Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wild Alpine Lavender

Long long ago I met a woman at a small essential oil exhibition in Nice, France. She distilled lavender from various altitudes and also juniper, myrtle, savory, and a few other oils. Her oils were so expensive! But they were some of the best, sweetest and had the most hallucinogenic quality I’ve ever smelled.

We had her lavenders, some of them, in the store, and some other oils too. Her lavenders are categorized by altitude, starting at 1200, and every 200 metres thereafter up to 1800. After the 2001 attacks in New York we stopped carrying her oils, as the shipping into New York was a problem. We had a hard time with many of our international suppliers then, with our own twin impacts--the financial one, as so many businesses suffered economically in the aftermath, and also through the freight and shipping laws, which became, and continue to be, hideously expensive, excessively limited, difficult to navigate, and illogically constructed. From her remote location in the Alps above Nice, from her tiny village peaked above the clouds, far above the Tinée, it was too much hassle to ship to New York with the panicked new guidelines. And so the years passed. And we have had other fine lavenders in the store.
One by one, over these years, we have gotten our more remote vendors back. The shipping is still insane, but we have figured ways around it. And now we have finally visited Madam Sylviane and her husband Alain at their farm of stone in the clouds in the mountains above Nice.

It’s so difficult to find! And a huge part of that is that it’s so geographically exquisite that it’s hard to pay attention to everything! Of course, being France, the road is lined with beautiful little towns with inviting brasseries, flowers everywhere, happy dogs and cats, and blossoming trees. FInd the road we eventually did, and then it was up into the snow peaks, and beyond the clouds to the restored farmhouse in the sky. The house and factory was an oil olive mill, abandoned after the first world war. Since 1996 they have restored and refurbished it.

Sylviane now only does the lavenders in large sizes--the other oils are tiny harvests. The lavenders are cut, at their varying altitudes, by hand, and this means by sickle. The area is remote, accessible only by Land Rover Defender! But it is still certified organic! There are two main stills, a 1000 litre, and a 100 litre, both of which were built by Alain. The distillations are steam, and the actual condensing method is their own. All hydrolats and oils are kept in the inner sanctum of the old oil press, where the temperature is consistently cool. 
It’s a relief to not have the latest in computerized technology shoved in my face--old style can be better in many ways, and inventions and improvements needn’t always rely on the electrical grid or the latest software. It’s wonderful that in France, small essential oil distilleries are allowed to exist and even thrive, at their own pace and under their own power. Self confidence and security and pride in one’s skill is an attractive trait indeed.

Wild Alpine Lavender hand picked at 1800 metres of altitude will be available in the store from April 14th.

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