Anyone who has read our advice for what to do when it rains in Normandy will know touring the makers of wonderful calvados, pommeau and cider is very high on the list. But what to expect? Here are some notes from our visit to the comte Louis de Lauriston cellars, near Domfront.
Didier Thomas welcomed us in and led us around to the cellar. Rather than the domaine of one rich man, calvados named ‘comte Louis de Lauriston’ is the product of a community of farmers. This community brand has a very surprising history.
The rather interesting history of the comte Louis de Lauriston cellar
Farmers of the dense countryside around Domfront have for centuries valued the privacy its higgledy-piggledy woods and hedge lined little fields have given them. If these family businesses chose to distil some of the pear and apple cider they produced, as far as they were concerned it was nobody’s business but their own.
Unfortunately the taxman did not agree. Trouble came in 1962.
A group of eager excise men snuck up on a remote farm near Domfront and, to their initial delight, burst into a barn and caught the farmer red handed working on his illicit still.
In the commotion a farmworker slunk off to their nearest neighbour and word quickly spread amongst the farming community that one of their own was in a lot of trouble.
The situation deteriorates
In a very short space of time the excise men found themselves trapped up against a wall with a semicircle of irate farmers on tractors and in cars shining their headlights at them. The tax men were heavily outnumbered.
The situation was deteriorating rapidly when someone sensibly sent for the secretary of the local farmer’s federation; Comte Louis de Lauriston. Negotiations between the comte, farmers and tax men went on through the night.
Finally was agreed there would be no fine, on condition that a communal cellar was set up to store and market the local Domfront calvados, in full accordance with the law.
The comte duly set up the Chaise du Verger Normand cellar and gave it his name. Since that time calvados distilled on the farms around Domfront using their traditional methods, is delivered for sale to the cellar at Domfront. Here it is aged in oak barrels and marketed under the ‘Comte Louis de Lauriston’ name. The Lauriston quality is outstanding, recognised with over 200 medals and certificates.
Speciality of a small region
Pear cider has been made around Domfront since the dawn of time, probably before apple cider, and pear trees can live for 300 years. A local legend says a good pear tree needs ‘a hundred years to grow, one hundred years to produce, one hundred years to die’. France learnt distillation from Arab travelers as far back as the 7th and 8th centuries. Distillation in Normandy is known from the 14th century.
Poiré Domfront (pear cider) and calvados Domfront, can only be made by farms within a very strict area geographical area, that benefit from the particular soil of the region, and grow only an approved range of pear and apple varieties.
A Domfrontais cider orchard must have at least 15% pear trees (25% from 2016), with pears taken only from trees of a certain age. The spirit blend must contain at least 30% distilled pear cider. No sugar can be added and fermentation must be natural without pasteurisation. Domfrontais calvados is aged for at least three years to bring out the pear flavour (apple calvados is aged for a minimum of two years). The results are wonderful.
Taste test (free!)
Back in the saleroom Didier encouraged us to try a range of exquisite Domfrontais calvados, plain apple calvados (both are made) cider and Pommeau. There are calvados bottles dating back to the first 1962 vintage and to our delight bottles from the years we were born.
In our opinion Poiré Domfront has the smoothness and subtle flavour of a very good champagne. The pears in calvados Domfrontais give it an added layer of flavour that cannot be beaten. The Japanese agree, we saw a huge crate of calvados packed and ready to be sent over to Tokyo.
Happily quite a few bottles came home with us.
After our visit we drove a sort distance along from Lauriston’s cellars to Rue des Antiques brocante barn. In exceedingly good spirts it seemed a very good idea to buy a set of eight (very lovely) chairs that we didn’t know we needed. That is the calvados effect. You have been warned.
A lot more fascinating Domfrontais calvados facts here on the comte Louis de Lauriston website (En)
Want to visit?
The comte Louis de Lauriston cellar and tasting room is on rue du Mont Saint Michel, La Canjonnière, 61700 Domfront, France.
Opening times; Monday to Friday: 9 am to 12 noon and 2pm to 6pm, Saturday from 9:30 am to 12 noon. For group visits best to call ahead.