Modern taste: Gensac

Jan Schuermann is the owner of the family-run wine and Armagnac producer Gensac. Here he discusses how he came to run the estate and why there’s an Armagnac for every occasion

Food and Drink 23 Jun 2020

Chateau Gensac, the home of Gensac Armagnac and wines
Domaine Gensac Terre A Terre wine

How did you come to acquire Gensac?

It was very much unplanned. My godfather bought Gensac a good 20 years ago. Eventually he told me that age-wise he just couldn’t keep it anymore and needed a solution. He said if I wouldn’t buy it then he would have to give it to someone else. I couldn’t let it get away. So almost three years ago now we changed our life and came to France from Switzerland where we lived at the time. I mean, the story is of course, a lot longer and more complex when you’re with a family with two kids and so on. But it was a quick decision at my end – the estate needed to be taken into the next chapter.

Jan Schuermann of Gensac
Jan Schuermann of Gensac

Can you describe Gensac’s range of wines?

The wines we produce are really atypical for this region. We’re a boutique producer in a region known for white wines, and in many cases larger volume white wines. Thanks to our micro-terroir we produce 80 per cent red wines and the rest is white and rosé. We also work with low yields per hectare and manually harvest the grapes, which makes us a bit of an outlier, in a positive way.

A big characteristic of Gensac and something that is very special is that our red wines are very intense and powerful in character; they aren’t light-hearted. The grapes we grow include tannat and malbec, which are very tannic so we have introduced processes to make them a little more approachable and softer. This is something we’ve introduced since taking over Gensac. The key is five-days cold maceration, which softens the tannins and brings out the aromas. Our white wines at the same time have very strong minerality. For both red and white we age them in barrels for a long time. Our top-level red wine, for example, is made from 100 per cent tannat grapes and is aged in French oak barrels for 36 months.

For those who aren’t familiar, can you describe the process of making Armagnac?

Armagnac is a wine-based spirit, in the brandy category. There are four main grapes varieties that are allowed to produce Armagnac: Ugni blanc, Colombard, Folle blanche and Baco blanc. At Gensac we use two – Ugni blanc and Colombard. The first step in the process is to harvest early to produce a white wine of high acidity and low alcohol, less than 10 per cent. It has to be sulphite-free, like natural wine, because sulphites can give the Armagnac an odd flavour after distillation. Then as the wine is unprotected we try to distil relatively quickly, at the end of October or early November. We do one distillation to produce a white spirit called la blanche d’Armagnac, which then goes into barrels and starts the ageing process. It also starts to take colour from the barrel. Each year, we lose a certain amount of product and alcohol as it evaporates. Throughout the years you have to check your storage is good and you have to work the product. Work means that you give the Armagnac air – we take it out of every barrel and put it back in. Then you wait until you decide it’s the right time – we sell five, 10, 15 and 20-year-old Armagnac. At the end, we blend different barrels and grape varieties to achieve the results we want.

Gensac Armagnac
Gensac Armagnac

You have spoken about combining tradition with modernity – what does that mean to you and Gensac?

Gensac is a 13th-century Chateau, and I’m in my mid-forties and come from the city. Armagnac production has a very long-standing tradition that we cherish, but we want to modernize how we go to market by making the product approachable to a modern generation. This is the same on the wine side as well. And it’s our everyday life. We live in a chateau, but we don’t live a “chateau life”, we’re a young, normal family with two screaming kids and a dog. If you come to stay with us, we don’t greet you in a suit; we’re in boots and a pair of jeans. With everything we do we try to be modern, unconventional and to have fun as well, but always with respect to heritage and tradition.

What is the tasting process of a Gansac Armagnac, and what notes and flavours should you look out for?

First of all, I think you taste it whenever you feel like it! Coming back to this idea of modernity is taking away that bit of stiffness to say you don’t have to sit there and turn it in the glass, and then smell and turn for ages. No! Just drink it the way you enjoy it. Of course, if you want the full experience I would say: take your glass into your hand and warm it. It’s very important because the warmth develops aromas. But if it’s 7pm on a hot summer day and you feel like putting ice in it and drinking it on the rocks, well, why not? It’s great. I would then say, take a young one. Our five-year-old Armagnac on the rocks works really well – the ice breaks the alcohol a bit and brings out the fruit notes, it’s wonderful.

I always ask people to taste from young to old so you understand the phenomenon of how the product changes over the years. On the notes, a young Armagnac is very on the fruit, you have a lot of floral notes and there’s a sort of freshness to it. The older Armagnac has more notes of roasted elements, with vanilla, caramel, and cocoa flavours coming through. A young has a nice length, but it doesn’t have the long finish an aged Armagnac will achieve, where the product stays with you a long-time after you’ve swallowed. It’s delicious!

The Gensac estate
The Gensac estate

On your website there are lots of Armagnac cocktail recipes, is that unusual for a producer?

Yes and no. For a long time it wasn’t done but today, thankfully, many producers are encouraging people to drink Armagnac in that way. It’s nothing new; some of the greatest classic cocktail recipes use Armagnac or Cognac, like one of my favourites, the sidecar. While we’re not inventing anything, some of the recipes are new including the Mule, which replaces vodka with Armagnac to give the cocktail a lot more flavour.

What are your ambitions for the future of Gensac?

As an estate at Gensac we’re trying to create a fun, enjoyable place where people love to come and visit come and leave with a good feeling. But when it comes to the product we would like to build a brand with selective global presence. We have absolutely no ambition to become mass market but if I could, one day, tour around the world and find a place for our wine and Armagnac in all the wonderful places, that would be a great thing.

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Gensac is available to purchase in the UK from