Lavender growers, a passion for regional authenticity
We are passionate about our region, its soil and climate, and the subtleties of nature. As lavender growers we ensure that our soil favours the purest and most elegant manifestation of agriculture: a lavender which is unique in the world. It is not genetically manipulated, but natural, virtuous and expressive beyond time and place. It constantly seduces us, arouses our passion and profoundly touches our lives.
The craft of a lavender grower requires a variety of skills and a firm understanding of legislation. He must respect his land, cultivate his fields, harvest his flowers, distil them to obtain essential oil and market his produce. Here to present this rare and passionate craft is Jack Lincelé:
At our estate « Le Château du Bois » the Lincelé family has been passing on its know-how over four generations. In fact I should say five generations as my son Max, who is 14 years of age, began distilling with me during the summer of 2014. We make no concession to tradition, as the past has proved to us that the heritage of hard-work and passion, handed down by our forebears, is the guarantee of quality and longevity.
All true Provence lavender growers are unanimously in agreement with regards to the traditional and fundamental farming practices that are required for fine lavender to manifest its authenticity and regional specificity.
Our own seeds
First of all, we strive to preserve the original variety of lavender which is suited to our soil. Indeed, the lavender that we cultivate is no other than wild lavender, an indigenous plant from our dry mountains. At the end of the summer, we collect the seeds of this wild lavender still in flower. At the first frosts in November, we sow the seeds in our fields. During the previous one to two years, the soil would have been covered in green manure in preparation for this new generation of fine lavender. No less than six kilograms of seeds are required per hectare of 10.000 m². That may seem very little, but fine lavender seed is so small that there are one million seeds in one kilogram. To obtain a lovely stretch of blue over one hectare we need to sow six million individual seeds. We like to think of them as individuals as, just like the human population, each seed develops into a genetically unique individual and enriches the lavender population. This explains the variety of sizes and colours that may be observed when our fields are in full flower.
This « population » phenomenon is complex and unique, conferring upon our fine lavender its medicinal properties and inimitable fragrance, a profound and sensual scent.
Secondly, the right choice of location for the crops is key, as we have learned from the experience of our ancestors. It is important to select the best and sunniest slopes and direct the plantation lines so as to avoid erosion during the strong summer storms, whilst optimising space.
Respecting the soil and the plant
The golden rule is not to force the amount of lavender production by over-fertilising. Like “grands crus” wine, excellence requires moderate yields. And the main handicap with fine lavender is its particularly small yield per hectare, the smallest of all the lavender varieties. One hundred and fifty kilograms of flowers need to be distilled to obtain one kilogram of essential oil. One hectare of lavender fields renders just 20 kilograms of essential oil after distillation. Respecting the plant and nature is amongst our priorities. Fertilisers, weed-killers and insecticides are only used as a last resort and with moderation. Our family has always left land uncultivated. We grow rye in between two lavender plantings in order to give the soil sufficient resting time, varying from one to three years. Maintaining the quality of the earth is essential. It has to remain vigorous. We have our roots in this soil and it must be preserved.
It is imperative to harvest high-quality lavender at full maturity. We know the right time from experience. The choice is crucial and a high level of expertise is required to understand fine lavender and realise when the time is ripe. The major difficulty stems from the fact that each fine lavender plant is unique and the stages of maturity differ even in one field. The harvest can only be carried out during very hot days, with no humidity and especially no wind. The “cutters”, responsible for cutting the lavender, demonstrate a great deal of dexterity on their high-clearance tractors. The flowering tops, the stems carrying the flowers, must be cut with precision. If cut too high, parts of the flowers are lost and, consequently, the annual harvest. Cut too low, they may dry out and die, which is a tragedy for the following harvests.
Pre-withering of the flowers
Our family has always distilled pre-withering lavender flowers. This traditional pre-withering method is essential to guaranteeing the high quality of essential oil. The cut lavender is left to dry for 24 to 48 hours or more if necessary. This allows for bees to escape and for the plant to lose almost 60% humidity. The yield is diminished, but quality gained. The visual impact of this method on our estate “Le Château du Bois” is six lines, then an empty space, six lines, an empty space and so on. The empty vegetal terrains between the six lines allow us to swathe the cut fine lavender and let it delicately “wither” without fermenting.
Now the lavender flower is ready to be distilled.