I enjoy a martini now and then, and I was recently thrilled to discover that its key ingredient comes from the South of France. La Maison Noilly Prat in Marseillan has been making vermouth since 1813 and proudly invites you to their estate. Here you can learn all about Noilly Prat’s blends, join a guided tour or one of the other organised experiences.
After a warm welcome from the lovely guide Lisa, the big green door in the entrance hall opened to reveal some of Noilly Prat’s secrets. The sweet smell of wine that hangs in the air of the cave comes from the white Picpoul wine, stocked in the enormous Canadian oak casks. Each barrel shows how much hectolitre it contains, going from 300 to over 400 hl! After ageing for eight months, to get a more mature taste, the wine gets then transferred into smaller wine barrels.
From the dark, cool cave Lisa brought us outside, where the sight of more than 1,000 wine barrels enjoying the Southern French sun surprised us. Whereas normal wine wouldn’t be stocked outside, the eight months aged white Picpoul wine in these barrels needs to mature for another 12 months to give it its specific flavour. Lisa let us taste wine from two different barrels: one of four months old and the other twelve months. I could really taste the difference in maturity.
Once back inside, we entered an old workplace where time has stood still. A beautiful cast iron spiral staircase immediately drew everyone’s attention. Being in this place, steeped in hundreds of years of history, made me realise how unique Noilly Prat’s product is. Even in this fast-paced society, Noilly Prat is manufactured almost exactly as it was 200 years ago.
The last part of the tour is a small museum. Here I learnt more about the four different blends: original dry, extra dry, red and amber. Each blend has its own secret mix of herbs and botanicals. The original and extra dry versions even contain a bit of absinthe. The plant that is, not the spirit. After the maturing of the wine, it is time for the finishing touch. Three full bags of herbs and botanicals are put into the barrels from above and stirred with a special tool. The stirring part needs a couple of minutes every day, for the next three weeks. Quite a heavy job! So next time when enjoying your Noilly Prat, think about these strong men and women that work the herbs through each barrel every day…
If you want, you can spend an entire day at La Maison Noilly Prat. Lisa calls this the “Noilly Prat Cure”. We ended our tour with a cocktail masterclass, but you can also do a vermouth tasting, and even mix your own vermouth! In the shop, you will find the four Noilly Prat blends and other cool gifts. What about Noilly Prat tea, an original shaker and jug, a book with cocktail recipes and more Noilly Prat inspired products. Maybe I did get the Noilly Prat Cure in the end…