Discover the top distilleries in France

Join Wine Paths on a tasting adventure and treat your palate to some of the finest French vermouths, while learning everything there is to know about the distilling process in the country’s top distilleries.

Get off the beaten path on a Wine Paths tour and journey to some of the most charming destinations in France for a vermouth tasting experience. This unique drink, made with a combination of wine fermentation and distilling, is loved around the world and remains a popular pre-dinner aperitif across tables in France. Yet, it’s often misunderstood and few know about the process of how it’s produced. Our distillery tours will transport you into the hidden depths of vermouth making, a world where wine and brandy are mixed for the ultimate hybrid.

On our distillery tours, you will learn everything there is to know about how vermouth is made, what grapes are used in the process, and what the flavor differentiations are between different labels. The vermouth varieties are a small and manageable category, making it easy enough for beginners to grasp. And with just a handful of distilleries, the industry is largely influenced by a few key leaders.

With vermouth production being quite a rarity across the world, with most distilleries located in Italy and France, there’s something extremely enigmatic and appealing about this popular beverage. Many wine drinkers will journey to France multiple times to sample the best red, white and sparkling varieties, but few aficionados ever branch out into the fortified wine category. Often confused with Italian vermouth, the French version has its own unique character and is often said to be extremely refined and elegant.

If you would like to learn more about French vermouth, join Wine Paths on a tasting adventure and tour some of the best local distilleries. Gain key insight into the world of blending and botanicals, and get tips from the Master Blenders known for their creative flair.

Overview of distilleries in France

The process of distillation is one that fascinates many, taking you from wine to a whole other world of alcohol production. Our distillery tours give you access to the most exclusive distilleries, where the art of blending happens right before your eyes.

To make French vermouth, the common grapes used are Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette, and with a classic white vermouth like Noilly Prat, the ratio is 80% Picpoul de Pinet and 20% Clairette. In order to be classified as a French vermouth, according to EU standards, the mixture needs to be at least 75% wine, and it must also include Artemesia (such as wormwood) as an ingredient. The finished product must be fortified and must be between 14.5% and 21% ABV. These are the guidelines followed by distilleries not only in France, but also in Italy.

There are a few key areas where distilleries exist in France, and these are Lyon, Marseillan, the Alpine areas above Chambéry, and the commune of Thuir, as well as the Bordeaux region. What’s interesting is that a lot of these vermouth making areas are defined by one single brand, or just a handful of local labels. Unlike wine regions where you will find countless producers, the vermouth making world is small yet influential.

The most iconic distillery is Noilly Prat, which started out in Lyon and later moved to Marseillan. It’s the oldest vermouth brand in the country and remains a popular label among French vermouth drinkers today.

In Lyon, the birthplace of French vermouth is the time-honored distillery of St. Raphael. This iconic aperitif that has maintained its popularity throughout the decades due to its unique flavors and excellent branding.

The history of distilleries in France

Commercial distilleries have been around since the 18th Century, with very first ones appearing in Turin, Italy. While Italy paved the way for vermouth, the French eventually made it into their own unique creation, with their own distilleries popping up in the early 19th Century. The story began with Joseph Noilly who made his first vermouth by mixing fortified white wine with plants, herbs and spices in the city of Lyon. By the middle of the century, he moved production over to Marseille (and later Marseillan) and the Noilly Prat label has remained on the coast ever since.

But despite commercial operations forming from the 19th Century onwards, the art of distilling dates back further. The process of distillation spread from the Middle East to Italy, France and Medieval Europe, with the earliest evidence of distilling to be in the 12th Century. Back then, alcohol distillation was purely done for medicinal purposes and like all other spirits we enjoy today, vermouth too followed that same path.

Historians often say of distilling that “the sixteenth century created it, the seventeenth century consolidated it, and the eighteenth popularized it."

What happens on a distillery visit

Distillery tours are the perfect opportunity to learn more about your favorite spirit. And although technically a fortified and aromatized wine (and not a spirit), vermouth goes through the same distillation process in the end. Our distillery visits will give you access into the production facilities of the nation’s top producers, and as these are all working distilleries you’ll get to witness the process right before your eyes.

During a typical visit, there will be either guided or non-guided tours around the production site. You’ll get a closer look at the stills and maybe even watch Master Blenders honing their craft. As well as watching the experts at work, you may also get a chance to enjoy vermouth tasting.

The best distilleries to visit

At Wine Paths, we take our discerning clients to the most charming French towns and cities where vermouth is made and enjoyed by the locals. One of the most iconic distilleries is Maison Noilly Prat in the South of France. It’s located just 50 minutes from Montpellier, and takes in the stunning shores of Thau Lagoon in the pretty port of Marseillan.

The best time to go is in the low season from March to April or October if you want to avoid the summer crowds. In the summer months, vermouth tasting can be particularly delightful though. Maison Noilly Prat sees its high season from May to September.

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