From the Vine to Wine
Chateau Arton was born from the vines of the domaine.
The Ugni Blanc grape is planted on the “Pastor” plot, overlooking Arton Lake. The Colombard grape grows alongside the charterhouse.
In mid-August, the grapes are tasted to determine their ripeness. The level of sugar must be low and the acidity high in order for the grape to make a good distilling wine. The harvest begins at the end of August or the beginning of September according to the year. The harvests take place during the night, when it is coolest, in order to preserve the aromas of the grapes.
The grapes are pressed immediately in order to preserve flavor and avoid oxidation. The addition of sulfites is forbidden in the Armagnac-making process. Natural winemaking is created by fermentation according to traditional methods.
In October, as soon as the wine is ready, the distillation begins.
The distillation period is fixed by decree. It occurs only when the harvests are over, and it ends on the 31 of March of the year following the harvest.
From Wine to Armagnac
At Domaine d’Arton, the distillation process occurs in autumn, as near to the harvests and the fermentation period as possible, in order to conserve all of the freshness of the aromas and to ensure that the wine is young, carrying with it the story of the year in which it was grown.
The distillation happens directly on the property in a mobile copper still, called an “armagnacais”, in which continuous distillation can occur. The distiller watches his still day and night, keeping a close eye on the slow transformation of wine into eau de vie. His expert knowledge is indispensable in order for the eau de vie to take on the best aromas.
Heating the wine and nothing else — that’s the secret of our Armagnac!
Cool wine (15°C) climbs into the first column of the still, then redescends into the second column, where it flows through several trays. At the bottom, it simmers above the furnace, releasing steam that rises up to meet the cool wine coming down the tray column, enriching it further with the aromas of the wine.
When the wine vapor reaches saturation, it flows by a conduit which winds through the heart of the first column (the column holding the fresh wine). This cools and condenses the vapor, giving birth to Armagnac blanc (54% ABV).
This pure and transparent eau de vie is rich with fruity and floral aromas. After three months rest in stainless steel tanks – this is our Fine Blanche® (45% ABV) it can be bottled. Otherwise it is stored in 420-liter Gascony oak barrels, where it will become tinted with copper and golden amber nuances, further enriching its flavor and adding to its aromas to become Armagnac.
Each wine (Ugni Blanc and Colombard) is distilled separately and each cask is dedicated to a single grape variety. Blending comes later.
From the Barrel to the Aging Cellar
Getting the timing of the aging process just right is left to the experts. The aging cellar, characterized by its silence and its tarnished light, is the place where time does its work. We go to meditate there, like in a cathedral, and to sample the wares. It is in this spot where the birth of our Armagnacs take place each year.
The clear eau de vie is first stored in a new barrel. It is time for its dialogue with the oak to occur. Here the eau de vie takes on the color of the wood and feeds off its aromas, extracting the tannins present in its container. The essences collected first from the wine through distillation, and then from wood evolve during the oxidation of the Armagnac that occurs as air moves through the porous oak barrel. This alchemy works its magic to give birth to Armagnac.
The eau de vie is then transferred to an older barrel to slow down the extraction of the aromas and tannins from the wood, in order to avoid it overwhelming the fruit, and continues to mature slowly before attaining the perfect balance in flavors. Elle se repose. It rests. The palate of the aromas ( pear, pepper, vanilla and prune) develop. The aromas of wood mature and the notes of rancio appear.
At Domaine d’Arton, the barrels are alternated from a dry cellar to a humid one. The passage from one cellar to another is done during the tasting period. The varying differences in temperature and humidity throughout the season can affect the aging of the eau de vie.
The dry cellar enables the extraction of the various components existing naturally in the wooden barrels. The water evaporates, creating a more concentrated taste and intensifying the alcoholic content, elevating the Armagnac. The humid cellar, dating from the 18th century, then allows some of the alcohol to escape. That is what we call the “angels’ share”! The alcoholic content naturally diminishes to reach 45°.
It is over the course of the aging process that the eau de vie takes on the characteristic amber color of Armagnac. Our Armagnac is authentic. We add neither wood chips nor coloring to accelerate its maturation. Time is allowed to work at its own pace to complete its masterpiece.
The aging process of our Armagnacs is tailored to each batch. Regular tasting is essential to oversee the balance of aromas, tannins and alcohol. It determines the final taste of our Armagnacs, which is our signature.
Blending and Bottling at the Estate
After 10 to 12 years the Armagnac has reached the peak of its maturity. The time has come to either begin the process of blending or creating a vintage if it is particularly good. Then comes bottling. Once under glass the Armagnac will not age much at all. The glass preserves all the aromas.
The interplay of different blends shapes the soul of our Armagnacs, ensuring year after year that their taste profile is respected. The vintages are the expression of an exceptional year. They contain a single year’s grape harvest.
Armagnac is the art of taking the time to let nature do its work. We are only here to bring this work to light.