Logistical challenges and coherence of the territory: how far does the Spirits Valley extend?

Spirits development

Where does the Spirits Valley begin?

From a geographical point of view, the Spirits Valley refers above all to the Charente valley which for many centuries was a privileged communication route for the exchange of goods. The activity was governed by the river and the dry matter produced upstream between Cognac and Angoulême was transported to the basins of Saintes and Cognac, and then to the official port for eaux-de-vie shipments: Tonnay Charente.

Today most of the Spirits Valley's activity concerns a triangle going from Cognac to Merpins (still area) via Salles d'Angles (Pont-Neuf area) then to Gensac (area bordering the national road). A mosaic of companies also stretches between these large areas, including cognac houses located in the town centre, printing works and unmissable sites such as Bernadet (bottle decoration) and ELS (custom bottling).

This is where the heart of the Spirits Valley, anchored in the south of the city, beats. More precisely, it is the Saint Gobain glassworks, built in 1962 to group together the glass factories of Cognac, Arlac and Angers, which is the epicentre.

Generally speaking, it is said that everything is within a 10km radius around Cognac and this is true for the heart of the economic area itself. But this 'geocentric' vision has the disadvantage of excluding 'nuggets' which contribute to the influence of Charente know-how. Some are located in the immediate environment while others, more distant, are based well after Angoulême or Bordeaux.

Becoming aware of this paradox will undoubtedly make it possible to envisage a real policy of opening up the territory, which has been left out of traffic routes and rail or air transport. This is why a town like Cognac seems to be detached from the success of the spirit of the same name.

 

Geological map of the Charente valley
 
Let's draw a circle with a radius of 10 km with the centre of the Place François 1er and let's walk around it in an anti-clockwise direction. Naturally, we find the heart of the Spirits Valley anchored in the southern part of Cognac.
Our circle includes to the east the Merlet site of Chérac but not the distillery of Saint Sauvant. La Maison Villevert in Merpins, the bottler JLF and La Maison Ferrand in Ars are still in our circle. Further south, the printer Nacarra in Salles d'Angles is included as well as the Distillerie Boinaud but alas not the printer A3 Adhésif de Juillac Le Coq.
Finally, further south-west, our circle stops before reaching Segonzac, the capital of the Grande Champagne region, which also includes the CIDS and the University of Eaux-de-Vies, two essential places for training in the Charente.
Finally, the commune of Bourg Charente with Hawkins Distribution and Grand Marnier is in our circle, which stops however before arriving in Jarnac.
 
A circle of 10km radius around Cognac: Segonzac and Jarnac are not included.

 

So let's double our surface area with a circle of 20 km radius: we barely reach the gates of Saintes. The Merlet distillery in Saint-Sauvant is finally included but not one of the nuggets of the Spirits Valley: Lys Packaging whose director Nicolas Moufflet is a major player in PET packaging produced from agricultural and recyclable raw materials. Its compostable bottles are revolutionary.

Further north, the distillery of Bercloux where many new brands go to create their spirits is included as well as Brugerolle in Matha. To the east, Jarnac is included with its cognac houses and the logistics and distribution company Sacade. The latter also offers sub-warehousing and distribution solutions for young spirits brands that do not have their own infrastructure.

However, further to the south-east, another nugget of the Spirits Valley based in Chateauneuf-Sur-Charente escapes us: the Roy company specialising in gasification and pasteurisation, a know-how unique in the region and which extends as far as Brittany.

In the south, our circle stops at the exit of Archiac but too early to include the Vinet-Delpech distillery located in Brie Sous Archiac. Finally to the south-west, our limit stops at the entrance of Pons and does not reach either the Distillerie de la Tour or the Maison Latreuille based in Gémozac, creator of the Exose grape sugar. Because the Spirits Valley is also specialists in sweeteners and ageing.
 

Circle of 20km radius around Cognac

Where does the Spirits Valley stop?

At this stage, our circle does not yet include authentic and successful companies such as Mas Pack in Saintes, SOFPO in Exideuil which is the historical site of corrugated cardboard in France, Stylma Emballage in Saint Laurent de Céris (well after Angoulême and La Rochefoucault), Maison Abecassis in Claix and SVE in Saint Palais de Négrignac (where the Hedonist range by Jean Marc Larhentec based in Bordeaux is produced).

In an article published on 11 May 2002 in Les Echos, Jean Christophe Boulard talks about a Packaging Valley within a radius of 85 km around Cognac which prefigures the concept of Spirits Valley. This de facto includes the companies mentioned above as well as the numerous workshops set up in Angoulême around the design sector and Hertus Industrie, another nugget in the region specialized in plastic injection and finishing.

Our beautiful escapade is thus part of the coherence of a territory, delimited at the same time by the Charente valley, the Cognac vineyards and the reality of the productive apparatus. But when you transpose the list of members of theSpirits Valley association onto a map, an even bigger triangle is formed, which descends as far as the Bordeaux conurbation.

In fact, some more distant companies are involved in the daily activity of the region, such as Cartonnages de Gascogne , located near Agen.

Different extension zones can be drawn according to the initial parameters used

Now the Charente valley, which is now only a tourist waterway, has lost its role as a trade route and the port of Tonnay Charente has been dormant for a hundred years. The Angoulême / Cognac / Saintes transverse railway line, created in 1862 and which enabled Cognac to develop as a centre of attraction and shipping, has been abandoned following the closure of the Naviland platform in 2018. Finally the question of air transport, which does not exist in Cognac, will not be discussed.

For example, shipments of spirits are made by road transport via the A10 motorway and the N10 to Bordeaux station further south where they are loaded onto trains heading north to Le Havre (and to some extent Fos). For the port of Le Havre, located more than 550km away, has become the main outlet for our products throughout the world. These tracks and installations must be considered as extensions of the Spirits Valley since they are an integral part of its operation.

But can they not escape our control because of their remoteness and the disturbances on the horizon?

 

Doesn't the fragility of its infrastructures weigh on the future of the Spirits Valley?

What would happen if these lines of communication were cut off?

What seemed unimaginable just 10 years ago becomes entirely realistic if we consider the political instability and chronic social crises that are shaking France to the core. Not to mention the disconcerting ease with which one can block a Western country de-industrialized and weakened by 30 years of budget cuts (to pay the debt).

Let us imagine for a moment the cutting of the motorway axis following riots or damage, or the SNCF in bankruptcy and the rail freight staff on strike, the port of Le Havre impracticable (example of Beirut), the re-establishment of borders following the disintegration of Europe slowing down the progress of merchants towards Rotterdam, the shortage of containers.One or more of these factors combined would jeopardise the current organisation of transport in and out of the Spirits Valley and cause supply disruptions.

Isthere a plan B for the resilience of the region to deal with these types of challenges?

The question of a Plan B with integrated infrastructures in a coherent territory is a legitimate one. For example, aren't the ports of Bordeaux (specializing in liquid energies) and La Rochelle (specializing in exotic wood), respectively 130km and 100km from Cognac, suitable for taking over shipments of wines and spirits in the event of a hard blow? Do they have the capacity to do the job, even temporarily?

It is said that to govern is to foresee, so the emergence of the Spirits Valley as an exceptional ecosystem having been noted, we should question ourselves on the strengths and weaknesses of the facilities on which it depends to continue to function and grow. For it is not limited to the immediate environment of Cognac...

 

JEROME SAVOYE

 

 

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