As the saying goes, Cognac is a destination for all seasons. In fact, there are many things to experience & do during the winter months in the Charentes—home and source of the famed eau-de-vie. The heritage sites are there, from the Gallo-Roman les Saintes to the town of Cognac itself—birthplace of France’s Renaissance king—and all offer their distinctive cuisine, Cognac experiences and knowhow.
Following a busy fall, with the mid-September Angoulême Circuit des Ramparts classic car race and the early October Fort Bayard Challenge water sport event among other festivities, there are significant and fun things to do from November through March in the Charentes counties.
There are over 260 Cognac houses in the Charente and Charente-Maritime and late November through March 31, visitors can visit these establishments—big & small—and experience the AOC Charentais two-step or double distillation process known as “chauffes.” Distillation is achieved in the unique and distinctive Charentais copper still, with its pot (or boiler), its swan neck pipe, its cooler and its condensing coil. There visitors will learn about the whole process from the mid-September to October harvest of the white wine grapes (mostly Ugni Blanc) to the immediate pressing of the grapes to ensure low-pressure extraction of high-quality must. Then of course, on to the distillation and aging process in oak barrels. In many Cognac houses, that experience can also include tastings, mixology and even meals to enjoy with Cognac.
In addition to Cognac, the area also produces the equally AOC and delicious Pineau des Charentes, which is mainly created by smaller family-owned establishments The Pineau is a vin de liqueur, or fortified wine made by blending one quarter of Cognac with three-quarters of either slightly fermented grape must or freshly squeezed grape juice. The process differs to produce the white, rosé or red Pineau. Houses invite visitors to learn about making this very special drink, offer tastings and other experiences to enjoy—like a bike & e-bike riding through the vineyards.
While also enjoying these drinks in the remarkable historic city of Angoulême—declared in 2019 a UNESCO Creative City—you can also experience the joyous and creative Angoulême International Comics Festival. The festival takes place every January and in 2024 the 51st edition of the 4-day comic strip fest will be January 25 to 28. Over 200,000 visitors will get to meet 2600 authors & creators, visit 350 exhibiting companies & publishers, and see awards ceremonies, shows & screenings throughout the city. Not to mention take in the city’s eye-popping street art—colorful murals and painted facades, that seem to grace the old quarter at every turn. It is easy to see why Wes Anderson picked this enchanted place as the backdrop of his film The French Dispatch.
Last, but not least, February is the month for the Mimosa Festival in Saint-Trojan-les Bains, which is located on the oyster-rich Oléron Island. It is also time for two truffle fairs, one in the village of Villebois-lavalette just a half an hour south of Angoulême (February 13, 2024) and throughout February every Tuesday morning in Jarnac, birthplace of former President Francois Mitterand & home to some of the most famed Cognac houses including Hine, Louis Royer, Delamain & Courvoisier. A perfect way to learn about distillation while truffle hunting.
For more information, events and experiences visit the new website www.explore-cognac.com