The Lemorton Calvados Distillery
Lemorton are renowned for producing the finest examples of Calvados Domfrontais. Luckily for us their distillery/farm is not far from where we holiday in France, situated at La Baillée Fêtu near Mantilly, we regularly pass by on our way to or from the historic town of Domfront. The Domfrontais appellation is a relatively recent addtition from the 1970’s recognising the fact that their traditional Calvados ‘apple’ brandy may also constitute a good proportion of pears too. In fact the appellation requires a minimum of 30% pear component. Lemorton push this to typically 70% pear and only 30% apple. The Domfront region geographically favours pear tree growth with its schist and granite geology and limestone rich soils. At Lemorton they grow their pear trees in traditional low-density high-stem orchards allowing their cattle to graze in the shade underneath, enriching the soil and also restricting grass demands on nutrients and water – meaning more for the fruit trees. High stem orchards typically take around 18 years to mature to full production and rumour has it that some of the trees at Lemorton may be over 80 or 90 years old!
Lemorton traditional orchard with cattle
One thing I hadn’t appreciated was the harvest time, usually we visit in October and regularly observe traditional fruit collection with sheets spread beneath the trees and the branches beaten or shaken with sticks. As we passed through the Orchard our enthusiastic guide Damien Lemorton (the 4th Generation of the Lemorton Calvados distilling family) identified individual pear varietals, explaining their character, contributing qualities to the cider & calvados and also the month of harvest – which stretches from September often past December!
Damien explaining the pear harvest to us.
Pear varietals at Lemorton.
The fruit is then collected and brushed of debris and loaded into a macerator where it is roughly chopped. The flavour derives mostly from the skin of the fruit so it is usually left for an hour or so before being loaded into the pneumatic juicer. The pneumatic juicer (or bladder press) often used in wine-making, is favoured as it soft extracts a high quantity of the sugary juice ~80-85% from the fruit avoiding the harsher tannins. Usually the residual apple must would be used as cattle-feed, however Damien explained to us this is not the case with pear must as it is too rich and cause uncomfortable bloating & sickness in the cattle.
The juice is then fermented to make cider either in traditional 500 hectolitre oak Tonnelaires or in their brand new INOX fermenters, giving the Lemorton distillery a novel mix of the old traditional and shiny new equipment for Calvados production.
Old oak fermenters
New stainless steel tanks, including temperature controllable tanks for cider production.
The cider is fermented for around 11 months in order to convert all the sugar to alcohol. it is then subjected to a single distillation run to produce ‘white’ Calvados.
The ancient copper Alembic still as used by Damien’s Great-Grandfather!
Today Lemorton use a single distillation through a column still and collect their distillate into INOX receiver tanks before interring into oak casks for maturation in their barn/warehouse. Typically the cider is distilled to around 70% ABV which is filled directly into the French oak casks.
‘White’ Calvados spirit receiver tank.
Details from the warehouse tour with Damien.
The majority of the casks are old refills, however a supply of newer casks from the Tonnellerie Defrieches and a handful of ex-Cognac casks have been employed. Traditionally young Calvados is matured in new oak and can be sequentially re-racked into older less-active casks as it ages to control the amount of wood influence on the spirit and achieve a balance between the fruity spirit and tannic wood flavours.
Finally after maturation the spirit is returned to INOX tanks for vatting and/or bottling at their cellar bottling line.
Touring the distillery we were stuck by the care and attention the Lemorton family pay to their Calvados production and maintenance of their farm/distillery. Damien had as much pride in his pear trees as his newborn calves from their Normande cattle herd which they use to produce milk – collected twice a week and most likely used to make some of the fine regional cheeses that pair so well with their Calvados Domfrontais! After the tour we were treated to everything from Apple Juice, Pear Cider, Pommeau (until recently an only locally known aperitif made from mixing Calvados and apple juice to ~ 17% ABV), and Calvados Domfrontais from young, to old, including Vintages older than me and vatted blends over 25 years old. In fact Damien pointed out that they were lucky to have stock from the previous 3 generations of Lemorton family distillers, his father Didier, Grandfather Roger and Great-grandfather, still available on sale at their ‘cellar door’ shop.
The next generation of the Lemorton Distillery Normande Cattle