Heritage remains of crucial importance for many Armagnac producers, and it is a sad fact that for some, whose family line ends with the current owners, it is hard to see how their production will continue. It was therefore heartening to visit Chateau de Lacquy, where it was clear to see how the passion and experience of the senior family members has been passed on to future generations.
This Armagnac house has been in the hands of the same family since 1711 and is the oldest family owned estate producing Armagnac. Even before 1711, the estate was owned by the Pontac family (Ch. Haut-Brion), and it has been intact since the Middle Ages. You can see why when you get there. The approach along a long winding driveway through the 400 hectare estate is magical. Why would anyone want to leave?
When you arrive, there is no mistaking the whereabouts of the Armagnac cellar. It’s walls are black! The Germans, during their wartime occupation, had no difficulty locating the booze. They also appropriated the alambic (still) for its metal.
Although this is a large estate, only 22 hectares of it is under vine. It is a true example of Gascon poly culture. Wheat and vegetable crops are grown, and there is an extensive oak forest which is home to abundant and varied wildlife.
The family have total control over all aspects of the Armagnac production process, all of which happens on the estate, from grape growing, to wine making, to distillation using their own wood fired alambic, to ageing, to bottling and packaging. An elderly lady who lived on the estate for many years used to bottle the Armagnac to order. Sadly she is no longer in residence, and inevitably, a machine now takes her place. A new distillery will be built in the next year, and 1 hectare of vines is planted each year so investment in future production is ongoing.
The grape varieties have been adapted over the years. Folle Blanche grows especially well here, and prior to the predations of the phylloxera louse, it was the main source of wine for Armagnac here. But phylloxera changed that, and the grapes now used are roughly 1/3 Folle Blanche (fruity, floral and elegant), 1/3 Baco (replaced Folle Blanche – powerful, fleshy and long lived), and 1/3 Colombard (planted in the 1960’s, powerful, with pepperiness and approachability in youth). Ugni Blanc, the Cognac workhorse, is also grown but now mostly sold to others for winemaking. It is not thought to show at its best at Lacquy. The estate used to make wines of its own for sale, but has chosen in recent years to focus on Armagnac.
The current owner, or perhaps guardian, Gilles de Boisséson who is the 10th generation of this noble Armagnac family, was absent when Amanda Garnham of BNIA and I arrived. One of Gilles’ sons, Jean, kindly stepped up to show us around instead. I did wonder how much he would know, as he apparently worked in Paris and was home for a family visit. But it soon became clear that Jean is as passionate and committed to the Armagnacs of Lacquy as his father, and indeed, their forebears.
We ventured into the cellar, which has a number of features which make it an ideal place for Armagnac to age. Much like wine, Armagnac needs consistent temperature and humidity levels and darkness to age successfully. So this cellar is situated in shade, with insulation provided by its tiled roof and timber framed attic. The floor, if you can call it that, is of beaten earth, which allows humidity to be absorbed naturally. The walls are thick, with narrow windows. There were cobwebs aplenty as we prized open the ancient door and took in the Armagnac aromas, which the angels would otherwise have had for themselves.
The barrels, 50% of which are new each year, are fashioned by hand by local cooper Bartholomo from local pedunculated oak of varying char levels according to the needs of the eau de vie. The Armagnac can be moved into different barrels as it ages, according to its requirements.
While we were in the cellar, one of Jean’s brothers and his wife arrived, along with their young son, who conducted a brief but none the less thorough inspection of the cellar. Apparently satisfied, he and his mother left us, but both brothers enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to explain anything and everything we wanted to know. So there was now no doubt that when the time comes, Lacquy will be in expert, enthusiastic and committed hands – of both 11th and 12th generations!
My visit was in early November 2019, and Jean told us that the harvest, in September, had been very good with clean fruit – a particularly pertinent observation bearing in mind that they use Folle Blanche. The distillation was due to start the following week, at which they aim for 53% and distill the grape varieties separately. There were various alambic parts on show which enabled an understanding of how the character of Armagnac comes from the vapours being forced through the wine on the plates as they ascend through the still.
There were Armagnacs to taste at the far end of the cellar, starting with a 3 year old blend which was very impressive for an entry level bottling. It was smooth and surprisingly complex with banana, caramel, prune and vanilla character. This would be a mixologist’s dream.
I also tasted a delicate 17 year old with appealing nutty orange character.
Finally a 1999 with poise and magnificent depth of flavour; opening notes of caramel, pecans and coffee evolved into earthiness and prunes. I didn’t write down the grapes and assumed from its profile it must be Baco; I then found I had taken a photo, so impressed was I with it – and as you can see, 80% Baco – so I have clearly learnt something on this trip! Brut de Fût means cask strength. Both the cask number and bottle number are shown, so those seeking provenance will find it here.
Back in the shop and tasting room, the brothers decided I needed to try 100% Colombard from 2001 to experience its true character. Pale mahogany in colour, this was exuberantly exotic with racy notes of spice, pepper and herbaceousness, plenty of tannins and depth of sandalwood flavour on its everlasting finish. Many thanks to them both for this treat, and also for showing us around.
It was sad to leave such a magical place, but if ever I need to reminisce their website is first class, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for spirits students and Armagnac lovers. Everything is on there from information about the soil, the climate, the grapes grown, the winemaking, the distillation and the ageing process, including how to drink it! There are even recipes, for both cuisine and cocktails! Do have a look: https://www.chateaudelacquy.com/le-chateau-de-lacquy/?lang=en
For those looking to buy, great news. UK shoppers will find that Master of Malt has a wide range of Lacquy gems available online, including 1999 which they say is 100% Baco – be quick, only 1 left when I looked. Most bottlings come in relatively understated traditional tall Armagnac bottles, but for those after a gift, the Carafe de Siecles is stylish and comes with a wooden box. Whatever you go for, you will be tasting authentic Armagnac heritage at its finest.