Founded in 1898 at Forcalquier in the Haute Provence, Distilleries et Domaines de Provence have been making aperitifs and Provencal liqueurs for over 100 years.
It is here that gatherers of medicinal herbs first became tradesmen in the middle ages by distilling these precious plants.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, these traders settled in many towns in the region as suppliers of medicines or apothecaries.
In the 19th century some became pharmacists, others distillers, and some combined both trades. Wine and alcohol, maceration and distillation were the means by which the plants’ aromas and active ingredients could be extracted and conserved. The specialities that they created from the plants of the Lure region were often concoctions with purgative qualities, or tonics, digestives and aperitifs. It was only at the end of the century that distillers began to specialise in the production of liqueurs and aperitif drinks.
Today these skills have been preserved and maintained by Distilleries et Domaines de Provence for over 100 years, to be diffused throughout the world for the greater pleasure of all lovers of fine spirits.
From apothecaries of the Lure to distillers at Forcalquier…
In this region of southern France, knowledge of the curative properties of certain herbs and the skills of picking them for medicinal purposes go back to prehistoric times, and more specifically to Neolithic times, some eight thousand years ago. (The word phyto-therapy is derived from the Greek phyto, phuton – plants, and therapeuien - to treat). This science and practice developed at the time of the Greeks and the Romans who already valued the plants of the Lure mountains for their therapeutic and magical qualities.
“There is no doubt that many phyto-therapy recipes used today originated at this period” (J.Zammit, Neolithic Man and Disease, in Dossiers de l’Archéologie – June 1980)
The propensity to healing of the area of Forcalquier was already recognized in the 11th century, as witnessed by the village names of Lardiers (Larderii : leprous) where lepers were treated, and later l’Hospitalet (hospital). Certainly the medicinal plants that grew on the Lure mountains played a part in the siting of these settlements.
Alongside this healing vocation, an important business linked to the gathering and treatment of these medicinal plants sprang up. Merchants picked plants growing on the slopes of the Lure mountains and sold them all around the region, setting off towards the end of October with pack mules heavily loaded with aromatic and medicinal herbs for their trade of travelling apothecaries.
Towards the end of the 17th century, some three-quarters of the population of this region lived off herbalism. By the 18th century, these travelling salesmen from the Alpes de Haute Provence were to be found across the whole of the south of France, in Lyon, in Burgundy, and in the Italian Piedmont. A family of apothecaries even settled in Constantinople.
But the pharmacologists of the Lure did not stop at selling plants. From the end of the 18th century onwards they also distilled them to obtain essential essences or blends for export. And thus elixirs were created. The distillers, both pharmacists and producers of spirits, began to specialise at the end of the 19th century, when a whole series of “medicines” became “syrups” and then evolved into liqueurs drunk for pleasure. (e.g. the lithotriptic syrup, made by Etienne Gabriel Graimy of the Seminary of Lurs, was sold as a product to dissolve kidney stones, increase appetite, aid digestion and facilitate sleep)
In the country around the Lure mountains, and towards Manosque, there were more than 15 distilleries making spirits and absinthe liqueur at that time. And it is this tradition that we have inherited and perpetuated.
But the Great War and the prohibition of the sale of absinthe in 1915 led to the disappearance of practically all of the distilleries.…
From the “Distillerie de Lure” to “Distilleries et Domaines de Provence”
The company that was to become Distilleries et Domaines de Provence experienced numerous changes of name, ownership and legal status. It is known that it was founded in 1898 thanks to a poster from 1935 that mentioned that the “Distillerie de Lure” was 37 years old, although the name of the original founder is not recorded. The distillery formerly occupied a modest property in the centre of Forcalquier, then expanded into a building on the opposite side of the road, before constructing purpose-built premises in the town’s commercial zone, the Chalus, in 1983.
In 1912 a certain Paul Ferréoux, a painter who specialised in trompe-l’œil, was brought to Mane to restore the paintings in the Château de Sauvan and settled in Forcalquier. Exonerated from military service because of a handicap, he worked in various jobs during the 1914-1918 war, including as a fruit merchant, in the wines and spirits trade, and later as a vendor of lemonade. In 1920 he purchased a small distillery business that had been created in 1898 and began making syrups and fizzy drinks, and selling wines.
In 1939, seven years before his death, he sold the business to two associates, Jean Nalin and Marcel Pascal. Returning from taking supplies to the Resistance fighters sheltering in the mountains of the Lure, Marcel Pascal found himself at the wheel of the distillery truck in the centre of Forcalquier in the midst of a bitter combat between the Germans and the Resistance. He was arrested and shot in 1944.
A coachbuilder and wheelwright by trade, Henri Bardouin was unable to continue after suffering a severe injury to one of his hands during the Second World War, and so began working at the distillery. Having been born at Ongles, at the foot of the Lure, he was passionate about nature and would traverse the hills in search of mushrooms or in pursuit of game. And through the distillery he developed a love of wild and aromatic plants, and his natural curiosity allowed him to acquire solid knowledge of local lore and the region’s culture. With a sprig of herb more often than not between his lips, he also mastered the art of communication, passing on his skills and sharing his passion with those that worked with him to ensure that this tradition of plant-based aperitifs and liqueurs would carry on.
At this time the distillery was making the Liqueur de Lure (forerunner of the Farigoule) and the Gentiane de Lure (which still exists). The old pastis was named in honour of Paul Ferréoux (Paulanis), and a new pastis - Diamant – was created for sale only to the local bars.
En 1946, on the death of Marcel Pascal, Henri purchased his widows share in the company, and in 1962 when Jean Nalin sold his stake, Henri Bardouin became sole proprietor of the business.
Until the end of the sixties, Henri Bardouin continued to extend the range of liqueurs (Génépi, Amandine….). To face up to the challenge of competition he proposed his products to specialist shops and developed sales on the Côte d’Azur.
Jacques Bardouin took the reins from his father in 1973, giving a new impetus to the business with a range of new products. Henri Bardouin retired in 1974 but continued to work alongside the new team under the joint management of his son and Alain Robert, a childhood friend. He died in 1979. In 1976 Jacques Bardouin became head of the company, introducing a new marketing direction, with commercialisation at regional, national and even international levels. He later created a new activity, entrusting the management of the Distillerie de Lure to Alain Robert.
The Distillerie de Lure became the Distillerie de Haute Provence in 1984. The company developed several ranges of products, including liqueurs, aperitifs, fruit in alcohol and eau- de-vie. A new pastis, Occitanis, was also born using a new recipe. The Diamond pastis became the standard pastis, destined for distribution in bars, and Occitanis was destined for retailers.
In 1986 the Distillerie de Haute-Provence created CARLTON, a peach flavoured sparkling wine which met with immense success, both in France and around the world.
The company was acquired by the Pernod-Ricard group in 1987, enabling it to produce and distribute more than 3,500,000 bottles. Pernod was attributed the distribution rights of Carlton in 1990. That same year, Alain Robert, still Director of the Distilleries de Haute Provence, bought the business and renamed it Distilleries et Domaines de Provence.
The history of Distilleries et Domaines de Provence
Distilleries et Domaines de Provence was on the threshold of a new era in 1990.
Under the impulsion of Alain ROBERT, the company created Pastis HENRI BARDOUIN, and BAU- a sparkling wine made from Muscat grapes, and reviewed the range of wine-based aperitifs (Peach Rinquinquin, Orange Colombo, Noix de la Saint-Jean, Gentiane de Lure) and traditional liqueurs (Farigoule, thyme liqueur, Amandine, Génépi, and later Douce, a subtle blend of Alpine Pear eau-de-vie and Cognac…).
With only 14 employees at the time, but with the benefit of technical and commercial experience, the enterprise chose a premium positioning for its products, and Pastis HENRI BARDOUIN, composed of over 65 plants and spices from the world over became the reference in its category – obtaining a first Gold Medal at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris in 2008 and regularly placed at the top of its category by specialist magazines.
There have been many attempts to copy it, but its reputation is solid and its quality speaks for itself.
The company’s growth has been rapid, with annual progression in double figures.
New products appear, and others are replaced, creating a dynamism in the range and an innovative and creative brand image. With the export market being an important part of its development, the creation first of ABSENTE in 1999, « Liqueur of absinthe plants » then « Absinthe », were significant motors to development in Europe, the United States and now in 78 countries around the world.
GRANDE ABSENTE, ABSENTE La Crème, ABSENTE ORDINAIRE and ABSENTE SUPRÊME followed in this range that arouses the public’s interest, their curiosity around the renaissance of a myth and an enormous desire to taste it!
The latest addition to the range is VERMOUTH DE FORCALQUIER, the result of macerating absinthe plants and spices in white wine.
It is interesting to note that the Eau-de-vie de Marc de Provence, distilled at Forcalquier in a still that is over 100 years old won a Gold Medal at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris in 2013, showing that experience and passion can rival with technology! Now, however, distillation takes place in new copper and stainless-steel stills using the most modern techniques to ensure operational precision and guaranteed quality and regularity.
This growth has allowed the company to recruit regularly, both unskilled workers who wish to live and work in the region, and are determined to contribute, and engineers and professionals from the world of agronomy, wine or packaging.
Distilleries et Domaines de Provence now totals 38 employees for a turnover of 8,450,540€ of which 3,489,397€, or more than 41% is from export.
In France, the traditional clients are wine and spirits retailers, small boutiques, delicatessens style shops and restaurants. But « Pastis Henri Bardouin » is now to be found in almost all distribution channels, and is the star of the pastis selection. The products made by Distilleries et Domaines de Provence and particularly the absinthe-based ones, commercialised under the brand names Absente and Grande Absente, are sold in 78 different countries.
A family business in all senses of the word, Distilleries et Domaines de Provence has succeeded in building an image for itself of a serious and creative company, with a range of specialities destined for connoisseurs with an unbounded thirst for discovery of the best that the earth has to offer.