The Wines and Spirits Review – 1879

Some of our readers have developed a taste for the history of the Cognac industry and trade. I was a little surprised at first, but then I realized that quite a few of our friends are in business and a fair share of them is in the global trade arena. Well, Cognac has indeed been a global product from the very early times and the Cognac region has had a sophisticate trader crowd for centuries, shipping the Liquor of Angels around the globe.

That is why I was so pleased when a friend emailed me scans of a collection of La Revue  des Vins et Liqueurs pour l’Exportation dating back to 1879, a 134 years ago. I’s a breathtaking historic document for the history of Cognac, full with interesting information.


For instance: reports on the Cognac trade were routinely published in bi-lingual (French-English) form (in 1879!). It’s nice to read about the production of houses which are still in business, some which were already big, like Martell and Hennessy , some smaller like Delamain or Meukow; in fact, from the dispatches one can infer how the trade was conducted, particularly the weight of the big houses in the formation of prices. And then, the first-hand information of the progress of phylloxera, the worst plague ever for the French vines.

For all of you interested in the history, here is a first exclusive excerpt of the Revue  des Vins et Liqueurs. I have respected the orthography of the time.

General view of the markets

The year 1878 has been much better for the brandies than for the wines. If the exportation of brandies in case, contrary to what was thought, has decreased instead of increased, the shipments of Cognacs in cask have shown a notable augmentation.

In fact during last year 182,341 hl were shipped compared with 153,597 hl in 1877, or 40,115,020 worth instead of 32,857.824 fes worth. Out of the surplus of 29,000 hl 22,000 hl went by way of England. The consumption of the United States is stationary, and that of Algeria has increased 7,400 hl in such a way that the year 1879 for this destination is better than that of the year 1876. For the brandies in case the diminutions affect the trade with Great Britain (12,000 licetol. at least). Elsewhere there is progress. It is without doubt to the importance of the English stocks that we must attributs this regrettable diminution.

As to the molasses spirits (rum and tafia) they have followed the general movement of the Cognacs, that is to say to those of 1876. In 1876 1,160,758 litres had been exported,and in 1877 only 598.990 litres. For the year 1878 there is a slight progress of 10,000 litres.

The Brandies


expeditions1878The exportation trade in Cognac seems in appearance to have slightly progressed during the month of December 1378, for the totals of brandy shipments in cask, and more especially in bottles, are higher than those of November.

But if we take a more solid basis of comparison, that is to say the result of the month of December 1877, it is easy to see that the last month of the year 1878 bas not been fortunate for the Cognac merchants. In fact a diminution may be observed of 4,234 hl. in the shipments of brandies in cask that is to say 1,190 hl. are lacking in the English importations, 300 hl. in those of Algeria, and the rest on those of the  other countries of the world.

The brandies in case have been still more badly received by British customers who only accepted 2,655 hl. instead of 3.823 hl. in November 1878, and of 3,130 hl., as in December 1877.  Moreover it is precisely these forward stocks of November which have stopped the importation movement of December, ordinarily higher than those of the preceding month. With regard to the other destinations the cause we have just mentioned did not exist the exportations for America increased, and finally the slight difference of 61 hl. to the profit of December 1877 must be only attributed to the deficit in the English orders.

 The commercial situation seems firmly established today.

The laws of the export market

The two grand houses who incontestably frame the laws' on the export market, Messrs Hennessy and Martell, have just fixed the quotations of 1878 at 180 fr. per hectolitre the 1877's have been advanced 25 fcs, and the other years 20 fcs, which puts the 1877's at 195 fcs, the 1875's at 220 fcs. the 1874's at JMO fcs, the 1872's at 270 fcs, and the 1870's at 285 fcs. The Cognacs and three stars in case are maintained at preceding prices. The prices fully confirm the rise which has been manifested since the crop in spite of the unfavorable news from abroad, and the resistance which they have opposed to every elevation of the quotations. It could not be otherwise before the tenacity with which the proprietors have maintained their prices, perfectly "justified by the ninth bulletin of the officiai commission of the department of the Charente Inferieure, the sadly eloquent summary of which we give below.

We stated the presence of the phylloxera in 1875, in 3 arrondissements, 17 cantons, 99 communes in 1876, in 5 arrondissements, 25 cantons, 248 communes in 1877, in 6 arrondissements, 28 cantons, 305 communes in 1878, in 6 arrondissements, 31 cantons and 355 communes.

Upon the 168,945 hectares of vines which the Charente-Inferieure possessed in 1875, 155,100 are actually invaded or in the area of the invasion; on the 41,865 hectares invaded since 1877, 10,168 are today uprooted and the surplus will be almost unproductive in 1879.

If one can well consider that in the Charente the situation is still more desperate than in the Charente-Inferieure ail the communes being struck by the phylloxera, the conviction may easily be acquired that the present prices are perfectly justified.

The Phylloxera 

The ravages of the phylloxera are not of very great extent at the present moment owing to the rigour of the weather.

But the snow and frost have had the effect of partly freezing the vine branches and that in several vineyards which had escaped the phylloxera. It may be recollected that in 1876, the same phenomenon was produced, and that the crop did not reach more than two thirds of an average year. The evil is without doubt not so grave this time, but some inquietude may be reasonably conceived which certainly will not have the effect of lowering the prices.

The exportations have augmented slightly of late. This proves that they commence abroad at last to take the rise as serious. But we must not draw this conclusion exclusively from it. The exportation trade of Cognac and other centres are heavily laden with old brandies and we do not guarantee that a comparatively important quantity of consignments does not enter among the figures of the shipments, -which would fully have the effect of getting rid of the stocks in France, but would go to augment greatly those of the foreign markets, and often cause the increase of a depression already very sensible.

The summary of Charente brandy shipments will be found  further on, via Charente only, and those from Havre, St-Nazaire Bordeaux and Marseille, for foreign destinations, as well as the summary of importations and the exhibition of the situation of the principal foreign markets.


Since the thaw much inquietude has been manifested in Champagne on the subject of the damage caused to the vines by the  violent colds which we have had to submit to.

We cannot yet speak in any certain fashion the exactness of these complaints, but we must recognise that there is nothing improbable in them if we consider the persistent frosts of these late days. What is certain is that the fruit trees in this district of the Marne have suffered considerably.

It would be very unfortunate to have to announce to you that the vine has not been spared either.