Working on a plot of land that has been farmed by his ancestors for generations, Laurent Cazottes has made a home for the artisanal spirit business that began with his father in 1957. Cazottes’ father worked as a traveling master distiller, harvesting indigenous fruits from local farms and turning them into cherished eau de vies and liqueurs. Laurent and his seasonal team now work the same land organically and entirely by hand. The process is perhaps the most labor intensive we have ever come across. The dedication and patience required to work with fruit is tremendous and Laurent cuts no corners, focusing on the quality and integrity of his spirits. Many of the varieties he works with, such as Prunelart and Mauzac Rosé, are native to the region and are nearly extinct, but they live on in inimitable expressions through his work. Everything is done in small batches and, until recently, none of Cazottes’ products were available in the United States. Most of his clients are three-starred Michelin restaurants in Paris. Astor is one of the only places in the world were Laurent Cazottes’ entire regular portfolio of spirits is available. The eau de vies are the perfect apéritifs and the liqueurs are perfect for after dinner tippling. But most of all, Cazottes’ products provide transformative experiences for wine lovers, spirits lovers, and those who appreciate sustainable and organic philosophies.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your distillery?
[The history of the distillery] begins in 1957 with … Jean Cazottes. Before that, my ancestors were farmers and miners. We grow on and transform their lands in compliance with the peasant culture. My father bought his still and became a traveling distiller to distil pomace and fruit from the farms and villages around our house. This will last a little over 40 years. I came in 1998 and started making eau de vies, decided to give our still an actual “home,” and created my Distillerie Artisanale. But the creation of the distillery goes hand-in-hand with the family farm. I have grown the vine plantations and the orchards, converted the production to organic farming with the “nature and progress” label.
What inspired you to farm organically and employ such traditional painstaking, time consuming methods?
In 2004, we obtained organic certification. It is above all a question of ethics: the producer’s ethic to respect the flora and fauna of our fields, to produce without pesticides, herbicides, to respect our soil so one can really talk about terroir, minerality, and offer our customers an alternative to industrially made products; the distiller’s ethic: the still concentrates the aromas and flavors—the alcohol—but it also will concentrate all residues of pesticides and herbicides; my personal ethic: to consume our products safely and especially to leave a clean earth for our children. All this has no price and motivates me every day in my choices of farming practices.
The manual labor that goes into making your products is unparalleled. How does that translate into the quality of the final products?
Let’s say it is the opposite: it is the very idea of the final product that requires such manual labor. Fermentation or macerations will take place prior to the distillation. Much like a winemaker with his grapes, we will achieve successful fermentations with healthy and ripe fruits. Then we must pick the fruit only once they have fallen off the trees, each day. We are not harvesting all at once to store in fridges. We take our time, give time to each fruit to achieve perfect over ripeness and remove from the fruits everything that is we would not eat. Only manual labor can go through all these steps. This care and dedication results in all our products having the very precise notes, both on the nose and palate, of the pure and ripe fruits. We are looking for bitterness and acidity while making perfectly balanced eaux-de-vies and wines.
Most of the natural resources you work with are indigenous to your region and are extremely limited. Have you ever thought about expanding?
Each year, we plant about a hundred trees. Our production increases slowly because we are highly dependent on the climatic conditions of a specific vintage: some years we do not have a particular fruit (issues during budding, etc.). Selecting the fruits and letting them get overripe are the only means of ensuring a consistency in quality from one year to the next. It is often through meetings between producers that we launch trials. This year, for example, beautiful apricot Rhône Alps have been put in the barrels in the middle of our yard. These fruits undergo the same manual process (destemming, removal of the stone, etc.) as the fruits we grow ourselves. All these new tests take a long time, much like it does to develop our products. Time in our business is fundamental to the homogeneity of natural wines and eaux de vies.
As a producer what gives you the motivation to keep making these spirits? Are there any producers you admire?
We start from this huge ancestral base of knowledge to try to improve it, simply to move closer to our core identity: the love of “clean” work (organic) that is well done and the pride we have in the recognition we get from our customers. Unfortunately, and not to be pretentious, this is only an observation, but in our business we are the only ones to date to go all the way. I want to say: Neither God nor Master (Ni Dieu ni Maitre; no idea if this idiom translates in English). We have a lot of respect for some great organic and Biodynamic winemakers. But most of all, my admiration is for my father Jean, who, at age 80, continues to show us the way.