On the Trail

On the Trail in Armagnac

David Othenin-Girard

This past summer I travelled to France with the illustrious Charles Neal for a quick tour of Gascogne in Armagnac. The goal was to find new producers which neither of us had tried before. I arrived in Gascogne after a fifteen hour drive from Beaune where I'd spent the previous night with Jean-Arnauld of Michel Couvreur to discuss the exciting future of that spectacular brand. When I arrived in Montreal du Gers, Charles had just returned from family vacation in the Pyrenees and was ready to get to work. We immediately got back in the car to visit our old friends at Ravignan, where the young cellar master greeted us and took us through an examination of twenty of his favorite vintages. Then we began work on a little blending project, which is still in the works, with the ultimate goal of bottling some Ravignan that tastes like the real deal, but at an everyday drinkers price point. These blends can take a long time to perfect, both in terms of price and consistency, but hopefully we’ll be seeing something from them before the end of this year. 

When we returned to Montreal du Gers, Charles’s brother in law Bernard Daubin was grilling lamb chops! The entire family was there and we set up a table on the central square outside. The magic of the Gers is truly the people and the Daubin family is the epitome of the fact. After an incredible dinner and some gnarly agricole rhum from Reunion Island where Charles’s other brother-law Timo lives, I was fully beat. The next two days would be a whirlwind adventure of none-stop knocking on doors and asking directions, but ultimately we located three new producers who have remained completely under the radar until now. Each of these three represent different types of ownership in Armagnac. This particular article is about the youth—the young and hungry trying to build on what their fathers and grandfathers had built—representing some of the best values we’ll ever see in French brandy and without a doubt a long term future partner of ours. 

Domaine du Cardinat is one of those hidden little gems run by some of the sweetest people in Gascogne. They know they have something special, but aren’t necessarily entrenched business members of the industry and they definitely aren't aware of K&L, our brandy consumers, or what the niche market wants. Not that they’re provincial in anyway, they’re quite cosmopolitan, but their story is unusual in that this younger generation has taken over the branding, rather than simply sell all the production to one of the larger blending houses like so many of their neighbors have. The Domaine dates back to the late 19th century when Joseph Lalanne farmed the land and built the family home which stills stands today. In 1935, his sudden death thrust his young son Camille into the patriarchal role. Just four years later at then tender age of nineteen, on the eve of World War II, Camille planted his first vines.

In a time when the future was anything but certain Camille dove into this patient passion and devoted the rest of his life to the cultivation of Armagnac. He worked the land by himself for another seventy years before being joined by his daughter Patricia and her husband Malkeet. Patricia, who specialized in viticulture and oenology, had left the family domaine years earlier to pursue a career in marketing. Her savvy for business and willingness to learn was the first thing I noticed about her. Most Armagnac producers don’t necessarily ask what our customers want, they simply show us their wares, tell us their prices, talk about the vines, and the history of the domaine. Patricia, perhaps from her new relationship with the domaine, or maybe it’s simply her nature, was very interested in what I had to say about what K&L was looking for.. She was interested to hear that we’d only bottle products at full strength with no additives. Her oenologist has recommended she add boise and sugar during blending to make the products more approachable. I said, “Absolutely not! We want the real deal, bottled the old way, straight from the cask.” 

Needless to say she obliged. Cardinat has a very small, but loyal following, most of which buys their Armagnac directly from the domaine. From what I can tell, the Singh family has opened up a small business in the UK and Switzerland as well. Patricia and her extremely thoughtful and kind husband Malkeet Singh are proud new parents and you can feel that itch—that feeling that as a new dad I’ve only recently felt myself: to do something bigger than their predecessors for their children. We’re proud to have them as one of our direct imports and hope you enjoy their wonderful products as much as we do. 

-David Othenin-Girard