Despite every effort to pay attention, within moments of leaving Domaine Boingnères I had completely forgotten all but one fact: Boingnères had the shiniest stills; “It is because they are cleaned by men” according to Madame Lafitte.
Only days before, whilst I was still in Cognac, I had been awed by its grandeuer. Even at the tiniest Domaines there was proud history and tradition: there were rules, castles, kings, queens and even Winston Churchill... So as I left Cognac for Armagnac, I sensed I was heading upriver toward perhaps not the uttermost ends of the Earth, but certainly the rebellious wild interior. What I found when I arrived in Armagnac after a gruelling journey was Martine Lafitte, in her cask cellar, smoking furiously beneath her distillery’s “ne pas fumer” sign, surrounded by some of the finest spirit I have ever tasted.
Now back in London, with the help of my scrawled notes, I can at last piece together for you what was most enchanting about Domaine Boingnères.
It was originally founded in 1807 by Jean Boingnères and, for six generations, has steadfastly maintained the often difficult path of never producing anything but the best Armagnacs.
However, it was in 1953 when Léon Lafitte took over the estate, after the death of his father-in-law, that the style of the Armagnacs began to change. First he expanded the vineyard area, and second he sold bottled stock directly to all the famous restaurants. The reputation of Boingnères soon became second to none. Later he replanted the vineyards, principally with Folle Blanche and some Colombard and Ugni Blanc; for these he coined the phrase ‘Cépages Nobles’. Then he built a new press house and ageing cellar and in 1975 a new still was purpose-built by Ster to give the greatest extraction of flavour from the base wines.
Today Martine Lafitte carries on the Boingnères tradition of excellence. The Lafitte family considers Armagnac itself the noblest of spirit masterpieces; perfection is the family’s everyday quest and this starts with the inimitable terroir of the domaine. Madame Lafitte herself does not talk of terroir, but not because she does not believe in it - she already knows she is working with the best possible plots and grapes. What she is really passionate about is the interplay between wood and spirit.
Boingnères can be found in the Bas Armagnac, where the finest of brandies are produced. Specifically, the estate is situated in the commune of Le Frêche, where the soil, a narrow strip of land only 25 km by 8 km, is dotted with springs and sheltered by the Landes Forest. This small piece of the Bas Armagnac has soil of a particular lightness, a fine siliceous clay mixed with sand and iron elements.
Boingnères Armagnac is distilled to a remarkably low 52 % abv to allow the maximum of congeners to pass over into the spirit. Half of the new made spirit is put into new charred local oak casks (up to 15 per year) for two years, before it is transferred to older wood. Production is terrifically small and each Armagnac is bottled to order.