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Domaine Seailles

Armagnac Roadtrip

Domaine Séailles

It’s time for another Armagnac roadtrip stop, this time with Domaine Séailles, a trailblazer of organic winemaking and Armagnac production in the region putting out some stunning Armagnacs. With the flat tire properly repaired, we were back on the road with fresh rubber meandering through the beautiful landscapes on our way to Domaine Séailles.

An abrupt right turn and a leisurely drive up the tight tree lined lane and we were there, in the good hands of Julien Franclet to show us around, explain his work, and taste some wine and Armagnac. Let’s dive in!

The Domaine & People

Julien Franclet runs Domaine Séailles today. His entry into the world of wine and spirits was somewhat accidental. During an internship at a wine cooperative, he focused primarily on issues related to environmental quality but worked under the main oenologist at the site. There, Julien got the itch for winemaking and oenology, which led him to pursue proper schooling in this field in Toulouse. His first post out of school was at Domaine Labranche Laffont in Madiran, known for making Madiran and Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh wine in southwestern France.

Julien arrived at Domaine Séailles in 2009 to assist Jean Labérenne. In 2016, once Jean retired, Julien took over all aspects of winemaking and production at the domaine. Sadly, Jean passed away in early 2023, but today Julien works together with Jean’s family to continue the evolution and progression of the domaine. Everything is done on site from A to Z, with Julien being aided by two full-time employees who help with all tasks in the vines. Additionally, two seasonal workers assist with pruning and branch pulling during the winter - an arduous and time intensive task.

The Vineyard

Domaine Séailles spans 25 hectares of vines, with 21 hectares dedicated to wine and 4 hectares devoted to Armagnac production. Four years ago, only 2 hectares were used for Armagnac, but a boost in demand necessitated the expansion to 4 hectares. Despite this increase, the production remains micro-scale, ensuring the finest quality of Armagnac.

The majority of the vineyard, 22 of the 25 hectares, is situated around the domaine on picturesque hillside slopes that ascend to the high point of a plateau. The richer soils at the lower part of the slope are ideal for white grape varieties, while the higher, drier soils are better suited for red varieties. The remaining 3 hectares of vines are located across a small river valley on similar hillside slopes at roughly the same altitude.

An interesting aspect of the vineyard is the position of the vines relative to the small river in the valley below. Julien notes that almost all river and creek valleys in Gascony are asymmetric, typically featuring an abrupt side and a gentler-sloped side. Over time, the small river has eroded the clay-limestone on the abrupt side, creating steeper slopes and a sort of cliff-like situation. Conversely, the gentler side has accumulated silt, loamy sediment, and small stones. Julien explains that they have red vines on both sides of the stream, resulting in completely different wines.

The domaine, along with its 22 surrounding hectares, is situated on the abrupt side of the river within the Tenareze production zone of Armagnac. The soils here contain a good amount of limestone and very little sand, contributing to the unique terroir of Domaine Séailles.

The Wines & Winemaking

Domaine Séailles utilizes steel tanks for their white, rosé, and sweet wines, including those destined for distillation. Interestingly, up until 1997, the domaine exclusively produced Armagnac, back when they had only 10 hectares of vines, all of which were devoted to Armagnac. The first wine vintage for the domaine was in 2005, marking a significant shift in their production focus. Concrete tanks are used for the reds, and they currently produce eight different wines: three dry whites, three reds, one sweet wine, and one rosé. Recently, they have also released a pétillant naturel, and they produce a small amount of red and white wine vinegar on the side.

One of their dry whites includes Sauvignon Gris, a rare grape variety for the region and for France in general. They have one press with a 30-hectoliter capacity, with space to add a second press if necessary. The vineyard yields are fairly low, with white grape vines producing 45-50 hectoliters of wine per hectare, and red grape vines yielding 25-30 hectoliters per hectare. These numbers account for regular climatic issues, but in a normal year without climate problems, the white grape vines can yield 60-70 hectoliters per hectare. It goes without saying that the domaine faces several climate challenges - like so many others in the region and in France - including frost, hail, dryness, and heat stress. These climate driven dangers are always lurking and keep producers like Julien on edge.

For Armagnac, they have used only Ugni Blanc since 1997, having previously used a blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc. They have some old vine Ugni Blanc, planted in 1971 and 1972, but these will soon need to be replaced due to missing vine feet. The replacements will be Baco vines, with the goal of having 3 hectares of Ugni Blanc and 1 hectare of Baco. Julien notes that Baco is particularly interesting for organic farming due to its hybrid nature, which makes it more resistant to various vine diseases. While Folle Blanche can produce wonderful results, it is finicky and fragile, making it difficult to manage organically.

Organic Pioneer

Domaine Séailles has been certified organic since 2002, with the conversion process starting in 1998. This makes the domaine one of the true pioneers of organic Armagnac production in the region. As a result, they have organic Armagnacs still in barrel today that are over 20 years old.

In springtime, an immense amount of waist-high vegetation grows between the rows of vines. Later in the season, this vegetation is either ground or rolled to avoid competing with the vines for water during the warmer and drier parts of the season. The verdant and lively vines at Domaine Séailles stand out distinctly from others in the region. We recall looking across the small valley at the domaine’s other plots of vines. Julien pointed out that his vines are organic and the neighbors are conventional, and even from far across a small valley, visually the differences were stunning. One plot was brown, somewhat arid, and very tidy, whereas the Séailes plot was green, full of plant life, and somewhat of a natural vine jungle. Interesting.

When asked about the biggest challenge of being certified organic, Julien states, “If you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have said the management of the grasses and vegetation between the vine rows. It was quite complicated initially. Mildiou we have gotten quite good at managing. For two years now we have a real issue with black rot. It’s been growing and not just for those who are organic. We have pressure from the black rot that is getting stronger and stronger each year. With organic, it’s tricky since there really is no product to treat this.”

The Chai & Oak Barrels

Then we enter the aging cellar for Armagnac, where roughly 155 barrels patiently rest. The oldest still in oak is a 1972 Armagnac. They work with one artisanal cooper, Francis Miquel, based in the Lot-et-Garonne department. Before creating his own cooperage, Francis Miquel worked at Berthomieu, which is why the Séailles chai has many Berthomieu barrels, and more recently, Francis Miquel barrels.

The oak for the barrels comes from various parts of France, including Allier and Vosges amongst others. The preferred barrel size is 300 liters. Julien explains that the stereotypical Tenarèze Armagnac is known for being a bit rough, with lots of polyphenols, undoubtedly due to the clay-limestone soils and older oenological techniques. They used to distill to 58-59% alcohol and then place the spirit in wide-grain Gascony oak barrels with a relatively strong toast. The saying was that with such techniques, a Tenarèze Armagnac could not be bottled until it had aged at least 30 years in oak to soften its hard edge. Sure, there is nothing wrong with this approach but it had a tendency to produce Armagnacs in a very specific toasted and roasted style.

When Jean Labérenne took over after his father passed away, he immediately wanted to do two things: convert to organic farming and change the profile of the wines and Armagnacs made at the estate. One move to change the profile of the Armagnacs was to switch to smaller barrels (300 liters) and use a very light toast, even what they call "chauffe blonde." This shift in profile is evident when comparing some of the Armagnacs, such as a very dark and toasty 1979 alongside a lighter and much less toasty 1999.

Distillation & Reduction

For the distillation process at Domaine Séailles, two factors are crucial: the alcoholic degree of the wine and the temperature. They use a distillateur ambulant, a traveling distiller who arrives at the domaine with a mobile alambic. Distillation typically occurs during the first 15 days of January. Julien aims to have the wine at an alcohol content between 9 and 9.5%, which results in a fresh spirit with an alcohol content between 56 and 57%, on the lower end of the spectrum for Armagnac.

Most of their Armagnacs are reduced to 46%. The approach involves having a barrel's worth of a particular vintage reduced to 46% and ready for commercialization, with the reduction taking place only 1 to 1.5 years before bottling. The remaining barrels of the same vintage are kept in their natural state to let them reduce naturally to 46%. This method also caters to the growing Brut de Fut market. Generally, the 46% Armagnacs are for the French market, while the Brut de Fut Armagnacs serve the export market, although these are just general trends.

Julien, a big fan of rum, says he can no longer accept Armagnacs at 40%, finding them diluted and lacking in intensity. He is experimenting with cask finishes, such as a Rivesaltes cask finish, an Armagnac which is featured below and which we had the opportunity to taste. In terms of sales, roughly 10% of their Armagnacs are sold at the domaine and during seasonal fairs, 40% are exported, and 50% are sold within the French market.

The Armagnacs

Fantastic quality & super price-to-age ratio

Julien emphasizes that using a light chauffe for the barrels allows their Armagnacs to have the specific aromatic qualities he desires: vanilla, caramel, and a balance that is not too heavy or too toasted. He aims for a natural sweetness in his Armagnacs. Around 1998, when Jean took over the domaine, the barrel chauffe shifted even more towards the lighter, more elegant end of the spectrum.

During our visit, we tasted several Armagnacs directly from the barrel. The Blanche was fresh and lively. The 2017 vintage showed promise with its developing flavors. The 2002 cask strength, the first organic vintage, was seductive with extremely gourmand notes, evoking some characteristics of rum. The 2002 reduced to 46% had a similar profile but less intensity on the nose and more pronounced oak notes and tannins in the mouth. The 1998 cask strength was also extremely gourmand with a good natural sweetness and the added maturity from time in the barrel, with nicely balanced tannins.

The 1985 cask strength with a Rivesaltes finish for just over two months had a noticeable stronger barrel chauffe. The Rivesaltes influence was subtle, adding an extra dimension to the Armagnac. The 1985 cask strength without the finish was more reserved on the nose, with more tannins, a drier profile, and a robust character. The 1979 vintage was distinctly old school, with a strong barrel chauffe, toasty notes, caramel, and salted butter caramel, evoking the character of bourbons with its charred and toasty qualities. The fruit notes were dry and candied, with hints of balsamic and sweet soy sauce, creating a savory and bittersweet profile.

What’s for sure though is that these are insanely authentic Armagnacs, loaded with characters and wonderful profiles from the precise choice of barrels. They are gourmande and rich spirits and undoubtedly represent some of the biggest values in Armagnac, and spirits today.

The other thing we particularly love is how the Séailles Armagnacs once again show the diverse face of the Armagnac region. Line up one bottle from Lassalle Baqué, Domaine de Danis, Chateau de Hontambere, L’Encantada, Marcillac, Chateau de la Beroje, and Domaine Séailles and you will be floored by how different they are. We certainly were.

Anyways, on to the specific selection for Bonjour Drinks, put together with direct input and discussion with Julien. All of the comments below are provided from Julien himself.

Unbeatable Value for Money & Quality Armagnacs

Séailles 1975 Vintage Armagnac

S%C3%A9ailles+1975+Vintage+Armagnac

Séailles 1975 Vintage Armagnac

$ 95
excl. TAX excl. shipping
Growth area
Armagnac Ténarèze
Bottle size
700ml
ABV
47.5%
Vintage year
1975
Tasting review
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Color: Deep amber.

Nose: Highly complex with aromas of spices, prunes, rancio, wood, and blond tobacco.

Palate: Rich and powerful, maintaining a beautiful balance with flavors of spices, prunes, rancio, wood, and blond tobacco.

Finish: Long and satisfying, with lingering notes of spice and wood.

Please note: The actual product may vary from the product image and is subject to change.

Product description
Julien Franclet about his Armagnac: “One of our oldest vintages, with great aromatic complexity (spices, prunes, rancio, wood, blond tobacco...) and a powerful mouthfeel.” Domaine Séailles 1975 Vintage Armagnac Introducing the Domaine Séailles 1975 Vintage Armagnac, a distinguished and mature expression from the renowned Ténarèze region. Bottled at 47.5% ABV, this vintage Armagnac is one of Séailles oldest and showcases an exceptional aromatic complexity that has been refined over dec...

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Séailles 1979 Vintage Armagnac

S%C3%A9ailles+1979+Vintage+Armagnac

Séailles 1979 Vintage Armagnac

$ 82
excl. TAX excl. shipping
Growth area
Armagnac Ténarèze
Bottle size
700ml
ABV
46%
Vintage year
1979
Tasting review
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Color: Deep amber.

Nose: Intense and complex with advanced notes of smoke and torrefaction, a result of the heavily charred barrels used during its youth.

Palate: Rich and full-bodied, offering an atypical profile with flavors reminiscent of smoke, advanced roasting, and deep caramelization.

Finish: Long and satisfying, with lingering smoky and roasted notes that leave a memorable impression.

Please note: The actual product may vary from the product image and is subject to change.

Product description
Julien Franclet about his Armagnac: “The most "colorful" vintage (naturally, of course) in our cellar. A vintage matured in its youth with very heavily toasted barrels, giving it a very atypical profile 45 years later, with almost smoky, advanced roasting notes, a vintage that appeals greatly to our North American clientele!” Domaine Séailles 1979 Vintage Armagnac The Domaine Séailles 1979 Vintage Armagnac is an extraordinary expression from the renowned Ténarèze region. Bottled at 46...

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Séailles 1985 Vintage Brut de Fût Rivesaltes Finish Armagnac

S%C3%A9ailles+1985+Vintage+Brut+de+F%C3%BBt+Rivesaltes+Finish+Armagnac

Séailles 1985 Vintage Brut de Fût Rivesaltes Finish Armagnac

$ 92
excl. TAX excl. shipping
Growth area
Armagnac Ténarèze
Bottle size
700ml
ABV
49.5%
Vintage year
1985
Tasting review
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Color: Deep amber.

Nose: Subtle notes of Rivesaltes blend seamlessly with the classic Armagnac profile, offering a complex and inviting aroma.

Palate: This brut de fût presents a balanced experience with hints of Rivesaltes that do not overpower the Armagnac. Mineral notes typical of the calcareous soils add depth to the flavor profile.

Finish: Long and satisfying, with a harmonious blend of Armagnac richness and subtle Rivesaltes notes.

Please note: The actual product may vary from the product image and is subject to change.

Product description
Julien Franclet about his Armagnac: “An experience...there are slight notes of Rivesaltes without denaturing the Armagnac. This Brut de Fût is well-balanced, with mineral notes typical of our limestone soils.” Domaine Séailles 1985 Vintage Brut de Fût Armagnac (finish Rivesaltes) Introducing the Domaine Séailles 1985 Vintage Brut de Fût Armagnac (finish Rivesaltes), a unique and exceptional Armagnac that offers a distinctive tasting experience. Bottled at 49.5% ABV, this vintage Armag...

Read more about Séailles 1985 Vintage Brut de Fût Rivesaltes Finish Armagnac

Séailles 1988 Vintage Armagnac

S%C3%A9ailles+1988+Vintage+Armagnac

Séailles 1988 Vintage Armagnac

$ 62
excl. TAX excl. shipping
Growth area
Armagnac Ténarèze
Bottle size
700ml
ABV
46%
Vintage year
1988
Tasting review
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Color: Deep amber.

Nose: Complex aromatic profile with notes of rancio and prunes, alongside well-integrated wood.

Palate: Powerful and typical of Ténarèze, with rich flavors of aged wood, rancio, and prunes.

Finish: Long and satisfying, with a harmonious blend of rancio and prunes lingering on the palate.

Please note: The actual product may vary from the product image and is subject to change.

Product description
Julien Franclet about his Armagnac: “Aromatically complex armagnac, with the typical power of a Ténarèze. The wood is well blended, with notes of rancio and prunes.” Domaine Séailles 1988 Vintage Armagnac The Domaine Séailles 1988 Vintage Armagnac is a distinguished and complex Armagnac from the renowned Ténarèze region. Bottled at 46% ABV, this vintage Armagnac has been aged to perfection, showcasing the characteristic power and depth typical of Ténarèze Armagnacs. Its deep ambe...

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Séailles 1999 Vintage Armagnac

S%C3%A9ailles+1999+Vintage+Armagnac

Séailles 1999 Vintage Armagnac

$ 82
excl. TAX excl. shipping
Growth area
Armagnac Ténarèze
Bottle size
700ml
ABV
46%
Vintage year
1999
Tasting review
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Color: Deep amber.

Nose: Rich aromas of wood and rancio, indicative of its extended aging.

Palate: Boisé yet very elegant, with a full-bodied and rich mouthfeel. The flavors are well-developed, showcasing complex notes of aged wood and rancio.

Finish: Long and satisfying, with lingering wood and rancio characteristics.

Please note: The actual product may vary from the product image and is subject to change.

Product description
Julien Franclet about his Armagnac: “Woody but very elegant, full-bodied and rich on the palate. Woody, rancio aromas are characteristic of an Armagnac over 20 years old.” Domaine Séailles 1999 Vintage Armagnac The Domaine Séailles 1999 Vintage Armagnac is a distinguished expression from the renowned Ténarèze region. Bottled at 46% ABV, this Armagnac boasts over 20 years of aging, resulting in a spirit that is both boisé and exceptionally elegant. Its deep amber hue reflects the rich...

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Séailles 2010 Vintage Armagnac

S%C3%A9ailles+2010+Vintage+Armagnac

Séailles 2010 Vintage Armagnac

$ 59
excl. TAX excl. shipping
Growth area
Armagnac Ténarèze
Bottle size
700ml
ABV
46%
Vintage year
2010
Tasting review
Show more Show less
Color: Deep amber.

Nose: Inviting aromas of vanilla and caramel blond.

Palate: Smooth and well-balanced with prominent notes of vanilla and light caramel, offering a delightful sweetness.

Finish: Long and satisfying with lingering sweet flavors.

Please note: The actual product may vary from the product image and is subject to change.

Product description
Julien Franclet about his Armagnac: “A 14-year-old certified organic Armagnac (rare), easy to drink with notes of vanilla and light caramel.” Domaine Séailles 2010 Vintage Armagnac The Domaine Séailles 2010 Vintage Armagnac is a certified organic Armagnac that stands out for its exceptional quality and authenticity. Aged for 14 years, this 2010 vintage Armagnac is bottled at 46% ABV, capturing the essence of the Ténarèze terroir. Its deep amber hue reflects its rich and complex charac...

Read more about Séailles 2010 Vintage Armagnac

Conclusion

Domaine Séailles is in the best of hands with Julien and the Labérenne family. The wines are fantastic; the Armagnacs are even better, and it must be said again that these Armagnacs easily represent some of the best values in not just Armagnac but spirits.

Our Armagnac roadtrip series is winding down. As we reflect on where we have been, the wonderful people we have met, the beautiful places we have seen, and the crazy good Armagnacs we have tasted, we cannot be happier and more proud of the small houses we work with.

Domaine Séailles: The organic pioneer
Lassalle Baqué: The renowned traveling distiller
Chateau de Hontambere: Cask strength gems & precise oak policy
Domaine de Danis: Our queen of Folle Blanche
L’Encantada: The best negociant-eleveur in the region, massive diversity of style in one chai
Marcillac: A step back in time, Armagnacs of unspeakable charm
Chateau de la Beroje (article forthcoming): Classic, traditional, textbook Bas-Armagnac

Many thanks to Julien and Domaine Séailles for hosting us, and of course bravo for the great work.

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