The Still

Texte traduit par Sylvie Durand-Valentin avec l’aimable collaboration de Mme Miriam Bastide.

It was in 1935 that a group of winemakers, mostly from Saint-Priest, decided to found the Winemakers’ Union (Union Syndicale des Viticulteurs). They built a room where a still was set up. A still is a device that is used to make a (very) strong alcohol by distilling the bunch of grapes after extracting its juice. When it came out of the device this eau-de-vie was so strong that it was necessary to dilute it with water to make it drinkable! This very delicate operation was carried out using precise cutting tables which the operator had in his possession. The production and transportation of this bulk alcohol was highly regulated.

The apparatus was regularly checked by an inspector, and the grower had to obtain a pass to bring his "white liquor" home. Saint-Priest and its surroundings have never been an area of ​​great vintages. But in the past each farm would have had its own either big or small vineyard which was used to make "a modest little wine". The southern hillsides of the area were very popular for growing grapes. From All Saints' Day to Christmas, after the grape harvest and after the wine had been put into barrels, each grower and winemaker brought his marc of grapes to the still. On this occasion and for several weeks afterwards, the village was overwhelmed by the smell of distillation. It has to be said that 3000 litres of "hard stuff" (gnôle), a strong alcohol appreciated by farmworkers (and others!) in the last century, were produced! At the height of production, from the post-war period to the 1970s, there were 300 customers. But as a result of the reduction in the surface area of the vineyards over the years, many fruits were gradually introduced into the making of this strong alcohol: plums, pears ... As the right of winemakers to distil is no longer passed from father to son, the still ceased all production in 1986 and the apparatus was dismantled. Today only the building remains, and even though it was turned into offices in 2018, it still proudly displays the name of its former owners.