|How Absinthe is Made I - Absinthe Cultivation in Pontarlier
|While green anise is grown largely in Spain and in the south of France, and Florence fennel comes from Italy, the other 4
major herbs in a typical Pontarlier absinthe blend are all grown in the region: grand wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), petite
wormwood (Artemisia pontica, aka Roman wormwood), melissa (aka lemonbalm), and hyssop.
Grand wormwood (also, rather confusingly, known as Common wormwood) is the distinctive ingredient that gives absinthe its
unique character and can be found growing wild on roadsides in the Doubs region and in the foothills of the surrounding
mountains. With the recent renaissance and re-legalisation of absinthe, and increased local demand from the Pontarlier-based
Francois Guy and Emile Pernot distilleries, it's once again being planted on a commercial scale, and several new fields are now
coming into production. Alongside these, smaller commercial plantings the three herbs typically used in the colouring step -
petite absinthe, melissa and hyssop - have also begun.
It seems appropriate to quote here an extract from Ernest Tisserand's 1922 "Éloge de la très précieuse liqueur d’Absinthe",
an elegiac memoir of the absinthe era:
There are no sweeter names than those borne by the plants from which the mild liquor is distilled. And I don't know in all the
world of plants more vivid and more proud. They are the very flower of the spirited hyssop, the fennel that scents the mullet
grilled for kings, the melissa that restores color to swooning women, the anise that makes food resound, the angelica
embedded like sticks of joy in children's gingerbread, the star anise nurtured by mandarins like the Dutch tend their tulips, the
coriander that bleaches the saliva, the mint that drives love, the oregano that makes the eyes of maidens shine, and it is the
wormwood finally, the grande wormwood and the petite, chaste ornament of the mountains and seashores , daughter of the
pure high winds, wheat of virgin spaces, emblem of untamed freedom.
A year-old wormwood field in
the village of La Rivière
Drugeon, about half an hour's
drive from Pontarlier. It's
believed that this particular
field was devoted to absinthe
cultivation in the pre-ban era
as well - it's immediately
adjacent to a disused railway
track, which, a century ago,
run directly to a siding at the
Pernod Fils factory.
Another newly planted field, on the outskirts of the industrial area of Pontarlier. To conserve moisture and prevent weed growth, the
young plants are grown through black plastic sheeting. Click on the images to see enlarged versions.
At La Rivière Drugeon, outside Pontarlier, absinthe grows wild on the edges of gardens and along
the roads. These are mature plants with flowering tips, in commercial terms ready for harvesting.
Click on the images to see enlarged versions.
In another revival of an old tradition,
an annual harvest festival is now held
in July each year in Pontarlier - amidst
much festivity, a wagon load of newly
dried absinthe is paraded through the
streets, and stalks are handed out to
the assembled populace.
The beautiful and delicate petite absinthe plant, smaller in every respect than its more famous cousin, and
harder to grow, as the plant is less vigorous. Much less bitter than grand absinthe, it's used primarily in the
colouring step. Click on the images to see enlarged versions.
Young melissa or lemonbalm plants - part of the mint family. Click on the images to see enlarged versions.
Another essential herb for colouring absinthe - hyssop. As the plants mature they produce small blue flowers - a sign
the stalks are ready for harvesting. Click on the images to see enlarged versions.
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