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A heritage

The barrel, a Celtic masterpiece

Armagnac would not exist if the barrel had not been invented.  The barrel, known as a pièce [1] in Armagnac, can contain up to 420 litres of eau-de-vie and throughout the eau-de-vie’s ageing, it exchanges some of its attributes, such as aromas and tannins, etc.

The barrel is irreplaceable as it exceeds the simple function of being just a container as one might think. Non other than the wood in a barrel can pride itself on the development of an eau-de-vie so well.

We owe the barrel’s invention to the Celts of course! These people whose origins were in the Balkans and on the banks of the Danube were very adept when it came to handling iron, stone and wood.  It is this technical mastery that made them the most expert boat builders.

They were the first to design boats with a hull made up of several planks and not just cut from one single block of wood, once they had discovered that wood could be bent and bowed if it is heated.  Hence, the barrel was directly inspired from their construction of boats.

These bowed planks of arched wood were made into staves then assembled and encircled using bands of steel. This difficult art of putting together a complex barrel was introduced to Gaul by the Celts in the second century BC.

The appearance of these barrels then encouraged the Gauls who used them mostly for transporting their wines.  The barrel is very convenient for this purpose as they were as watertight as the terracotta amphorae, stronger and easy to roll without hurting their backs.  Little by little, they immersed themselves with this savoir-faire and demanded that oak should be the main wood used in their construction.  Quite quickly they understood – and rejoiced – in the taste effects that come from ageing in barrels.

When glass containers – bottles – appeared, the barrel was abandoned as a container dedicated to transporting wines, though it didn’t disappear altogether as its use in the development of the wines had become essential. Armagnac was no exception and owes a great part of its sophisticated character to the quality of the oak barrels from Gascony and Limousin that are used to age its eaux-de-vie.