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«My father inoculated me with the calvados virus»

Christian Drouin fils

The story of a passion
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In 1960

Christian Drouin senior became the owner of the Fiefs SainteAnne on the Gonneville hills, near Honfleur. The farm was planted with cider-apple trees and Christian was soon seized by the desire to produce his own calvados. Christian was both rigorous and enterprising: with the help of Pierre Pivet, a licensed distiller well known in the northern part of the Pays d'Auge, he spent the first twenty years distilling his cider production. The resulting calvados was set aside to age in former sherry, port or calvados casks stored in the old half-timbered outbuildings of the farm. He also acquired several batches of very old calvados when the estates of some reputed producers were sold. Christian Drouin senior won his first medals in regional competitions and in Paris.

In 1969

Christian Drouin junior went into partnership with his father, but it was only in 1979 that stocks were considered sufficient to allow marketing to begin. Christian Drouin junior had spent almost ten years abroad, so he naturally decided to give the business an international orientation. Against the background of the «coffee and calva» culture, and in a sector still highly regionalized and dominated by sales of young calvados, Christian envisaged a quite different future for his spirits. He was fascinated by the art of aging and, with the benefit of the stocks produced by his father, he specialized in the production of the rarest and oldest calvados that he was soon delivering to the world's great hotels and finest restaurants. In 1991-92, to meet the need for more space generated by the success of the firm, he transferred production to another 17th-century farm in CoudrayRabut near Pont l'Evèque.

In January 2004

The third generation joined the firm. Guillaume Drouin trained as an agricultural engineer and winemaker. He devoted his first five years in the business to developing exports before taking over production management and then general management of the company in 2013. Today the blends are still created jointly by Guillaume and his father, who also share responsibility for the export markets.

Creator of great Calvados

Harvest


«Autumn is the most exciting season. You have to look at almost every tree to judge he ripeness of the fruit and plan the cider vintage. The thirty apple varieties in our orchards offer almost infinite variety.»

The orchard of standards and their harvesting Apples for the production of cider and calvados come from two family orchards standing between Gonneville-surHonfleur and Coudray-Rabut. Some thirty apple cultivars ranging from bittersharps (20%) through bittersweets (50%) to sweets (20%) and sharps ((10%) are planted there, solely in the form of standards. The orchards are managed according to the rules of organic farming. Cows graze the orchards, contributing to production by fertilizing the soil and eating the wormy apples in September. Apples are harvested on the ground when fully ripe, between September and November, and then taken to the press. In addition to the family orchards, apples also come from four farms in Gonnevillesur-Honfleur where soil conditions and production methods are identical.

Pressing with moderation

Before being crushed the apples are carefully washed and sorted. On emerging from the grater the apple pomace remains for several hours in a stainless-steel hopper. This allows more colour to be extracted, and produces cider with tannins that are softer and less bitter. The apples are then pressed in a pneumatic press specially adapted for the transformation of cider apples, with a moderate champagne-type pressing programme that extracts juice with low yields of only 65%. The resulting must has a frankly fruity fragrance with no tartness or bitterness.

Natural fermentations

The distillation of ciders of different ages

The ciders produced in the autumn are kept for several months in cider vats and tuns. Distillation of the youngest ciders gives simple, fruity spirits that are well suited to sale as very young calvados. Distillation continues until June and sometimes even into the autumn to produce calvados of more robust structure, with more clearlymarked acidity. Calvados made in this way has greater potential for aging and makes it possible to create the more mature vintages which are the firm's speciality.

Distillation

«Each batch of cider is different and needs a properly adapted distillation process.»

The first distillation, of cider, results in an intermediate product, a light spirit containing about 30% alcohol and known as «les petites eaux». The heads and tails of this distillation, which contain unwanted ingredients, are discarded. The «petites eaux» are distilled in a second distillation, the «bonne chauffe». The heads and tails are once again discarded, with cut-off points varying according to the quality of the cider. The calvados as distilled contains 70% alcohol; it is colourless and gives off a fruity aroma..

The aging of calvados, or how to create style and balance

«With age, the fruity aroma of calvados evolves from that of fresh apples to ripe apples, cooked apples, stewed apples and then dried fruit. The nose is enriched by floral and spicy notes from the wood. The calvados becomes smoother and more concentrated as the years go by»

Christian Drouin Calvados ages in oak barrels. The more volatile components responsible for the ardent character of immature spirits are eliminated over time due to evaporation. The calvados extracts various substances from the wood, in particular tannins which give it colour and body. On contact with oxygen the substances from the wood dissolved in the spirit undergo a chemical transformation. This produces new aromas and gives the calvados its «nose». As evaporation proceeds the calvados becomes smoother and more concentrated. The cellars where Christian Drouin Calvados ages contain mostly small casks, allowing more exchanges between the wood and the spirit and, though the wood, between the spirit and the air. Consequently evaporation (the «angels' share») is much more significant (around 4%) than that normally observed in Normandy (close to 2%). Many of the casks are old. It has been observed that these re-used casks (that formerly contained sherry, port, Rivesaltes or Banyuls) limits the uptake of bitter tannins and helps to give a fine colour, body, and great aromatic complexity. Vats of 15 to 25 hectolitres are used for racking, blending and storage of old calvados that has acquired sufficient tannin. Each blend in the range and each of the vintages has its unique aging programme suited to its age and the intended style. Christian Drouin and Guillaume taste all the barrels in the cellar every year before deciding on the use to be made of each one.