The name Ricard may ring a few bells if you like to try the more unusual spirits at the back of the bar. Pastis is an aniseed flavoured aperitif which Ricard, the son of a wine merchant, reinvented after he was offered some by an old shepherd. Although it was originally prohibited during WWI for fears it would undermine the war effort, the ban was eventually lifted and Ricard set up his own company, selling more than 2.4 million litres of his “authentic pastis of Marseilles”, a secret recipe containing star anise, fennel seeds, liquorice and local Provençal herbs. [When drinking pastis – 2 cl should be served with 10cl of chilled water and finally ice cubes should be added for this will release the full aroma of the anise.]
Despite another ban during WWII, business was good and everyone was benefitting as the workers were given profit shares in the company each year as a bonus. In 1968, Paul Ricard decided to retire and handed the company over to his son, Patrick. It was later merged with Pernod (a former rival).
As part of an advertising promotion, Ricard started to sponser sporting events, such as the Tour de France in 1948, and in 1970 he built a racing circuit in the hilltop village of Le Castellet which hosted the French Grand Prix between 1971 and 1990. I came across it completely by accident as I drove from the Luberon Valley to the coast at Toulon. At first, I wondered why there was a huge concrete hotel built seemingly in the middle of nowhere and with the unusual name of ‘Grand Prix’, but then I saw the flags, and the grand entrance gates, and the private airfield.
Ricard was also involved in films, producing the first French colour movie of ‘La Maison du Printemps’ in 1950. About the same time he started to buy islands off the South of France. First the uninhabited island of Bendor, and then Embiez island. On Bendor he established the Universal Exposition of Wines and Spirits (a kind of living encyclopaedia of wine and spirits) and the Museum of Ricard Advertising Objects. Tourism enterprises have also popped up around the shores, such as a diving and windsurfing school, a yacht club and hotels. While on Embiez he founded the Observatoire de la Mer (now the Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute) which carries out research on the effects of industrial pollution and raises public awareness of marine issues. There is also an aquarium with over 100 different species of fish.
Although retired, Ricard was busy with his islands, painting the local landscapes and acting as mayor of Signes (1980-1988), a small town near the racing circuit. Sadly he died there in 1997, aged 88 and was buried on Embiez, his grave facing the sea.