TO SEE | WINE
Enjoying a martini now and then, I recently discovered that its key ingredient comes in fact from the South of France. La Maison Noilly Prat in Marseillan manufactures vermouth already since 1813 and proudly invites you to their estate. Here you can discover all about Noilly Prat’s blends, join a guided tour or one of the other organised experiences.
After a warm welcome from the lovely guide Lisa, the big green door in the entrance hall opens to reveal some of Noilly Prat’s secrets. The sweet smell of wine that hangs in the air of the cave comes from the white Picpoul wine, stocked in the enormous Canadian oak casks. Each barrel shows how much hectolitre it contains, going from 300 to over 400 hl! Ageing for eight months, to get a more mature taste, the wine is then transferred into smaller wine barrels.
From the dark and cool cave we are brought outside, where we are surprised by the sight of more than 1,000 wine barrels enjoying the Southern French sun. Whereas normal wine shouldn’t be stocked outside, the eight months aged white Picpoul wine in these barrels needs to mature for another 12 months to give it its specific flavour. Lisa lets us taste wine from two different barrels: one of four months old and the other twelve months. I can really taste the difference in maturity.
Once back inside, we enter an old workplace where time stood still. A beautiful cast iron spiral staircase immediately draws everyone’s attention. Being in this place, steeped in hundreds of years of history, makes me realise how unique the product of Noilly Prat is. Even in this fast-technology society, Noilly Prat is practically manufactured as it was 200 years ago.
The last part of the tour is a small museum. Here I learn more about the four different blends: original dry, extra dry, red and amber. Each blend has its secret mix of herbs and botanicals. The original and extra dry versions even contain a bit of absinthe. The plant that is, not the spirit. After all the maturing of the wine, it is time for the finishing touch. Three full bags of herbs and botanicals are put into the barrels from above and stirred with a special tool. The stirring part is repeated a couple of minutes every day, for the next three weeks. Quite a heavy job! So next time when enjoying your Noilly Prat, think about these strong men that work the herbs through each barrel every day…
If you want, you can spend an entire day at La Maison Noilly Prat. Lisa calls this the “Noilly Prat Cure”. We ended our tour with a cocktail masterclass, but you can also do a vermouth tasting, and even mix your own vermouth! In the shop, you will find the four Noilly Prat blends and other cool gifts. What about Noilly Prat tea, the original shaker and jug, a book with cocktail recipes and more Noilly Prat inspired products. Maybe I did get the Noilly Prat Cure in the end…