It’s not apparent at first what’s taking place in the lush, green orchard. As far as you can see, glass bottles hang from the trees. But once you see the sign for Manguin Distillery, it all makes a bit more sense. It’s spring, and this is the home of Poire Williams Eau de Vie.
In the middle of the Rhone River just beyond the walls of Avignon, France’s Palace of the Popes is the Île de la Barthelasse, home to Manguin Distillery. Centuries ago, the island was connected to the mainland by Avignon’s famous bridge, which now extends only part-way across the water. Now, the island is a popular respite from the activity of the city thanks to its open spaces and bike trails. On one of these plots of land in the 1940s, Claude Manguin (son of Fauvist painter Henri Manguin) started an orchard full of Poire William (Bartlett) pears and peaches – some of the very fruits that are now imprisoned on the branches.
Every spring, Manguin Distillery puts over 1000 of their famous pears in “jail” – the bottles and magnums in which they sell their famous pear brandy – allowing the fruits to mature directly in the bottle. While the imprisonment is certainly the most visually interesting part of the process, it’s only one step in producing the brandy that the distillery is most known for.
A brief tour around the distillery gives visitors a glimpse into where the alcohol is made. The fermentation tanks, stills, and even the bottling process are all on display.
Visitors can get insight into the production of not only Poire Williams but the range of other brandies and liqueurs the distillery is known for. In fact, the owners are working with master distiller Philippe Manguin (Claude’s grandson) on expanding the product line with 11 new libations, including a delicious clementine-flavored liqueur, a Caraxès amber rum infused with pear brandy, and the “pure heart” of the Poire Williams distillation n°47. I walked away with a bottle of La Perine, a liqueur similar to Poire Williams but sweeter and with a slightly lower alcohol content (and price tag).
The tour is followed by an opportunity to taste a selection of the products and time to browse the bright showcases of products. Since Manguin Distillery is only a five-person operation, it’s highly likely that you’ll also have time to chat with one of the English-speaking owners about their passion for the products and artistry between these walls.
Visiting Manguin Distillery
Location: 784 Chemin des Poiriers, Avignon, France (Note: My GPS sent me straight through the heart of Avignon, which I was happy to survive. You may want to research ahead of time whether there is an alternate route)
Shop hours: The shop at Manguin Distillery is open Monday through Friday 10am-12pm and 2pm-5pm and on Saturdays 10am-12pm and 3pm-5pm
Tour: Tours take place every Saturday at 11am. Though the tour is in French, there is an English pamphlet available that describes the particulars of the distillation and production process. My guide, one of the owners, spoke perfect English and was happy to answer questions.
Have you visited a distillery while traveling? Would you?