The history of Armagnac - 14 and 15th Century

Geographically, Armagnac appears for the first time in the middle of the tenth century. By the fifteenth century, the English kings had come and gone for the past 450 years Armagnac (indeed the whole of Gascony) has been a happy country without much history.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Bayonne, the nearest port had the unusual freedom to trade in wine. This was important as the only ways to get produce from the region was by the rivers, since no roads existed to ship their wines to the ports. In many ways the easiest outlet was the long haul down the river to Bordeaux. This was a problem though, since through the Middle Ages the merchants of Bordeaux protected their own wines by refusing to allow the sale of wines from the Haut Pays, the river basins of the Garonne and the Dordogne before Christmas each year. Wines were fragile then, so the ruling effectively excluded the wines of Cahors, Bergerac, Montbazillac and Armagnac from the lucrative British and Dutch markets. The only alternative was to haul the wines by ox cart to the river Midou for transport to Bayonne on barges - a journey that took 3 days to travel 38 kilometres. Distilling the wine at least increased the value of the contents of the casks so laboriously transported...

Armagnac had retained an association with Arab science in the Middle Ages through the famous University of Montpellier, closely connected with the great Islamic seat of learning at Salerno. It was not surprising that the Armagnaçaise learnt  the Arab art of distillation before any other French wine making district. According to a document in 1411 in the archives of the Haute Garonne, a man called Antoine distilled wine at Toulouse to obtain aygue ardente, also called aygue de bito or eau de vie (water of life), a definition which emphasizes that the products were originally used for medicinal purposes. A further document in 1441 records that “distilled spirit relieves pain, keeps one young and brings with it joy”.