© Christophe Mariot
For winegrowers, the grape harvest is the most important and symbolic time of the year – the culmination of many months spent tending the vines. At Hennessy, the 2020 harvest began on 7 September and will last three weeks. In five steps, the LVMH group explains this key period for the Cognac House.
At Hennessy, the grape harvest is a meticulously organized process whose objective is to guarantee the quality of the future eaux-de-vie, which will be used to blend the Maison’s cognacs. This year, this decisive period commenced on 7 September. The LVMH group outlines what happens in five key steps.
1 – Harvest
Every year, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) monitors the ripening of the grapes for the entire Charente-region vineyard. However, individual winegrowers fix the date of their harvest depending on their plots, their terroir and the maturity of their grapes. The challenge is to seize the most opportune moment to produce the best wines, which will subsequently be capable of yielding the finest eaux-de-vie. This decision is, of course, influenced by the year’s meteorological conditions, with the effect of climate change on the ripening of the grapes resulting in earlier and earlier harvests.
In the Hennessy vineyard, the harvest has been mechanized for several decades. Once the grapes have been picked, they are tipped into trailers and taken by tractor to the cellars. Why? In order to “roll the harvest” – in other words, to transfer the grapes as quickly as possible to the presses.
2 – Pressing
Pneumatic presses gently extract the juice from the grapes. The juice is then pumped into the decantation vats.
3 – Decantation
This step eliminates any impurities and plant residues that could detract from the future quality of the wine. It lasts between 20 and 30 minutes, and must be adjusted according to the quality of the grapes.
4 – Fermentation
Once the grape juice – called the “must” – has been decanted, it is transferred into the winemaking vats (made of stainless steel, concrete or fiber). At this point, selected yeasts and nutrients are added. After a multiplication phase, they will transform the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol – a process known as alcoholic fermentation.
At this stage, temperature regulation is crucial to ensure rapid, complete fermentation. The process lasts between five and seven days, depending on the desired degree of alcohol in the wine.
5 – Storage
The wines are then stored in vats until it is time for them to be distilled. Distillation takes place at the latest by 31 March. In order to retain the full aromatic potential of the wines, the process must take place as quickly as possible. After harvest, the presses are emptied and cleaned. The by-products of the grape harvest are analyzed and sent to specialized treatment centers.