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Spiritourism atDepaz distilleryDiscover Depaz castle

Visit to the Depaz Distillery and Castle

Today I’m taking you to Saint-Pierre in northern Martinique, on the slopes of Montagne Pelée to visit an estate like no other: the Depaz distillery  For over a century the Depaz rums, certified AOC agricultural rum of Martinique, highly reputed among connoisseurs, have been made in this fabulous setting, between the volcano and the Caribbean sea…

Welcome and free tour

Reception is at the boutique. Visiting the Depaz distillery is free of charge (only entrance to Château Depaz is chargeable), it’s nice to wander around the whole estate at your own pace and in the direction you prefer. Mind you, we’re on a real production site here, so some parts of the factory aren’t directly accessible at all times of year. But the tour is very well signposted, with red signage, numbered points of interest and, above all, numerous audioguides accessible via an internal wifi network, right on your phone! This is super well thought-out and very practical for those who like to take their time…

It has to be said that the site is quite exceptional, the long palm-lined driveway, with the majestic Montagne Pelée in the line of sight, sugarcane plantations as far as the eye can see and finally the gaze plunging into the sea.

Green, blue, history and heritage: I love it!

A bit of history

The history of the site is intimately intertwined with that of the volcano. The birthplace of the Depaz brand, habitation La Montagne was originally an agricultural estate founded in 1651 by Jacques Duparquet, the first governor of Martinique. Farmed for tobacco, indigo and livestock, the land was soon converted to sugar cane. The Pécoul family buys the estate and builds Château Perrinelle right next to the factory. The Depaz family then works on the plantation, which remains prosperous until 1902. On May 8, 1902 the entire town of Saint-Pierre is destroyed by the eruption of the Montagne Pelée, the estate is reduced to ashes.

In 1917, the young Victor Depaz, whose entire family had perished, bought 521 hectares of fallow land from the Pécoul heirs and built a new factory whose rum would be recognized dearly 1922. At this date he also had reconstructed to identical Habitation Perrinelle where he had spent his childhood. He moved there with his wife and their 11 children. The house takes the name of “Château Depaz . Throughout his life, Victor Depaz never ceased to develop the rums that bear his name.

The signposted tour begins at the side of the distillery, taking the path through the great 5-hectare park towards the castle, then takes a tour of the production plant before leading us to the ageing cellars and boutique.

The park and the presence of water

In this verdant setting of century-old trees, the presence of water is a constant reminder, as with the waterfall that begins the walk. Beyond its decorative aspect, it is a reminder that water from the Roxelane River flows from the volcano’s flanks and used to supply the entire distillery via a small canal from the dam built by Victor Depaz in 1920. Habitation Depaz is one of the few to have preserved its entire hydraulic system and to have continued to use a steam engine for over 100 years!

A photo stop to capture the breathtaking panorama and we can admire the famous paddle wheel. It still works, even if it’s no longer used to crush cane as it once did.

A volcanic terroir

The Depaz distillery owns 450 hectares of sugarcane plantations on the slopes of Montagne Pelée, on the Caribbean side in Saint Pierre and on the Atlantic side in Basse Pointe. As a result, Depaz rum has the typicality and strong identity of a volcanic terroir. Although the varieties of cane vary from one plantation to another, almost 2/3 of the cane grown in Martinique is called “blue”.

The other distinctive feature of Depaz rums is the 48-hour fermentation time, whereas most distilleries have opted for a faster fermentation, generally 24 hours. This is a choice made by the brand, and reinforces the power of its aromas.

The distillery and the cellars

If, like me, you’re lucky enough to visit the distillery during the production period (March to June), you’ll be able to witness all the manufacturing stages, the incessant work of the teams (their day starts as early as 6am and doesn’t end until 6pm!). Unloading the cane, weighing, crushing, fermenting, distilling: so many operations repeated over the years, and here remaining fairly faithful to ancestral techniques.

Outside this period, the machines are dismantled and cleaned, but thanks to photos and audio guides, visitors can still understand the process and discover the whole history of the site during the walk.

The distillation columns

The path then takes us into the heart of the distillery, into the production plant, amidst the machinery. The highlight: the three large distillation columns, also known as créole columns, an essential step in the birth of rum. Two of the columns make rhums Depaz, while the third is that of Dillon, whose rums are distilled here.

The cellars

We emerge from the other side to arrive at the cellar, where all the know-how of ageing will be accomplished with the trade secrets of the cellar masters and operators. Behind the large windows are lined up the huge 10,000L barrels we call foudres, and the smaller 350L barrels, in French and American oak. I learn that when a barrel is new, the rum must not be left for too long (one year maximum), as the wood will release much more tannin and give the rum too strong a taste. We then transfer it to older barrels where it can age longer.

In the past, you could enter the cellars, but since a fire in 1998, glass has been installed for public safety. Rest assured, you can see very well and take plenty of photos of this not-to-be-missed passageway!

The bell

This is also where the bell is installed, redone in 2002 to mark the centenary of the eruption of Montagne Pelée, identical to the one that adorned the distillery before its destruction. The remains of the old bell, which melted down, can be found in the small museum I’ll be visiting next. The most surprising thing about this bell (the new one, that is) is that it REALLY rings, every hour from 6am to 6pm, giving rhythm to the life of the factory! When you’re not warned, it can be surprising and even startling.

The Steam Museum

Adjacent to one of the ageing cellars and surrounded by old machinery (elements of distillation columns, distillation trays, an old steam engine…) is a small museum that catches my eye. Don’t be fooled by its size, it’s certainly not very big but very rich in objects from the past and recreates life on the estate before the eruption.

Here too, thanks to the audio guide, we get all the explanations and historical anecdotes that bring the objects on display back to life. It’s here that you’ll find the old bell I mentioned earlier.

The “Case à Louisette” and the rubber tree

The tour path continues behind a gigantic and impressive rubber tree planted in 1960, where several huts have been renovated : the water hut and its ancestral system of storing water in interconnected jars and the water turbine. In the “case à Louisette”, you’ll be offered fresh fruit juices and homemade cakes.

Château Depaz - "Habitation La Montagne"

A visit in its own right or a stopover on the grand tour, the choice is yours! Me, I saved it for last, before heading back down to the store and having lunch at restaurant Moulin à Cannes. This is where the Depaz family lived until the mid-1980s. The imposing two-wing building dominates the entire plantation, park and factory. On either side, basins are adorned with water jets. The view over the cane fields and Saint-Pierre harbor is superb.

Only the first floor is open to visitors (for a fee, with access to the tasting included). The hostess at reception hands me an audio guide as the tour is free through the various rooms: hall, vestibule, great room, smoking room, games room, Victor Depaz’s office… I confess I have a soft spot for this room, its mahogany furniture, its old typewriter and its view over the park and the Caribbean Sea. The tour really captures life in the early 20th century, with furniture and objects from the period that belonged to the family. The rear gardens are laid out on two levels linked by a double staircase with the fountain in the middle, fed by water from Montagne Pelée… The view is just breathtaking!

The Depaz rums

Shop

The tasting and boutique round off a visit rich in discovery and wonder. Here you’ll find all the white rums, old rums, special cuvées and limited editions from Rhums Depaz. The tasting is well worth the detour… I discover the white rum “Cuvée de la Montagne”, very floral and fragrant. I buy a bottle of Cuvée Papao Millésime 2019, which makes a lovely gift. I really like the new bottles, the new labels, very qualitative. On the old rum side, I taste the Depaz Grande Réserve XO, really excellent.

On the way out, I stop in front of the huge stainless steel tanks bearing the Depaz logo. This is where the white rum is stored before being bottled…

A beautiful visit, a walk at my own pace, a real production site, the preservation of a unique heritage: it was a great morning…

Rhums Depaz eco-responsible approach

  • The Depaz sugarcane plantations in Saint-Pierre have been awarded the HVE (Haute Valeur Environnementale)
  • Water is reused as much as possible thanks to a water treatment system
  • The plant recovers and recycles an enormous amount of energy via its new boiler (2007)
  • The distillery is virtually self-sufficient: the bagasse produces energy in the form of steam and drives the mills with its motive power.

Go ahead from us!

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