One of the by products of winemaking is the grapeskins, pips and stalks left over after pressing. This is called the ‘marc’ and can be used to make brandy or eau de vie just as fruit is used in some parts of France. The Hérault has more vines than any other French département so there, naturally, a huge amount of marc left in the autumn. A new distillery, L’Atelier du Bouilleur, has opened in the area at Autignac, the only private distillery in the Hérault. Although private it is run on a cooperative basis and overseen by Quentin Le Cléac’h and Martial Berthaud. They use methods developed in Cognac and by the expert Matthieu Frecon.
Jeff has decided to send his marc to the distillery and Quentin kindly agreed to show me around and explain the distilling process. The building was the former site of a large state run distillery and some of the huge industrial tanks remain. Quentin works on a much smaller scale and is passionate about his work in just the same way a winemaker is about his métier.
The marc is heated and the alcohol which runs off (see above) is at about 30 degrees proof. It is reheated to bring the level up to around 6o degrees. Many of the winemakers of Faugeres are using the distillery to produce their eau de vie Fine De Faugeres and the faith placed in L’Atelier by producers such as these and Jeff so soon after setting up shows that Quentin and friends have quickly shown their skill. Quentin prefers to use organic grapes though not all Faugeres producers are organic so the eaux de vie are not wholly certified as organic.
The proof (sorry) is in the drinking though and therein lay a problem as I don’t drink spirits. However in the interests of yourselves, dear readers, I sipped some of the finished bottles. Those in the picture are fine de marc and are clear. Other bottles were amber coloured after being aged in barrels previously used in winemaking. I must admit I enjoyed the sips I took. There was no aggression in the drink which is what I expect from spirits. Instead it was smooth, had fruit aromas and left a pleasant, clean aftertaste. My wife, who does like eaux de vie, thought they were excellent.
I am sure the Atelier will continue to flourish, its products are already on sale in Paris and around France. Worth seeking out.