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Hautes Glaces brings ‘French fine wine’ approach to whisky

Located in the idyllic French Alps, Hautes Glaces is taking a ‘French fine wine’ approach to making whisky.

Domaine des Hautes Glaces
The distillery makes 100% organic whisky from the French Alps

Situated in the French Alps, Hautes Glaces focuses on the local area and terroir, using only raw materials from within a 15km radius of its serene surroundings.

Founder Frédéric Revol sees his organic offering similar to that of a ‘grand cru’. “This is the approach of fine wine in France that we are trying to push in the whisky industry,” he explains, speaking to The Spirits Business.

The brand makes 100% organic whisky, using different grains and barley, as well as rye and spelt to make its spirits – all from its own plot and nearby farms. It has two vintages in its core range: Indigene, which it refers to as its interpretation of a Scotch single malt, matured in French oak casks, and Vulson, an un-aged, organic rye eau-de-vie. This year it will offer a 10-year-old single spelt whisky.

Founded in 2009, the mountain distillery, some 1,000 metres above altitude in the Trièves commune in Upper Dauphiné, France, is a small one, but in 2016 Rémy Cointreau knocked on its door and acquired the company, which Revol says allowed Hautes Glaces to “scale up its proposal”. He adds: “It was just a small farm, as an independent winemaker in France, but now with Rémy, the project can carry on our organic values, from grain to glass, on a slightly bigger scale.”

Organic only

With the backing of Rémy Cointreau, which Revol calls a “family group with shared values”, he relocated to a larger distillery, 3km from the old facility in Col Accarias, and this has helped the brand to produce greater quantities for expansion into markets such as the UK and Japan. However, in spite of this, the policy to lessen its resource use as much as possible has not changed.

Hautes Glaces is the world’s oldest organic whisky distillery, and its barley crop is sourced from a 15km radius of local fields around the farm. Revol manages every step of the process from the distilling to the ageing, and terroir and provenance is at the heart of it all. “When I started this project, I had a feeling that something in the whisky industry had been lost and needed to be restored,” he says.

Revol believed the whisky industry had lost some of its links to its agricultural roots

“The grain is the starting point of the whisky, but for me, the whisky industry was mainly focused on the transformation processes and has lost a bit the link between its agricultural roots, and forgotten the connection with the land. My thinking, my belief, is linked to the question of our relationship with nature – the need to be organic and take care of the grain. We’re fully involved in the sustainable way of thinking.”

Hautes Glaces’ bottles are also made from recycled wild glass and are finished with a stopper crafted from repurposed barley. Revol stresses that there are no chemicals from the beginning and that he only uses 100% sustainable energy for regenerating the agriculture. Woodfire is Hautes Glaces main source of energy, and the wood is again from the surrounding area.

Taking French whisky international

In a category dominated for decades by Scotch, new world regions are beginning to break out, bolstered by their ability to innovate in comparison to Scotch’s more rigid ruleset. France is the leading market for Scotch exports by volume and second biggest by value – The French love the stuff – but can the country’s own producers court some of the share too?

Revol says he can’t speak on behalf of all French whisky makers, but nevertheless, there is an “appetite” for Scotch drinkers to broaden their horizons. He notes French whisky has gained an awareness and authority on the French market, and hopes to see a similar path in some export markets. “The question is maybe less about reaching a mainstream audience, but more about reaching an international audience,” he adds.

Previously, Revol has sold Hautes Glaces in cosmopolitan cities such New York, Chicago, Copenhagen, Tokyo and Singapore, but in small amounts as there were not enough bottles. France is the brand’s main market but this is the first year since those days where it can export again. England was first in February 2024, but Revol plans to launch in Japan in September too, which he calls his favourite market.

On the move East, he says: “This is a very exciting moment for the Hautes Glaces as we will have the opportunity to meet again [with] some very knowledgeable Japanese drinkers. Japan has a strong history and legacy when it comes to spirits, with a very unique savoir-faire, and I can’t wait to be there to share experiences.”

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