A Short History of Armagnac

The growing of vines goes all the way back to the Romans and the mosaics discovered in the remains of the Gallo-Roman villas in the Gers bear witness to this heritage. Much later, towards the end of the sixth century, the Vascons invaded the country that was to carry their name, becoming the Duchy of Gascogne in 670. The name Armagnac appeared for the first time in the tenth century. The first writings about its trade only start in 1464 to regulate sales, though « l’Aygue Ardente » was already known under the name of Aqua Ardente around 1310 in the Vatican where ancient texts extol its merits (“the 40 virtues of Armagnac” by Doctor and Cardinal Vital Dufour).

Armagnac is therefore the oldest eau-de-vie in France (Cognac only made its appearance in 1725). In the seventeenth century, the Dutch bought all of the wines along the French Atlantic coast with the exception of the Bordeaux wines which were reserved for the English; hence their first contact with the winegrowers in the Gers. Afraid of the competition, the people from Bordeaux intercepted the convoys under the pretext that no wine other than Bordeaux could be transported by the rivers; this was the regulation of the « Grand Privilège de Bordeaux ». Although the transport of wine was forbidden, transport of alcohol wasn’t and therefore distillation started with the alambics.

Credit must be given to the Arabs for the invention of the alambic, at least its improvements and above all its expansion in the western hemisphere. It was the Moors that brought us this thousand year old custom after crossing the Pyrenees. Eau-de-vie became a veritable product for trading and to avoid bad years, stocks were reserved in oak barrels that we learnt about from the time of the Celts. Armagnac was to see an incredible boom in the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, up until 1870 when the phylloxera disease annihilated the vineyards. Armagnac lived its darkest hours. Of the 100 000 hectares planted at the time, only a quarter were replanted and the trade very slowly started again. The region had to get organised. The Armagnac eau-de-vie definitely and officially took its name in 1909 using its appellation name. The decree dated May 25th (Décret Fallière) also designated the production zone for Armagnac eaux-de-vie and its three regions. The decree of August 6th 1936 defined the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Armagnac and the rules for its production.



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