Janneau Armagnac Distillery Visit
March 25, 2015
Maison Janneau armagnac is located near the town of Condom. It is the #1 exported brand of cognac, and it was purchased 10 days before my visit.
The brand was founded in 1851. In the 1970s it was sold to Martell cognac, then Martell was sold to Seagrams, then when Seagrams broke up it was sold to an Italian importer, then just sold to Spirits France. It is not currently for sale in the US, but that could certainly change.
Making Armagnac at Janneau
Janneau does not own vineyards. They purchase wine from about 20 different producers and distill it themselves. They purchase wine from all the top four grape varietals grown in both the Bas Armagnac and Tenareze regions.
They have both a typical armagnac column/continuous still and pot stills. They are one of just 3 armagnac houses that uses pot stills. They say that double pot still distillation is better for young armagnac.
The pot still for the first distillation is a huge 100 hectoliters still. It produces 40 hectoliters of spirit at 32% ABV after the first distillation.
The spirit is then split up and put into smaller stills for the second distillation. Each of the 25 hectoliters stills is filled with 20 hectoliters of spirit. During distillation, the first 50 liters are heads, then the heart is 700 liters at around 70-72% ABV, then the tails are 600 liters. In total, 100 hectoliters of wine produces 1400 liters of eau de vie using the pot stills.
Heads and tails are redistilled with the next batch, not discarded.
Dilution and Aeration of Armagnac
Armagnac needs a lot of aeration during aging, according to my hosts. The distiller says that the aeration doesn't diminish the aroma or blow off much of the alcohol in the aging spirit, but it helps homogenize together the brandy while aging. (In armagnac, standard procedure is to combine aging barrels' contents together and redistribute them each year, rather than letting the barrels get empty as they evaporate due to the angels' share.) As far as I can tell, this is pretty unusual or at least not discussed in other spirits.
Brandy typically comes off the still at 70% ABV when they double distill in pot stills. They dilute it to 65% before putting it in the barrel (when they single distill, they distill it up to 65% and don't need to dilute). They reduce the proof by 5% ABV each year until it reaches 50% ABV in three years, then decide how to use it - for which bottling. Each year when they do this they purposefully aerate the armagnac.
We happened to be there as they were dumping out some barrels to redistribute - they pour the brandy through a metal grate to help it aerate.
Aging and Bottling
Janneau's headquarters are quite amazing: It looks like an office with a garage entrance next to it, but then they gave us the tour. The structure is actually a gigantic barn with huge ceilings. We went down to the basement level where there were barrels aging beneath the ground floor offices, then another level beneath that. It was built, out of wood as far as I can tell, in 1851.
We also visited a large and newer warehouse with metal racks for the barrels.
One of the unique characteristics about armagnac is that often the aging facilities are combined with the offices and are centrally located. (There are more examples of this I'll talk about in other armagnac distillery visits from this trip.) Some aging warehouses are right near the centers of town - crazy given the amount of flammable liquids stored inside.
Janneau produces two different lines; the classic and the single-distillery line. Confusingly, the single-distillery line is all double distilled armagnac. But this allowed us to taste some comparisons: I tried an 18 year old single- and double-distilled armagnac blend versus an all double-distilled bottling. The one with some single-distilled armagnac had more body and texture, while the double distilled was thinner with more woody notes including allspice.
For my second armagnac distillery visited, this was pretty overwhelming in a good way.
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