The beautiful Cotentin Peninsula juts out from the Normandy coastline into the English Channel, reaching toward England. The east coast of the Peninsula is the site of the WWII D-Day landing beaches. The west coast of the Peninsula faces the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. The Cotentin Peninsula has a beautiful, unspoiled coastline that invites visitors to slow down and take in the quaint villages and the fresh seaside air. And of course, the many varieties of fresh oysters sold throughout the region are simply too delicious to pass up.
Our trip to the Cotentin was our first scheduled producer visit. And while we hoped to take in the lovely countryside between Caen and our destination, we ended up spending most of the trip making sure we were following all the right winding lanes to our destination. We were looking for the tiny hamlet of Auvers where Marie-Agnès’s La Cidrerie Hérout is located. Finding Auvers was kind of tricky but we finally pulled into her driveway and parked near the shed that held a large bin of apples.
Marie-Agnès met us at the entrance to her tasting room. Having spent the previous eight months communicating via email, both she and I were anxious to meet the each other face to face. I was eager to find out what her operation was like and I’m sure she was anxious to find out if I was a legitimate importer. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for us to size each other up and soon I was happily following Marie-Agnès up to her bright office on the second floor of her warehouse, where she had set out several bottles of her cidre on a glass-topped table.
As she poured, Marie-Agnès told me that her family roots went back a long time in the Cotentin region and both sets of grandparents had been cidre makers. When she took over the cidre-making operation from her parents, she decided to pursue the ultimate in recognition for her cidres—a coveted appellation d’origine controlee certification for cidre made on the Cotentin peninsula. To put this in perspective, the rigorous certification that Marie-Agnès chose to pursue for her cidre is the same rigorous certification and recognition awarded to famous wine regions like Champagne and Bordeaux.
Starting in the year 2000, she began to dedicate nearly all her time to seeking the AOC certification. She gathered eight other Cotentin producers and together they began fulfilling the incredibly complex and rigorous demands of the INAO Certification Board: submitting soil samples, temperature graphs, observations on the micro-climate, apple samples that were unique to the Cotentin, while also gaining organic certification along the way. The records and samples were submitted every year for 16 years.
Finally, in May 2016, Marie-Agnès and her colleagues were notified that the Cotentin had been awarded an AOC. This means that there are now three very special cidre and Calvados AOCs in Normandy: Pays d’Auge (awarded in 1942), Domfront (awarded in 2002), and now the Cotentin (2016). Because of their dedication to their craft backed by generations of know-how, Marie Agnes and her group of eight producers have achieved historic recognition for their beloved Cotentin Peninsula. I asked Marie-Agnès what the new AOC means to her. She points out that the biggest impact on her operations will be an almost exclusive focus on producing only Cotentin AOC cidres. Cotentin cidres are distinct from other AOC cidres because they are made only from apples that are grown in certified orchards in the Cotentin, where the terroir yields a very dry cidre that is lightly effervescent. I tasted the extra-brut and the brut and realized that, for Americans seeking dryer, tangier cidres, Hérout Cotentin cidres are just the ticket. I’m looking forward to placing her cidres in fine dining establishments as soon as our container arrives.
After the tasting, we toured the Hérout production facilities. Her press is a manual press that was originally used by her father. It requires someone to manually wind and lock down a large hand crank in order to press all the juice from the apples after they are macerated. Then the juice goes into vats where they undergo the first fermentation, lasting several weeks. The clear juice is drawn out of the bottom of the vats, bottled, and then naturally ferments a second time—giving the cidre its delicate effervescence.
We then moved on to the cave where, along with thousands of bottles of fermenting cidre, she ages her Calvados and Pommeau in old oak casks. She led me back to the corner where she had several shelves lined with bottles of cidre from previous years—she has kept three or four bottles of cidre for every year of production. She is currently working with a local university’s agricultural department to study the evolution of bottled cidre as it ages over time. She was surprised to discover that some of the very old cidre tastes delicious, but other bottles not so much. As we emerged from the cave, she reminded me that it’s still a good idea to drink your cidre within a year of it being bottled to get peak flavor and bubbles.
After I returned home, I followed Marie-Agnès online as she trekked through Normandy to introduce her Cotentin AOC cidres to her fellow Normans. She and her colleagues have appeared on a few morning news shows and Marie-Agnès has been the subject of a wonderful video produced by a local TV station. Her love for the Cotentin is obvious, and her enthusiasm contagious. I look forward to honoring Marie-Agnès’s work and introducing Seattle to her wonderful cidre.
We currently distribute cidre, poiré, and Calvados to fine restaurants, bars, clubs, wedding venues and specialty retailers in the state of Washington through Beauchamp Imports, Inc. To request a tasting for your licensed establishment, please email us at email@example.com. We look forward to sharing our portfolio of fine products with you!