Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/445

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429
THE PRODUCTION OF COGNAC BRANDY.

Eau de vie is a French term equivalent to the English word spirits, and hence is applicable to alcohols derived from any source. But the eau de vie de Cognac is the spirits obtained by distillation of the fermented juice of a few varieties of grape, chief among which is la folle blanche as it is called. This is a white grape. The name, which means literally "the white fool" is probably due to the fact that the folle blanche produces only a very inferior wine, which commands but eight cents a gallon, while a common red wine brings sixteen.

In the Deux Charentes there are three kinds of vineyards, called "vignes pleines" "vignes en allées" and "vignes à boeufs" In each the vines are planted in rows, which in the first are five feet apart. Hand-labor is generally employed in the cultivation, though the plough is used to loosen the ground where the rows are wide enough apart. The vignes en allées consist of long, narrow strips of land planted with vines in rows, every fourth or fifth row or so having a slip of ground sown with grain or vegetables in between. In these vineyards, which are more common in the Grande Champagne, the vines as a rule are planted rather wide apart. The vignes à boeufs are so termed from the rows being wide enough apart (from five to six feet) to admit of oxen and a plough passing between. The vines, as a rule, are left without supports. The producers are mostly small farmers, who cultivate their own vineyards, with little if any help. When help is employed, the wages vary from two to three francs a day, according to whether meals are furnished or not. These peasant proprietors are a frugal, saving class, and are not uncommonly rich.

It is unpleasant to relate that a speedy and almost complete suspension of this important industry is threatened in the ravages of the Phylloxera vastatrix, a minute and (to the naked eye) invisible insect, that preys on the roots and leaves of the vine, to the unfailing destruction of the plant. Large rewards offered by the French Government have had the effect of calling forth a number of remedies, but none of them have proved efficacious. During the year just past the insect spread nearly all over the Deux Charentes and reduced the vintage, so that it nowhere amounted to more than one-half a crop, and in some places not more than a tenth, the average being about one-sixth. Many farmers, in despair, actually cleared their fields and sowed them in grain. In many places a large part of the vines have been killed and the influence of the scourge was to cause a general neglect of the vineyards.

The grapes are picked, for the most part, by women wearing high-crowned fluted caps, who use a hook-shaped knife to sever the stems. Each carries with her a small wooden box with sloping sides, into which the fruit is thrown. When these boxes become full they are emptied into the baskets of the men who carry the grapes to the cart at the edge of the vineyard. The carts have long bodies and very high wheels, and a huge tub, fixed between four upright stakes. The