12 SEP 2017: It was a bit surreal when I drove into Deauville, France and found myself surrounded by symbols of America. Star-Spangled Banners were flying from poles around the city, posters and photos featuring American film stars were plastered around. Even the place mats where I dined at Chez Miocque were red, white and blue. What was going on?  

Turned out I had landed on this beach in Normandy during the middle of the 43rd annual Festival of American Cinema. It’s a big deal in Deauville and streets were cordoned off to control the crowds that arrive in hopes of sighting celebrities. Key areas were thick with paparazzi pointing enormous camera lens at anybody who looked like a somebody.

Deauville, nestled in the Bay of the Seine River on France’s Atlantic coast, is a favourite weekend destination for Parisians who pack the beaches during the summer months. From the City of Lights to the Neo-Norman style station in the heart of Deauville it’s an easy two-hour train ride.

People come from around the world to stroll the two-kilometre beach and its famous boardwalk. Multitudes of colourful beach parasols pop open in peacock display when its sunny. Wooden bathing cabins, each named after film stars who have attended the American Film Festival (Lee Marvin, Bette Davis, Richard Chamberlain, Orlando Bloom, Farrah Fawcett, Al Pacino, Michael Caine, Susan Sarandon and on and on) are in a long row as far as the eye can see.

In the city’s glamorous centre amid an extravaganza of Norman half-timbered buildings are the fanciest of boutiques where style and price are equally eye popping. This is where Coco Chanel opened her first boutique in 1913 and created the Chanel Beige, inspired by the wet sands on the beach.

Of course, if you know me and my writings, I wasn’t here for any of this, though I did catch a film one night. I came for the spirit of the people here. The liquid with a long history.

The region got its name from the invasions of the Normans (i.e. the “north men” namely the Danish and Norwegians). On the sea charts of the Norman coast from the 17th century, the Latin words "Calva-Dorsa" indicated two cliffs with crests between Arromanches and Anneles. The "Calva-Dorsa" where the first visible seamarks from open sea when the sailors were returning towards their home harbours. This Latin phrase eventually was contracted to be “Calvados”.

Calvados became the name of the “department” or area governed by the city of Caen. It also became the name of the wonderful apple based spirit that is made in the region. The oldest and most famous of the great Calvados Houses is Maison Père Magloire in Pont l'Evêque, founded in 1821. It was one of the very first trademarks registered with the national intellectual property office (INPI) in France in 1925 and remains France’s most popular brand of Calvados today.

Situated just twenty minutes by car from downtown Deauville, the historic property is being turned into a new touristic site the “Calvados Experience” due to open in March 2018 (the distillery manufacturing has been moved elsewhere). This interactive attraction will encompass a large area that includes an orchard and pressing area, aging cellars, tasting bar and shop. Tours will be in English and French for individuals while groups of eight or more will be able to be handled in eight languages.

Marie-Anne Saloux, Public Relations Officer with Spirit France Diffusion which owns Maison Père Magloire, is the dynamo in charge of the new site’s development. She spent a day touring me around the Calvados region. www.calvados-pere-magloire.com

We started at Père Magloire’s new production facilities where we met up with Jean-luc Fossey, the Cellar Master. He explained that while there are over 120 apple varieties that can be used to make Calvados, about 30 are most in use today. The important thing is that each of four categories of apples are used in specific proportions: at least 70% bitter and bitter-sweet apples, about 10% acidic apples and only five to ten percent sweet apples. The exact amounts are adjusted each year according to the harvests.

After the apples are harvested, they are pressed to exact the juice which is then fermented to about six percent alcohol. This fresh cider is then distilled to make the spirit Calvados. About 1000 kg of apples are needed to make 750 to 800 litres of cider, to make 40 to 50 litres of pure alcohol (100%). The spirit is then aged a minimum of two to three years in wood before release.

France has an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system that was initiated in 1935 to safeguard the specificity of products. Calvados has three AOC’s: Appellation Calvados Contrôlée, Appellation Calvados Pays d’Auge Contrôlée and Appellation Calvados Domfrontais Contrôlée.

The first is the largest AOC representing about 74% of production. The apples can be collected from the whole Normandy and after crushing and fermenting receive a single distillation in a copper column still. For the AOC Pays d’Auge, which is about 25% of production, the apples are from the small cherished “Pays d’Auge” area within Normandy, and are double distilled in a traditional copper still.

For the tiny AOC Domfrontais, just 1% of production, apples and pears (30 % minimum) come from Domfrontais region, receive a single distillation in a continuous copper still and are aged three years before release.

There are about 350 Calvados producers in total though the top 15 own most of the market. The number one exporter to many countries including Canada is Calvados Boulard, a prestigious Pays d’Auge distillery founded in 1825 and now also owned by Spirit France. You’ll find Calvados Boulard Pays d'Auge Grand Solage listed in a number of our provinces. A blend of double distilled Calvados for two to five years age, it’s rich in apple flavour with vanilla notes while smooth and rounded on the palate. www.calvados-boulard.com

Maison Le Compte is a top Pays d’Auge Calvados that makes amazing products including vintage dated ones and The Secret, crafted from over 100 individual eaux-de-vie including some 1923 from the distillery’s original stock. To taste this and the many other expressions of Calvados, you’ll just have to travel to Deauville and surroundings. Nothing shabby about that. www.calvados-lecompte.com

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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