From the origin of its grapes to the maturation of eaux-de-vie in barrels, each step of the process to produce cognac is strictly controlled.
Yet this does not necessarily preclude the right to a little innovation, especially when sustainability is at stake.
Maison Martell is at the vanguard of industry-wide efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of cognac production.
The House is working on a steam distillation pilot with national bodies including the BNIC and INAO, alongside other industry players, which could see energy savings greater than 25 percent in one of the most energy-intensive parts of the value chain.
Traditionally cognac is distilled twice in a copper pot still known as an alambic Charentais, which may be heated by a naked flame. The process imbues the cognac with some of the flavours and aromas for which it is world-renowned.
According to the trade journal Le Paysan Vigneron, distillation accounts for 57 percent of energy used by the cognac sector, and 13.5 percent of the sector’s direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.
A more efficient distillation using steam as a heat source could mitigate these impacts, at least in part. Through piloting the alternative toasting technique, Martell aims to demonstrate that transitioning to a less energy-intensive, and carbon-intensive production is possible, without affecting the cognac’s special organoleptic qualities.
If fully realised, the results will benefit not only Martell but all the players in the Cognac area. The industry could cut its fossil fuel consumption 40 percent by 2030, and halve its total energy spent on distillation by 2050. It could achieve a zero carbon footprint the same decade.
In addition, the House is partnering with the local biomethane sector to find alternative energy sources to replace primary resources.
Maison Martell is lucky to have a strong culture of innovation, overseen by the Innovation Department of Cellar Master Christophe Valtaud.
As part of the Pernod Ricard group, it also benefits from the innovations and technology deployed by producers of other spirits such as Chivas and Jameson in the whisky market.
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