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The history of Calvados – Fiscal Restraints and Natural Growth

Louis XIV, often known as the Sun King, expanded the French colonies allowing trade to develop. Art and literature increased greatly but for many of his people these were bad times, due largely to wars, poverty and crippling levies and taxes. A further difficulty was to make life even harder in the seventeenth century in that Europe experienced severe climate changes, a period that was to become known as the little Ice Age.

In Normandy wine producers suffered greatly and most pulled up their vines which had died due to the severe frosts and disease. This proved to be a natural advantage to the cider producers since the apple trees were not affected by the extreme cold. Brandy had started to become big business – but a man called Colbert, who was finance director for Louis XIV, decided that the State would like a slice of the action. He believed that the richness of a country is in the richness of its reserves in cash.  Two large ordinances in 1681 and 1687 imposed taxes and rigid controls on both production and sales of several kinds of products. Luckily for the wine brandies, the cider brandies were prohibited except where the production took place in Brittany, Maine and Normandy. The prohibition lasted until the French Revolution and gave cognac a head start in the domestic and export markets that calvados never regained.

In the beginning of the eighteenth century the state set up nurseries and showed its interest in Normandy’s orchards, even encouraging competitions to stimulate the cider apple varieties. In 1758, the Canon of Caen, Charles Gabriel Porée made the first methodical classification of apples according to their flowering and harvesting periods. The majority of abbeys and convents had orchards and a press and produced ciders and cider brandies. Despite the Norman nobles and higher middle class who had prospered, the parliament in Rouen failed to set out its case against the prohibition regulations. In the eighteenth century, many of the French lived like villains and inspired by the Sun King kept a decadent lifestyle. The Revolution caused prices of food to rise rapidly and the Revolutionary Government promulgated “Tableaux de Maximum or the law of the maximum price but was abolished a year later due to the fight against inflation.