Maison Lineti: Meet the French distillery that thinks it’s a winery

Egg-shaped fermenters at Maison Lineti Distillery
Egg-shaped fermenters at Maison Lineti Distillery

Step inside Maison Lineti on Bordeaux’s Right Bank and there are plenty of familiar sights you’d expect to see in a winery. Workers discuss yeasts and casks as they walk from a glass-walled room full of concrete egg-shaped fermenters to a warehouse stacked high with wooden barrels.

Yet Maison Lineti is no winery – it’s a malt whisky distillery. The team behind Lineti is borrowing winemaking tricks to produce whisky in a sleek craft distillery that has architectural echoes of Scotland’s new wave distillers, including Holyrood in Edinburgh and Glenrinnes on Speyside.

The founders

Alex Cosculluela and Dr Magali Picard

Dr Magali Picard (right) and Alex Cosculluela Credit: Gunther Vicente

At the heart of the action stands Dr Magali Picard, a chemical engineer who holds a doctorate in oenology from the famous University of Bordeaux. Her scientific expertise as whisky master is paired with her partner and co-founder Alex Cosculluela’s business acumen.

They launched the project in 2018 with their friend Xavier Payan, who had studied wine and spirits management alongside Cosculluela. Their team was completed by François Thienpont and his son, Edward Thienpont, whose family manages a host of wineries, including nearby Vieux Château Certan in Pomerol and St-Émilion premier grand cru classé B trio Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse, Larcis Ducasse and Pavie Macquin.

While other people spent the pandemic lockdowns baking banana bread or building back-garden bars, Picard hit the textbooks to immerse herself in distilling. Drawing on her studies and her day job as spirits research and development project manager at barrel-maker Demptos, she’s documented her scientific approach to whisky-making in a fascinating fortnightly series of website posts and printed booklets called Master Notes.

From the grape to the grain

Wine and whisky both begin with fermentation, when yeasts eat sugars to produce alcohol. While wine is quickly transferred to tanks or barrels, the ‘wash’ or strong beer made from malted barley is distilled into a spirit, which is aged in oak casks to become malt whisky.

Fermentation is key to Picard’s experiments, borrowing pre-maturation winemaking techniques to create a more flavourful wash, and then toasting barrels lightly – relying more on the spirit’s characteristics than oak ageing. She wants a ‘floral, mineral spirit, with tension and smoothness’.

Picard chooses a long, seven-day fermentation to build flavour, compared with the typical two or three days in Scotland. Some of her wash undergoes ‘lees ageing’ – being kept in contact with the dead yeast cells for 14 days to encourage more floral and fruity flavours. While other parts undergo ‘malolactic conversion’, with bacteria turning sharp apple-like malic acid into softer milk-like lactic acid, not a universal practice for Scotch producers.

Concrete egg fermenters at Maison Lineti-

A long fermentation in concrete eggs builds flavour Credit: Thomas Liaunet

Her latest experiment involves cold soaking of the wort – the sweet liquid made by steeping her organic French barley in water – before it’s fermented. While Scotch distillers tend to favour a cloudy wort containing more sugar, Picard’s wort is clear to encourage terpenes to form, adding more floral character to her wash.

‘Our pre-maturation takes a few weeks longer, but it will save us two-to-four years of maturation,’ adds Cosculluela, surrounded by the seven concrete egg-shaped fermenters in a room aptly nicknamed ‘the eggbox’. He adds: ‘We experiment because [basketball legend] Michael Jordan didn’t make a dunk the first time.’

Golden slumbers fill your casks

While Lineti’s fermentation regime is inspired by wine, its copper stills are shaped like the Cognac region’s Charentais alembic stills. They are similarly heated directly by burning mains gas. In contrast to its slow fermentation, the distillation runs quickly to retain flavour, with the joints, bulbous onion shape, and long…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/spirits/maison-lineti-meet-the-french-distillery-that-thinks-its-a-winery-529371/