Aquitaine was conquered in the year 55 BC by Publius Crassus, a lieutenant under Julius Caesar, and very quickly became a wine-producing centre that rivalled the production in Italy. Archaeological finds have shown that Publius Crassus lived in a Gallo-Roman villa in Lacquy. Two pillars can be seen in the sacristy of the village church.
The Armagnac region, in the very heart of Aquitaine, is west of Toulouse and south-east of Bordeaux. Wine has been made there for over 2000 years, and white wine has been distilled there since the Middle Ages.
Armagnac is the oldest wine spirit in the world, as attested to in a document written by the monk Vital du Four in 1310. He describes an “eau ardente” – or pungent water, and praises its medicinal properties. Today, Armagnac is obtained by distilling white wine in a column still, though the still has evolved over time, as is described further on.
Indeed eau-de-vie has been made in Armagnac since the Middle Ages, however trade in spirits only started in an organised fashion in the early 18th century, with the development of commercial contacts with Dutch merchants. This is precisely the era – 1711 – that Château de Lacquy was purchased to produce Armagnac. The Armagnac region is landlocked and never benefited from the extraordinary commercial development that Cognac enjoyed due to the navigability of the Charente river. As a result Armagnac remained an artisanal product which today endows it with its specific aura and its character.
The appellation was created in the 20th century, first by the Decree of 25 May 1909 which defined the production area, then by the Decree of 6 August 1936 which created the AOC.
Today there are 5,135 hectares identified in the appellation, of which 1,980 were used in for distillation in 2016. This contrasts with the 75,000 hectares for the Cognac appellation. 3 million bottles of Armagnac are sold each year, approximately half in France and half on the export market. Another contrast with Cognac: the Hennessy firm in Cognac sold 72 million bottles of Cognac in 2015, which is more than 20 times the entire Armagnac appellation.
Armagnac is indeed a rare and deluxe product.