The distillery in Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe), which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary, is in the process of revolutionising its range, with the release of special, limited cuvées that are sure to make a splash. Zoom in on its history and the production process for these rums that are both full of character and easy to drink.
In 1892, Charles Jacques-Edouard Marsolle decided to acquire the Lise estate, built in the 17th century by the Lousteau family in the commune of Bouillante, to the west of Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe. This seasoned investor and entrepreneur decided to diversify the estate’s activities: agricultural production (cocoa, sugar cane, vinegar), as well as livestock farming and processing and sales activities such as leather goods and sugar production.
In 1930, Auguste Clément Dolomie, a merchant from Désirade, decided to set up a distillery on the first slopes of the Petit-Bourg plain in the Carrère district to the east of Basse-Terre. He decided to name it “Carrère”.
The Marsolles take over the Carrère distillery
But back to the Marsolle family. After a few years running the small Rose distillery in Goyave, Jean Marsolle decided in 1966 to buy the Carrère distillery, which was then only capable of crushing one tonne per hour. Together with his son Alain, an industrial designer by training and former technical director of the Gardel plant in Le Moule, he set about modernising the equipment to increase production capacity.
Alain Marsolle, for his part, wears two hats. He is heir to a family of agricultural distillers and husband to a descendant of the Bon family, an industrial sugar entrepreneur. In 1974, Alain, then in his thirties, took over from his father at the head of the company, which had already grown considerably. The crushing plant was renovated to increase crushing capacity from 12 to 14 tonnes per hour.
Carrère becomes Montebello
Alain and his brother Emmanuel Marsolle set up SARL Montebello. This name comes from Madame Veuve Thevenin Jean-Marie. She bought “a piece of land detached from the Bell dwelling” in April 1859, a few days before the second victory of Napoleon’s troops at Montebello della Battaglia, a town south of Milan in Italy.
Now at the helm, Alain and Emmanuel Marsolle form a complementary duo. By dint of their hard work, the two brothers have managed to develop the business spectacularly.
Alain and his sons
In 1982, Alain was left to run SARL Montebello on his own. A passionate self-taught man, he had been lucky enough to learn the trade from engineers. He is a point of reference for his colleagues, with whom he is happy to share good advice. For his distillery, he is tireless and doesn’t count the hours.
His aim is to modernise the distillery’s equipment to increase production and diversify its products through innovation. For example, he was one of the first to build an ageing cellar using oak casks purchased in the United States. He has also set up all the procedures and canvassed international markets.
In 2012, having reached an advanced age, Alain Marsolle decided to hand over the reins to his sons Dominique and Grégory. Since then, even though he is no longer at the helm, he still provides good advice and continuity. Previously working alongside his father, Grégory Marsolle took over the reins of Montebello in early 2012. From then on, the Marsolle brothers decided to restore the brand to its former glory by focusing on young, local management.
With a dynamic new team in place, the family distillery aims to improve quality and efficiency and raise its profile both locally and internationally. The result has been an overhaul of the range and the launch of a number of exceptional, limited editions that have met with great success among connoisseurs.
As we shall see, Montebello is one of the most innovative distilleries in Guadeloupe, and indeed in the French West Indies. It now offers all the cuvées you’d expect from a top-of-the-range Agricole rum distillery, and more: brut de fût, brut de colonne, monovalriétal, premium white rum, vintages, finishes…
A fine, long-lasting range
This is reflected in the expansion and upgrading of the range of vintages on offer to the public. Alongside the traditional white Agricole rums at 40%, 50% and 55%, there are also two rums aged in wood at 40% and 50%.
And, of course, a range of aged rums: 3, 6 and 8 years, all vintage and 42% proof. There’s also the 8-year-old brut de fût, which is currently made from a rum casked in 2014 and bottled in 2022, at a proof (rather mild for a brut) of 47.9%. And the 10-year old brut, with its beautiful honey colour (2010-201), at 45.1%.
Zenga delights us
But in recent years, Montebello has also made a name for itself with its special series. Starting with its two rums in the Zenga range. The Zenga black edition black edition is 100% black cane, aged for 1 year before bottling. It is 60% proof. Zenga Gold 60% proof, like Gold Edition, was casked in July 2021 (ex-Rye and Tennessee Whiskey) and bottled in January 2023.
This time the cane used is yellow and red. Bolokos, with its little skeleton character on the label, has quickly become legendary..
The success of the Rencontre
Since this year, Montebello has been delighting us with its range of rums that have undergone finishes in wine and spirit casks: the Rencontre. The first cuvée was a 7 year old, vintage 2015, which spent 188 days in casks of Eddu Silver, a Breton whisky (Menhirs distillery) made from buckwheat. This was followed by a Pommeau de Bretagne finish rum.
And as the year draws to a close, the Basse-Terre distillery is offering us a meeting between Guadeloupe’s agricole rum and French white wines. In the spotlight this time is Domaine François Carillon in Burgundy, with two finishes: Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet.
The domaine Pierre Jean Villa (Condrieu), from the Côte du Rhône region, and the domaine des Forges, renowned for their quarts de chaume. Enough to delight wine AND rum lovers!
The prestige rums on offer include the Cuvée Équilibre (15 years old), the Carafe 1982 (24 years old!) and the single cask Origine (18 years old) and Horizon (20 years old). To round things off, Montebello also offers a range of excellent punches: Coconut Punch, Passion Punch and Passion Punch.
In short, the Petit-Bourg distillery has managed to reinvent itself in the space of just a few years, and has even come up with a number of original, hair-raising cuvées. In any case, it’s one of the distilleries we’ll be keeping a close eye on over the next 10 years!