BLACK FRIDAY: New Products & New Exclusive Offers - up to 60% OFF   SHOP NOW

category-image

Heat Stress

Cognac 2022: The Heat is on

Cognac 2022: The Heat is on

The 2022 meteorological summer is shaping up to be the second hottest ever recorded in France - 2003 being the hottest on record. The producers in the Cognac region, like all of France’s wine regions, have faced significant challenges as a result of this heat, amongst other things during 2022.

The paragraphs to follow will explain definitions and details about heat waves, heat’s impact on photosynthesis and vine development, and very importantly, voices from two close producers on what they’ve seen and what they’ve done to combat 2022’s excessive heat.

In our quest to learn more about the direct effects of climate change and Cognac’s rising temperatures, we spoke with two different winemakers who shared their experiences combatting 2022’s heat waves: Jacques Petit and Jean Pasquet.

La Canicule & Heat Waves

The summer period, which is defined to be the days between June 1 and August 31 has already seen three official heat wave periods. An official heat wave occurs when daytime and nighttime temperatures are elevated for three consecutive days. Depending on the French region or city, the daytime thresholds are 31°-34°C (88°-93°F) and the nighttime thresholds are 21°-24°C (70°-75°F). If the daytime and nighttime temperatures are above the respective thresholds for three days in a row, it is labeled as a heat wave - canicule in French.

Photosynthesis 101

What exactly occurs during the vine’s growth cycle, which eventually yields grapes, which are harvested, made into wine, and then distilled to produce our beloved Cognac? National Geographic defines photosynthesis as a temperature-dependent process by which plants - so primarily Ugni Blanc grape vines in Cognac’s case - use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to create oxygen and energy in the form of sugar. The chemical energy that is created is released to fuel the vine’s growth and development.

Photosynthetically speaking, a vine is most productive between 20-30°C (68°-86°F). And, here’s the really important part, no photosynthesis occurs under 10°C (50°F) or above 35°C (95°F) - even if the sun is shining high in the sky. The topic of what goes on during winter dormancy is not for this article, but the problem during summer heat wave periods is that the grape vine loses more water through its leaves than is being pulled up through its roots. Photosynthesis actually shuts down and the vine ceases its growth and development cycle.

For this reason, extremely hot vintages can on one end result in unripe grapes, not necessarily overripe and concentrated fruit as so commonly thought (some 2003 Bordeaux wines for example). On the other end, warm vintages can produce wine with low acidities, higher alcohol, and therefore, lack of balance in the wine.

Scientific aside, the Cognac region has been particularly hard hit by the intense heat of 2022. The canicule temperature thresholds have in many cases been far exceeded, which has had a negative impact on the growth cycle of the vines. Pair that with the period of early spring frosts and several ferocious bands of hail, it’s been quite a turbulent 2022 in the Cognac region.

We spoke to a Jacques Petit and Jean Pasquet to get their take on the recent waves of heat and how their vines have supported the events of this climatic year.

Jacques Petit

The family-run Cognac house of Andre Petit is based in Berneuil and is proud to have maintained its traditional methods of harvest and production, handed down through the generations. Jacques Petit, the grandson of the founder, now runs the house. Jacques inherited both his vineyard and his skills for Cognac production from his father.

Discover Jacques' opinion on the heat wave.

Jean Pasquet

A family brand, that is organic at heart. Using generations of savoir-faire, Amy and Jean Pasquet have now perfected their organic farming methods to produce perfectly balanced Cognacs. Pasquet Cognac is committed to producing small batches of exceptional quality, they ensure that every step respects the environment.

Discover Jean's opinion on the heat wave.

Jacques Petit of Cognac André Petit & Fils

On the current situation in his vines:

I don't really have much land on sand. My parcels are mostly limestone. My old vines are those which are the land which is the more sloped, and the roots are the deepest. So for the moment, aside from the vines that lack a little bit of water to grow and get bigger, things are going well.

Young wines and watering:

The young vines, meaning the vines that were planted this year, we were able to water (3 liters per vine planting) early August to help consolidate things. This is perfectly legal; what’s not allowed is watering the older vines, but yes, the young vines need to be watered.

Observing the vines in and around the region:

From my observations, the vines that generally did not support the heat were the following two: the vines on sandy soils - these vines suffered, the young wines particularly - and other young wines that were too often watered. There are some growers that water young vines at the moment of planting, again one month later - they don’t stop watering, doing it three or four times, which is not necessarily a good thing because the plant needs to be left to search for cool relief in the soil itself. If you water your young vines too frequently, they will be too fragile during the first three or four years because they will develop surface roots. The roots will not pierce deep enough. Those vines suffer.

Harvest date:

For the harvest, the maturity controls from the BNIC have found that the acidities have strongly declined. Me, in my analyses, have not found that. For this, the harvest date for me will most likely not be before early October for the Cognac grape varieties. For some of my Pineau grapes (merlot, cabernet, colombard) I will probably start earlier on the 20-23 of September. However, for ugni blanc, the end of September, or early October. Whatever happens with the weather, generally we count 40-45 days after the veraison to begin harvest. That’s how I came up with those dates.

Difference between grape varieties:

No, not at all. No difference between the different grape varieties.

André Petit Cognacs

Jean Pasquet of Cognac Pasquet

On the topic of placement and age of the vines:

For the two year old vines it depends where they are planted. For example, I have one year vines here in Eraville down the hill. The soil is quite deep, quite humid so they are looking great, and I did not have water them. They are doing well, but I have, for example, two year old vines on the top of the hill with less soil and they are suffering - not dying - but you see the leaves are turning brown and falling down.

For the old vines it’s really not that bad - for the leaves. For the grapes we had the problem of sunburn, but that is not due to the drought but because it was hot and lots of direct sun on the grapes.

Taking stock of the turbulent 2022 in the vines:

In our Petite Champagne, we had some hail in June. So we already lost probably 40% of the harvest from those vines. In the other half of our vineyards, in the Grande Champagne, we had some frost damage in April and we lost about 20-30% already. The average is about 35% already gone.

Pleas for rain:

Now we are worried since we are very close to the harvest and we are hoping for some rain to have some juice in the grapes…If we get 20mm (20L/m^2) 10-15 days before the harvest that’s good. The reaction of the vines is very fast and we can take advantage of that. Without that, I think it’s another 10-15% less

Difference between grape varieties:

There’s not much difference actually. Folle Blanche is really sensitive to sunburn…For the Ugni Blanc, we pass through the vine less with the tractor to keep more leaves and branches to cover the grapes like an umbrella. We have larger leaves with the Ugni Blanc than with the Folle Blanche, so there is less damage with the Ugni Blanc.

Impact on the wine:

There is going to be a lack of acidity and probably high alcohol content, so the wine for the Cognac risks to not be very well balanced. We will most likely have to harvest earlier.

Pasquet Cognacs

Conclusion

It is important to remember that the Cognac region’s producers are first and foremost vignerons - winemakers in English. Without vines and grapes, there is no wine, and without wine there is no Cognac.

Too often discussions become denominated about what is going on in the Cognac producer’s cellar - and we cannot deny its importance - but healthy grapes are everything for the production of quality eau-de-vie.

The climatic challenges faced by producers are real and seem to become more frequent and intense as the years go by. Still, the skill and resourcefulness of the winemaker will inevitably lead to get wine, and thankful beautiful Cognacs for years and years to come.

In a difficult year like 2022, let’s make an effort to support those producers whose efforts in the vineyards have been hampered by mother nature.

Cheers!

Cognacs from vignerons

Of course, André Petit or Cognac Pasquet are not the only ones who have suffered from 2022's blistering heat. Some other fantastic grower-distillers are the following.

Product added to wishlist
Product added to compare.
To give you the best possible experience, this site uses cookies and by continuing to use the site you agree that we can save them.  Our Privacy Policy
You have successfully followed this brand