Friday, 20 May 2011

The lavender distillery


Small lavender fields are woven into the landscape all the through the hills around the town of Apt. These are not the huge commercial concerns of Sault and Valensole, but smallholdings tended in the traditional way. When the sheaves of mauve flowers are picked in July, the distilling begins, sometimes in the field itself, and a heavenly scent is carried on warm evening breezes.

Last summer I discovered the Distillerie Les Coulets, near the village of Rustrel. As you arrive down a narrow country track, time stands still, and you enter the world of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. Although Pagnol’s enduring stories were set further south towards the coast at Marseille, the same rural idyll really does seem to linger in every stone and corner.


An old still, once used to extract the essence from the lavender flowers, stands proudly outside the farm. This is a tiny, family-run business: Christian Borde & Fils. The lavender is grown in the surrounding fields and brought to an unassuming barn for the magic of scent distillation to begin.   

The water in the still was bubbling merrily. At the table, one of the much older women known to us simply, namelessly, as Madame, was thrashing the head of a sheath against a box to break off and collect the flowers. Then with one deft sifting motion she showered the ground with any remaining remnants of stalk and leaf and an even more intense cloud of lavender scent exploded into the warm air.
                                                          From The Lantern


The alembic still is heated. Then, when steam has risen through the lavender flowers it is pushed up through the pipe that comes out of the top, and then down through the cooling cylinder full of cold water that coils round and round. At the end of the process, the liquid contains the essence of the flower, its oil and scent.




With this essential oil, the Distillerie les Coulets makes different strengths of lavender preparations, from the pure essence which must be diluted – with almond oil, perhaps – before it comes into contact with the skin, to soothing massage oils that Madame Borde makes up and labels in her workshop, which is barely larger than a garden shed.

It’s a truly charming enterprise, and the resultant natural oils have a deep and sweet, almost honeyed aroma, a world away from synthetic mass-produced fragrances.  


33 comments:

brenda said...

I look forward to your posts. You images send me packing every time. It is a little slice of heaven for me. For that moment, I am flying across the Atlantic ready for adventure.

le blÖg d'Ötli said...

Quelle chance de pouvoir faire ce genre de visite et de baigner dans le délicat parfum de la lavande. Et quelle chance pour moi de te lire et... de pouvoir faire un rêve parfumé cet après-midi.

Bonnie Humbarger Lamer said...

Beautiful pictures and I love your posts!

vicki archer said...

I would love to visit there one day ...lovely post Deborah...xv

Jyoti Mishra said...

seems like a lovely place !!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deborah:
Although we have made many forays into France over the years, our first venture into Provence will come this summer when we visit friends who have a house at Beauvoisin.

Your beautifully written post with its captivating images has really made the excitement levels rise for our forthcoming visit.

The distillery sounds to be a most beguiling place, somewhere surely where history really has stood still. We could almost smell the perfume, but are sure, as you say here, that the scent of this truly time-honoured process produces an altogether different product from that which we are used to encountering.

We are so pleased to have discovered you and shall return for more.

renilde said...

The magic of distillation, what a clever invention that alembic is. And the scent of lavender evoking images and memories for so many of us, such a small flower but what an impact.
Those tiny enterprises, they have so much going for them let's hope they are able to survive.

I enjoy your posts so much, they tell about the sweet and beautiful side of life, thanks, x

versus said...

Lavande distillée, cela part de la mer et de ses vagues violettes. Un océan d' odeur !

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

It must smell wonderful. I echo previous posters sentiments about your writing about the beautiful side of life. Thank you. We all need that and your posts provide a lovely little break in my day.

Julia Munroe Martin said...

Incredible! I always wondered how this was done! I cannot imagine how wonderful it must be to witness in person. Great post!

Richard said...

Je ne connais pas cette distillerie. Mais je dirais aux amateurs de lavandes: "Voir Sault et Valensole, et mourir". Car on est vraiment dans un autre monde.
Bon week-end, Deborah!

James Kiester said...

Scents & perfumes are very much a part of France, yet, bizarrely, when I think of France they're not something I generally think of. Thanks for reminding me of that aspect of French culture. Your pics are wonderful. :-)

Dizzy C said...

Lavender is so beautiful in colour and scent.

Thank you for this lovely post.

carol

vanessafrance said...

It's the same process as for distilling vieille prune over here in the SW. No one has ever thought of cultivating lavender commercially here, although I'm sure you could.

I am constantly returning to Marcel Pagnol's books and the wonderful films made from them (the modern ones, I mean - his own are a bit démodé). I know every word of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. Hopeless nostalgia, probably...

stacey said...

lovely
but that first photo I must say is beyond breathtaking!

stacey

BonjourRomance said...

A very interesting post Deborah. Lavender is so beautiful. We're planning on venturing south this summer to enjoy all the color.
Hope all is well with you!
Mimi

McGuffy Ann said...

This is really beautiful! I also grow lavender. I love it! Thank you for sharing this!

monicastangledweb.com said...

Just discovered your blog thanks to She Writes. How lovely your photos of lavender are! I can almost detect the scent wafting through your post. Thanks so much for sharing!

Elizabeth Young said...

How absolutely wonderful. Your home and the area in which you live is a true paradise.

Keith said...

This sounds so idyllic. And I love the truck. That is character enough right there.

If they could only hurry up with sniff-a-blogs.

MuMuGB said...

I can smell it from here! It reminds me of my childhood in Provence. Thanks for this.

aneyefordetail said...

I visited the distillery up in Nyons a few years ago and yes, it was wonderful. The people I was staying with harvest a (small..) amount of lavender, so we were there to drop it off. Oh, yes, I hope to return very soon!

Deb said...

I can see it through your words, even without the photos and the scent of lavender... The book excerpt is wonderful.

How appropriate I have a pack of lavender seeds sitting on my counter.

TanyasTreasureTrove said...

Hi! I'm following you from B.M.B.F!
I hope you visit me and return the
follow:0)

Relish x said...

I have recipe for Lavender cupcakes stuck to my fridge ....I wonder if you could post a little Provençal goodness back to rainy England?

Joanne said...

What a beautiful flower, and process. I'm not sure I've ever smelled lavender, but will definitely keep my eye out for it now.

Josep said...

Lavender is one of my favourite plants. I so like the excerpt from your book.

Linda said...

i adore lavender and reading your words makes me feel as if i am there...lovely post. xx

Gail M Baugniet said...

After seeing the amazing field of lavendar, I could almost smell the fragrance as I read your post. And the turquoise-colored truck just tickled me.
Your writing gave me a vivid picture of Madame thrashing the head of that sheath and showering the ground with remnants!

joanny said...

Deborah:
It is an art to tell a story and the art of storytelling was evocatively told here. You offer us a glimpse into another world of the senses when you photographed the beautiful lush lavender fields, and immortalize the meeting of that moment and our eyes share in the timeless happiness --
joanny

Sacha said...

Merci j'ai aimer lire ce billet , j'ai toujours aimé flâner dans l'univers magique de Pagnol et ceci depuis ma plus tendre enfance ...j'aime plus que tout la Provence ....
Bonne semaine
Sacha

Leovi said...

Your post today is deliciously scented. Wonderful descriptions and good photos to document it.

Fairday Morrow said...

How beautiful! I absolutely love lavender and the color purple- so two delicious treats!

~Jess
http://thesecretdmsfilesoffairdaymorrow.blogspot.com/

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