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Small French Distilleries Lead the Way in Organic Spirits

Organically produced spirits such as cognac, whiskey, and calvados were practically unheard of a few years ago. But that is all changing with small, French-owned craft distilleries playing a big role in this healthy transition.
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Jean-François Rault of Distillerie du Peyrat and his sons in their organic vineyard in Houlette, in Southwestern France. © Sonia Rault/Distillerie du Peyrat

USDA-certified organic spirits, even those produced in France, are made by following the same set of strict guidelines defined by the United States Department of Agriculture for all organic foods. This means the alcohol is produced from organically grown grains, fruits, or other products, and is free of synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and GMOs, as well as herbicides. These are chemicals that, when ingested frequently, can potentially increase the risk of cancer and other health concerns.

The family-owned Distillerie du Peyrat, located in the Charente region in Southwestern France, began producing organic cognacs back in the 1980s. Owner and fifth-generation distiller Jean-François Rault was one of the pioneers of organic winegrowing in the region. Today, he and his two sons, Antoine and Guillaume, continue to use sustainable practices whenever possible. Their organic cognacs are now distributed internationally in more than a dozen countries including the U.S., where they are the top-selling brand of organically produced cognac.

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Distillerie du Peyrat’s Rare Prestige cognac is USDA-certified organic. © Distillerie du Peyrat
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Benoît Louvet of Claque-Pépin in his organic apple orchard in Ecouché-les-Vallées, Normandy. © Daniel Cooney

In Normandy, a number of calvados producers are also beginning to get on board with organic farming methods. Claque-Pépin, for example, located in the Orne département between Caen and Alençon, is in the process of converting all its production to become USDA-certified organic. This young, family-owned company, led by Benoît Louvet, makes a range of traditional apple- and pear-based spirits and ciders. They currently sell more organic calvados in the United States than any other brand.

Down the coast, in Brittany, the original and oldest producer of French whiskey, Armorik, is another distillery that has seen the benefits of going completely organic. While they have been buying exclusively organic barley to make their award-winning single malt whiskey for many years, they recently attained USDA certification and began displaying it on their labels and packaging in January 2021.

Even armagnac, the oldest spirit made in France (the first written account of its production dates back to 1310!), can now be enjoyed as a 100% certified organic product. Craft brands such as Artez, located in the heart of the Bas-Armagnac region southeast of Bordeaux, offer armagnacs that are not only made from single-varietal, historic grapes, but are also certified organic.

All these brands are distributed in the United States by Heavenly Spirits, a Massachusetts-based importer. Visit them at HeavenlySpirits.com.

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