France is world-famous for its gastronomy and wines. One product that perfectly combines these two pleasures in life is vinegar. Laurent Faure decided to go back to his roots near Narbonne to become a ‘vinaigrier’, a rare profession amongst all the winemakers in the region. It takes years and years to create his beautiful artisanal vinegar and balsamic. And once you have tasted one of Granhota’s products, you will only want to allow them into your kitchen.
Granhota saw the light in 2013, however, it took Laurent four years of preparation before he had his first bottles of vinegar ready. When I visited the workshop, I was given a private tour, and it helped me to understand why the preparation stage takes so long. To create a vinegar, Laurent follows the three steps of the ancestral ‘Orléans’ method. It all starts with a good wine, that is then put into 220 litre oak barrels. And there is plenty of great wine around, Granhota even has its own vines. Both red and white wine can be used, including muscat and cider. For six months, a bacteria, called acetobacter, transforms the alcohol into acetic acid. This is a natural process, without added sulphites, colours or preservatives.
Ageing and flavouring
After the six months, they move the new vinegar to barrels in a pyramid pile to age. Starting at the top of the barrels, the vinegar ages for about three months. After three months, about 40 to 50% of one barrel will go into another one a row below. And so on, until the new vinegar reaches the barrels on the bottom row. This second step takes another 18 months for the vinegar to age. Finally, the third step brings flavour to the vinegar. This can be done by maceration, where they might add lemons or raspberries to soak in the vinegar. Or by diffusion, when the flavour, like fresh herbs, hangs above the liquid while the air circulation adds the taste to the vinegar. This flavouring takes another 1.5 to 3 months.
Besides vinegar based on wine, Granhota also makes artisanal balsamic. While wine vinegar takes at least two to two and a half years to complete, the process of making balsamic takes even longer. The technique is completely different than the one for wine vinegar, and Laurent follows the traditional Italian Modena method. For this, he starts by slowly boiling non-fermented grape juice at a low temperature to reduce the juice into a thicker liquid. After adding some wine vinegar to have some acid, the liquid is put into a 220 litre oak barrel. Time and the heat of the sun reduces the liquid, which will be put into another, smaller, barrel. This process is repeated until the last, smallest, barrel contains the real stuff. In total, it takes almost 7 kilos of grapes at least 12 years to reduce into 1 litre of balsamic!
The explanation of the whole vinegar and balsamic making process really impressed me. Laurent Faure has every reason to call himself a ‘maître vinaigrier’! Time for a tasting session, with the complete range of Granhota waiting for me. However, I stuck to eight or so flavours, more than enough to get a taste of the magic. Of course, I suggest you go yourself to discover your favourite vinegar. But if I might give a suggestion, I would definitely try the ‘special huitre’ one. This vinegar has notes of bergamot and lemon and goes perfectly with a platter of oysters. I also enjoyed the prize-winning ‘badiane gingembre’ to accompany Asian dishes. And, of course, the ‘balsamique muscat’, which has an entirely different taste than the traditional balsamic. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear that I left Coursan with a bag full of Granhota gifts for my loved ones and… myself!