An Auteur's Eau de Vie
Patrick de Montal, vigneron of the Arton vineyard, cultivates his vines with care, both making his wines and distilling them to create a range of Armagnacs of unexpected roundness and smoothness for his cellars. Voluptuous and very aromatic, they redefine the limits of what an Armagnac can be. Their singularity has made the Haut Armagnac synonymous with innovation.
Terroirs and Designations
Gascony, a province situated between the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrenees mountains and the Garonne river–the guardians of a rich culinary heritage–is the cradle of Armagnac, the oldest eau de vie in France, and a marvelous creation of a unique terroir. This is the Armagnac region!
Labelled “AOC,” or Appellation d’origine contrôlée, since 1936, a true Armagnac must come from the Armagnac region, which extends from the departments of Gers, the eastern part of Landes and the south of Lot-et-Garonne, in Southwestern France. The diversity of the soils found here naturally subdivides the area into three distinct terroirs, three sub-regions of production instituted by the decree of president Fallières in 1909.
In the east is the “Haut” or High Armagnac, known as “Blanc Armagnac” due to its landscape of pale limestone hillsides that reflect the light. Slightly elevated, it is the least well-known of the three sub-regions, and the least planted. The vines are sparse there, and poor producers, which makes it the most confidential region of production. The soil, composed of clay and limestone layers called peyrusquets, is hard to work. It produces a light brandy with a lively floral flavor. A diamond in the rough!
In the Centre, the Ténarèze region is crossed by an ancient crest road attributed to Julius Cesar. Its soil is composed of silt (boulbène) and limestone (terrefort), giving the eau de vie a rich and intense flavor that reaches its peak after a prolonged aging period.
In the West the “Low” or Bas Armagnac, also known as “Armagnac Noir”, is recognizable by its hilly oak forests. This is the most planted region, and the most well-known, because its vines survived the ravages of the phylloxera epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. Its poor and acidic soil is composed of sand, silica and iron elements, is called the “tawny sands”. It produces an eau de vie that is both light and fruity.
10 grape varieties are recognized in the Armagnac AOC decree.
Chateau Arton is produced from the Ugni Blanc grape, the preeminent variety for distillation, and from Colombard, a local and lesser-known variety.
The Ugni Blanc grape makes acidic wines with a low alcoholic content, producing a fine quality eau de vie after distillation.
The Colombard, prized in the vinification of Côtes de Gascogne wines, is distinguished by its fruity aromas and citrus and spice notes after distillation that enhance the blends
Armagnac, 700 Years of History
As far back as human memory reaches, Gascony has been a land of vines. We can even see them represented in the mosaics of the gallo-Roman villas still visible in the region. The grape grows there in abundance and winemaking is a major agricultural activity indispensable to the livelihood of its people.
Records of Armagnac production exist since 1310, the date in which Vital Dufour, the prior of the town of Eauze, sings the praises of an eau de vie known by the name of aygue ardente in a treatise entitled “A very useful book for keeping in good health and staying in shape,” conserved in the Vatican. Armagnac came into being thanks to the meeting of two civilizations: that of the Arab world and its stills, and that of the Christian world and its winemaking monks. At this point it didn’t yet carry its modern name, but it had a rich history as an apothecary’s remedy.
In 1461 it appeared once again in the historic record, this time at the market of Saint Sever, where it had become a beverage appreciated for its gustative qualities, known as “the marvel”. Historically Armagnac has been a precious eau de vie, created on the margins of traditional wine production in the region.
At the end of the 19th century, the phylloxera aphid devastated the vineyards of France. Armagnac was not spared, being located in the primary winemaking region of France. It decimated La Folle Blanche, the grape variety historically used in the regional eaux de vie, all but ending the golden age of the Gers countryside.
The vines of Bas Armagnac survived because its sandy soils are a natural defense against the pest. Those of Haut Armagnac succumbed to the invasion and disappeared entirely from the map.
Patrick de Montal believed in the virtues of this forgotten land. In 1981 He was the first to replant vines on the Lectoure plateau, and in doing so to revive the tradition of Armagnac production in the region. Rediscovering this important thread of history, has reignited the spark in the Haut Armagnac.