The flavors of armagnac
Fifth generation at the head of the Domaine de la Boubée, located in the heart of the Ténarèze appellation, Alexandre Ladevèze and his wife Manon do much more than maintain a family heritage, they strengthen it by endeavoring to sublimate all the flavors of armagnac. Their objective is clearly announced: to reintroduce, protect and distill the ten historic grape varieties authorized by the AOC. A mission already well underway if we consider that their vineyard already has nine, including some very old species that hardly exist anywhere else.
Established in the heart of Armagnac, their winery is equidistant from the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees chain, offering a temperate climate but hot in summer which favors the cultivation of the vine. Follower of organic farming long before being certified (most recently, in 2021), the vines flourish in a soil of great diversity: from limestone to siliceous from East to West, the different terroirs reveal a diversity of bouquets which will give the armagnacs of Alexandre and Manon as many personalities as there are plots and grape varieties.
Of the fifteen hectares of vines that make up their estate today, thirteen are entirely dedicated to Armagnac, the rest being made up of red grape varieties for an anecdotal production of wine and aperitif. A family treasure that they cherish above all else, they own six hectares of very old vines (over 70 years old, the oldest of which is 74), each plot of which has a different name. Worked at the time with oxen, it is an intangible heritage that they are keen to preserve despite low productivity with the idea, why not one day, of putting Bécassine, the draft horse of the estate which is already happily grazing in the vines.
A unique case in the world of Armagnac, they bring together nine of the ten grape varieties authorized by the AOC. The two youngest ones, the Clairette de Gascogne and especially the Jurançon Blanc revive many childhood memories for Alexandre: he remembers the proudly erected ports of the Jurançon vines whose hardwood was used to make faggots, vines uprooted after 80 years of good and loyal service that he is honored to replant today. At one time, the estate already had up to four grape varieties with Ugni Blanc, Baco, Plant de Graisse and Jurançon Blanc. Then time did its work, the varieties were gradually replaced, sometimes torn out, until Alexandre and Manon decided to reintroduce them all into what they present today as a life project.
A work of public utility which finds its trigger in literature: it is while reading Patrick Süskind's novel "Le Parfum" that Alexandre had the idea of transposing the world of perfumery to that of armagnac by isolating the fragrances specific to each grape variety to shape eaux-de-vie as singular as they are endearing. Since then, he will never stop with Manon to isolate each identity of each grape variety in order to build an aromatic library (as much olfactory as gustatory), composed of as many bases as senses, underlining a unique approach and an assumed desire to safeguard all the historic grape varieties of the appellation.
Perfumes that they meticulously store in their cellar-library suspended a few meters from the ground, as if to create a separate universe inviting to contemplation
As singular as they are spectacular, the barrels dominate the scene and stare at you from the entrance, urging the angels to debauchery here more than elsewhere. Much closer to Olympus than Calvary, their part is obvious, but good players, they agree to leave behind a few additional degrees of alcohol which will consolidate their fortress.
At the heart of Alexandre and Manon's work, the work in the vines is constant and the distribution of varieties constantly changing in order to give a full place to each grape variety and more particularly to the native grape varieties whose genetics they want to save : whether it's Clairette de Gascogne, Plant de Graisse, Jurançon Blanc, Meslier Saint-François or even the two Mauzacs (Mauzac Blanc and Mauzac Rosé), all have in common to be natives of the surroundings but also (and above all) for never having really had a chance to shine in the profession... Shunned for their fragility and their yield, the winegrowers have always preferred the robust Baco (local hybrid grape variety), the Ugni Blanc of Italian origin or even the very Charentais Colombard and Folle Blanche. "Boldness succeeding in those who know how to take advantage of opportunities" , Manon and Alexandre count neither their time nor their energy, maintaining an almost fusional relationship with their vines.
The harvest will begin as soon as the first circumstantial analyzes are made and when the grapes combine the right amount of acidity and sweetness. The earliest grape varieties will be primeur, generally Mauzac, and will head to the cellar to be pressed after having passed into a conquet. The juice obtained will be put in concrete vats for an entirely natural fermentation, without any input or addition which will begin after a few hours (6/10 hours generally). After a good ten days, the fermentation is coming to an end and the wine is decanted, left on its lees.
The distillation stage will follow, or rather distillations of the seven grape varieties (the other two are not yet in sufficient quantity) always starting with the smallest volume. The task, oh so delicate and precise, is left to the expertise of nomad distiller Patrick Michalouski, who has been taking care of the wines of the Ladevèze family for twenty six years (since 1996). Helped by his sidekick, he will spend 75 hours non-stop distilling the grape varieties of Alexandre and Manon on his still heated with wood. The confidence ratio is considerable and the degree of the futur armagnac is even left to Patrick's discretion, often around 54%. Habits and spontaneity have long taken precedence over sterile discussions here. The distiller distills and the winemaker contemplates.
Three and a half days will be needed to distill every wine, isolate them and close the year in style. "Our Christmas" as Manon and Alexandre like to call it, during which they always receive the most beautiful gifts: new books telling new adventures to store in their cellar-library, stamped with a new year harvest and names that seem straight out of an overflowing and poetic imagination. Clairette, Mauzac and other Folle Blanche will then join their predecessors to add new pages to their story. These pages will follow one another in a perpetually renewed story, drawing the emerging outlines of a sensitivity of the moment that Alexandre and Manon, as faithful readers, are already devouring. A story that is written on a daily basis, at the height of a man and a woman who is far from having revealed all of its plot...
Alexandre and Manon distill enough to fill ten barrels each year, with the secret hope of adding a few more in the future. Some grape varieties will only give one cask of Armagnac where the most common will fill two or even three. Some others, which are not yet in sufficient quantity, will be blended with other grape varieties to create a unique flavor. And as they let their distiller distill as he desires, Manon and Alexandre allow time to do its work: nothing is pre-established and everything will depend on the personality of each distilled grape variety: some have never seen of new cask (generally used for color and oak) while others will spend a few months at most, always with the aim of not crushing their profiles and keeping all their typicality . The cellar master's work takes on its full measure here and everything will be a question of follow-up and tastings, of time passing, with each time the most infinite respect for the 140 or so barrels that rest in their suspended cellar. Each vintage mono-varietal thus follows a distinct route, with no imposed direction but always under the close supervision of this young couple of daring winegrowers.
Not so surprising when you know that about nine months passed between the swelling of the first buds and the distillation of Armagnac...