A drink with… Patrick Raguenaud, BNIC

BNIC president Patrick Raguenaud on changes to the Cognac regulations and the steps being taken to attract new drinkers.

*This feature was originally published in the February 2020 issue of The Spirits Business

Was 2019 a good year for Cognac?

Yes, 2019 was a very good year, with 216.5 million bottles in total shipped from Cognac, resulting in a turnover of €3.6 billion (US$3.97bn). The industry intends to keep growing the production capacity by allowing winegrowers to expand their vineyards and plant 10,000 hectares of new vines between 2018 and 2021 on a vineyard that previously covered 76,000ha.

What challenges does the category face?

The appellation has worked for many years to preserve its terroir and natural resources, particularly since 2016, when we launched our collective sustainable viticulture approach. This initiative aims to promote and develop good practices in the vineyard. So far, we have supported nearly 2,300 winegrowers in their continual improvement process, including obtaining collective environmental certification.

How have the regulations surrounding Cognac changed over the years?

The Cognac appellation has evolved and made changes to its category by introducing a new age classification. The specific label Extra Extra Old is now included in the Cognac classification for spirits that contain eaux‐de‐vie aged for 14 years or more. The laws governing Cognac have also evolved to preserve the terroir’s environment and resources. Chemical weeding of field boundaries has been banned, as has total chemical weeding of vineyard plots.

How important are these regulations to the protection of Cognac?

Cognac is produced in compliance with regulated specifications. It is protected by a geographical indication designation, which guarantees quality and authenticity. Those rules are therefore necessary to maintain its quality and its fame. Our specifications are a guarantee that our spirit is unique, but also alive.

What international markets will be key to Cognac’s future growth?

In its history, Cognac has always taken advantage of new opportunities, which is still the case to this day. We are confident that this shall continue for many generations. In recent years, Cognac has increased its shipments in areas with high potential, such as South Africa, Nigeria and the Caribbean.

How can Cognac attract new drinkers to the category?

The new generations are increasingly attracted to authentic, unique and quality products. Cognac falls perfectly in line with this trend. Enjoying the consumption of Cognac in a variety of ways also contributes to the growth of Cognac and opens it up to new generations of consumers.

Are cocktails important when enticing new consumers?

Yes, this is especially the case where cocktails and spirit cultures are prominent, particularly in the UK and the US where cocktail bars offering Cognac on their menus are reaching young professionals.

What steps have been taken to protect Cognac’s GI following the UK’s departure from the EU?

In the context of Brexit, the protection of the Cognac GI remains a priority. We have anticipated this situation by registering the Cognac appellation as a collective certification trademark in the UK. This guarantees a sufficient level of protection for the word ‘Cognac’ to fight against various breaches.

What predictions do you have for Cognac over the next decade?

The quest for authenticity will continue to grow in line with the demands and purchasing power of millennials. Also, Cognac has always been active in tourism, and winegrowers, distillers, coopers and glassmakers will continue to open their doors to visitors. With recent investments and the opening of attractions and cocktail bars, the tourism offering will be reinforced and become more and more attractive.

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