From the February 1991 Newsletter…
Shortly after mid-day on Sunday 16th saw the group emerging onto the tarmac at Nice Airport after an uneventful flight from Heathrow. Some few minutes later we were aboard our coach to Grasse with Jean-Pierre at the wheel – a man whose careful driving we all came to appreciate.
Our first afternoon was free and most people took the opportunity to familiarise themselves with Grasse.
The whole group visited Biolandes on Monday morning where we were shown a small production plant which has been operating for two years by virtue of a joint venture with Chanel. Chanel have a 50% share in Biolandes and can, with local rosa centifolia growth and also jasmin, ensure a continued supply of French rose-de-mai and jasmin. During our visit we saw the spent jasmin flowers being withdrawn from one of the stills at the end of a four hour extraction process and we were able to smell the concrete from an earlier batch which was much appreciated by all. In addition to rose and jasmin, the plant is used for clary sage.
We were then ferried to a field on the same property to see the jasmin flowers being picked, a rarity indeed these days!
Later we were shown a video outlining Biolandes wider interests in Provence and Andalucia, processing materials such as juniper, pine and eucalyptus, all processing being done in the area of growth. Extractions are totally automatic within the factory and all processes are computer controlled to ensure continuity.
Biolandes technology also extends as far as research into the potential odorous materials within ‘spent’ vegetable matter, i.e. components which may be useful in fragrance for soap, etc. We were also told about the use of spent materials to fuel processes in pine and eucalyptus plant as well as a closed solvent system which results in a considerable reduction in the amounts of solvents needed. Finally the remainder of spent vegetable matter is turned into compost for horticultural use which actually represents the major part of their business. Biolandes is a truly innovative young company with an interesting approach to environmentally friendly production techniques.
After a brief look around the laboratory facilities we were entertained to a superb lunch before being taken on, suitably mellowed, to our afternoon visits.
We were now split into two smaller groups, one to visit Roure and the other Payan and Bertrand.
At Payan and Bertrand, the afternoon consisted of an informative tour of the factory looking at various raw materials and extraction equipment. P & B produce an extensive range of natural fragrance and flavour products and we were shown gums, beans, roots etc., in the raw and processed state. We were given a tour of the QC laboratories and also met the perfumers in their separate facility. Our visit was completed by a presentation of P & B materials in an interview room, with Philipe Collet the Senior Perfumer in attendance to discuss the materials shown. The French and British flags were sported at either end of the table in a rather nice gesture of unity.
Group 2 was welcomed at Roure by Francoise Marin, who gave us a brief outline of the Company before we were shown round their extensive production facilities. Roure produces both natural and synthetic raw materials, the factory in Grasse concentrating on the former while the synthetics are manufactured at Argenteuil. Raw materials such as jasmin, cistus, oakmoss and treemoss are mostly imported and processed in Grasse, where they have fully automated extractors with a capacity of some 130,000 litres, to produce concretes and absolutes. The somewhat wet afternoon (which cleared the air for a cloudless sky for the rest of the week) was ended most pleasantly with a glass of champagne in the boardroom before we were returned to our hotel.
In the evening the whole group was royally entertained by Payan and Bertrand at the Restaurant Vieux Panoramique to round off an enjoyable first day.
On Tuesday morning the whole party visited two plants run by Pierre Chauvet et Cie. We were re-united with Jean-Pierre for our one and a half hour journey up into the mountains following the Route Napoleon. At the functional plant at Compes on the river Artuby, seven people process a variety of locally grown and imported raw materials. Cistus, oakmoss, lavender, lavandin and sage clary were amongst the materials processed at Compes. Materials awaiting process were stored in an open barn-type building, testament to the predominantly dry climate.
Then it was back to the coach for the visit to Seillans which was preceded by lunch in a restaurant where the superb food was complemented by the view from the terrace. Jean-Pierre joined us at table which was a fitting gesture of thanks to a great character. We had wondered how he would extricate the coach from the exceedingly tight spot in which it was parked, but we need not have worried and were soon on our way to the centre of Seillans where we were deposited in the town square along with the local “boules” club to await lifts in cars up to the factory.
The road is so narrow that not even our driver could have negotiated it in a coach and large deliveries of fuel and raw materials are impossible. Hence, the Compes plant and the operation at Seillans of the largest steam boiler in the area. The oldest part of the factory is used for the distillation of dried materials such as cumin, patchouli, orris, pepper etc. Elsewhere in the plant, up to 200k of concrete of lavender, lavandin or beeswax may be produced. Chauvet produce one and a half tons of beeswax each year, about 70% of the world product. Pierre Chauvet also have a financial interest in Ivory Coast citrus production and are part of decision making and planning for future production. At the end of the day we were brought back to our hotel for a free evening.
On Wednesday, we again split into our two groups. Group 1 visited Mane Fils in the morning and CAL in the afternoon. Group 2 were entertained by Charabot and Argeville.
Mane Fils provided a most interesting visit to their extensive site which was already in the process of being doubled by the addition of a new fragrance and flavour compounding complex at the top of their mountain. We visited the already substantial compounding facility for fragrance, where sixty people are employed, and also the QC and development laboratories. The visit was completed with a beautifully prepared and presented lunch.
Back at the hotel, we were met by the President of CAL who gave us a slide show before we embarked on the short walk to the Grasse factory. Here we were given an informative tour of the plant with a look at the pilot and main CO2 extraction plants in which CAL/Pfizer have invested some considerable time and money, not only in France but also in the U.S.A. More conventional plant is used for processing oakmoss, sage clary, beeswax and lavender, 15 tons of which awaited process just outside in the yard.
On completion of our tour we were taken to another smaller plant which was also processing sage clary and lavender for CAL. Stainless steel and copper stills were in use and we were shown the difference in colour and odour between steel and copper produced lavandin concrete. Group 2 were treated to a special guided tour of the Museum of Perfumery in Grasse, courtesy of Charabot. The museum houses many interesting relics of the early perfumery industry, including old copper stills, photographs, early analytical instruments and a reconstructed laboratory. A large bright room holds displays of articles associated with 4000 years of perfumery from around the world including perfume bottles, 18th century bergamot boxes and even a perfumery board game from Japan. Of particular interest was a large travelling case belonging to Queen Marie Antoinette complete with bed warmer!
We visited the library which is used for reference and research and learned of programmes to encourage school children in the art of recognising different “smells”. The top floor of the museum was a mini Kew Gardens (well, not quite!) but it was very interesting to see lemongrass, geranium, ylang ylang, patchouli etc., being cultivated in the appropriate environments.
We were then taken to see Charabot’s considerable stocks of raw materials – about £8 millions worth – which are turned over every two months! Lunch followed at a superb restaurant where we were charmingly entertained by our hosts.
The afternoon visit was to Argeville where we were met by Jean-Pierre Mayenc. Their complex is situated in the most idyllic surroundings just outside Grasse. They were proud to show us the most up-to-date plant which was about to come into production and we saw their modern computerised compounding facilities and laboratories.
Their most exciting venture is in the field of biotechnology where they are exploring the production of new materials from such starting materials as gurjam balsam, vetiver oil and spent waxes. We were shown some very interesting products, some of which are already available, and there is obviously a great potential here for new and interesting materials.
On our last evening, the whole group had dinner together at the Hotel des Parfums in Grasse, after a much needed up-hill walk to get there! This was a very enjoyable conclusion to an excellent trip and we would like to thank Tony Dallimore for all his hard work in organising it. Thanks also to our two leaders, Evelyn Speller and Paul McGee and of course to all our French hosts.
Thursday dawned all too soon – and it was time to say ‘au revoir’ (yes, we had managed to learn this much by now), to Jean-Pierre after a few last minute photographs and a hectic visit to the local supermarket. A final view of the Cote d’Azur and we were winging our way home.
© Copyright British Society of Perfumers 1991