This August, the masters at Cognac Ferrand did a very unusual thing–they began picking grapes in August, almost 4 weeks earlier than usual! Due to a growing season that began with unrelenting heat before yielding to cooling and ample rains, the men of Cognac picked their grapes at one of the earliest times in some 400 years. And this unusual weather has yielded large, opulent grape clusters that should result in a copious vintage.
Alexandre Gabriel, the ceaseless innovator who is the proprietor of Cognac Ferrand, recently provided an update on the very unusual 2011 grape harvest:
“An August start in Cognac is a very rare thing. This was one of the earliest harvests in Cognac history. This year we had an exceptionally dry spring and a very wet July. First we worried in the spring about the possibility of having burnt or dried up grapes on the vines. After many days of beating sun we were getting worried. At Ferrand, we also have some wheat fields, and the wheat was fried. But because the soil in Grande Champagne is chalky, it acts as a giant sponge to retain humidity. Also the vines have very deep roots and are able to access the water they need from the well-draining chalky soil. Luckily the rain arrived just in time and stopped in time.
This combination of weather made the grape bunches considerably bigger than previous years, with an average weight of about 390 grams which is very large! Because of this weather, we had to gear up very fast for our harvest which officially began with our ‘test harvest’ on August 30. The results of this harvest told us all we needed to know to officially start picking grapes on the 2nd of September. This is three to four weeks earlier than we are used to!
It looks like we will have no problem extracting a very sizable vintage. While grapes are still a little firmly attached to the vine, we have now reached the desired level of 9% alcohol in the grape which is optimal to make good Cognac, but with an acidity level that was dropping faster than usual and pH that is increasing significantly, we know we have to hurry.
Overall, the 2011 vintage in Cognac looks like a very plentiful year thanks to just the right alcohol level and low acidity because of such a hot spring and hot end of summer. Of course, we will know for sure how bountiful this harvest is once distillation begins. While it is too soon to say, my feeling is that this will be a good year for Ambre – our youngest Cognac that is full with ripe fruit essence.
The harvest in Cognac is always a festive time. Once all the grapes are collected, the more “meditative” time of distillation will start, like it has for the past 400 years.
À votre santé!
Alexandre Gabriel “