with Borderies as their primary growing region often exhibit a unique and elegant profile.

How does Fins Bois contribute to Cognac production?

Fins Bois is a larger cru known for its relatively quick-maturing eaux-de-vie. Cognacs produced from grapes grown in Fins Bois tend to be more rounded and approachable at a younger age, with fruity and floral characteristics.

What role does Bons Bois play in the Cognac region?

Bons Bois is the outermost cru of the Cognac region, characterized by its sandy soils. While eaux-de-vie from Bons Bois may mature more quickly than those from other crus, they can contribute fruity and light qualities to certain blends.

Key Takeaways

The Cognac Regions and major cities are pivotal in shaping the character and quality of renowned Cognac bottles. 

Each terroir, from Grande Champagne to Borderies, offers a unique blend of soil composition, climate, and grape varieties, contributing to the diverse range of Cognacs. 

The distinction between Premier Cru and other designations highlights the exceptional status of specific growing areas, showcasing their importance in producing Cognacs known for their finesse and complexity.

References:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/cognac
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/claudiaalarcon/2023/06/03/national-cognac-day-is-june-4what-exactly-is-this-versatile-spirit/
  3. https://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/back-of-the-book/story/cognac-is-elusive-heres-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-classic-alcoholic-drink-353534-2022-11-21
  4. https://www.foodandwine.com/cocktails-spirits/cognac-drink-more
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