Bordeaux thrives on tradition. Why not? Bordeaux is the standard for global wine production. However, changing times require even Bordeaux embrace modernity. Restoring historic châteaux, implementing new winemaking techniques, migrating to organic and biodynamic farming, are among the necessary advancements happening in Bordeaux. Château Pédesclaux, 1855 5ème Grand Cru Classé de Pauillac, embraces these changes by successfully marrying tradition with modernity.
In 2009, Françoise and Jacky Lorenzetti acquired Château Pédesclaux and immediately began restoring the century’s old, dilapidated property back to its former excellence. The most noticeable change is to the Château itself. While maintaining the traditional beauty of the building, the wings were encased in glass to add modern elements while increasing functionality. The unique architectural design fools the eye into believing the now visible wine vats support the roof.
Since 2009, ongoing studies have explored the diversity of the Pédesclaux soil. Based on the results a replanting initiative is underway. Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen, technical director of the Château, explains, “The goal is to increase the Cabernet Sauvignon plantings from 55% to 70%. Increasing vineyard plantings aids in achieving this goal. In 2009, the Lorenzetti’s increased Château Pédesclaux vineyards from 26 to 48 hectares by acquiring 15 hectares of vineyards from Château Haut-Milon, neighboring Lafite Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild. In 2013, 5 hectares of Château Béhéré were also added. These vineyards are prime real estate for quality Cabernet.
Transitioning from conventional to sustainable vineyard practices furthers the Château move to modernity. This change means elimination of chemical weed killers and green manure utilized as fertilizer; some plots are now organic and even biodynamic. Bache-Gabrielsen explains it took three to four years to see changes in the vineyards, but in time the soil softened, resulting in deeper roots, increase in disease resistance, and elevation in acidity levels, resulting in improved freshness and balance.
Respect for the grape begins in the vineyard and continues in the winery. Utilizing a gravity flow system throughout the winery provides gentle care for the grapes. With the goal of extracting the fullest expression of terroir, each plot is vinified and maintain separately. The two-tier vats allow for gentle winemaking without the use of pumping. Racking during aging is kept to a minimum. Bache-Gabrielsen believes, “The new cellar brings precision to the wine, while allowing for increased potential of the wine during the gentle winemaking process.”
I recently tasted three Château Pédesclaux with Bache-Gabrielsen. We began with the 2014 vintage, which he describes as “the first vintage to express Château Pédesclaux’s new terroir with the acquisition of the new vineyards and completion of the modern cellar.” A blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot, unusual for Paulliac, but Bache-Gabrielsen explains “the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot were a bit off so we did not use them in this vintage.” He describes the 2014 as a “fresh vintage with complex, high acid Merlot, and balanced.” Adding, “Paulliac produces wines with spice, tobacco, violets, and currants. Due to our winemaking process we are able to maintain some aromas that usually diminish with aging, we see enhanced spice and floral notes that are not typical of aged Paulliac.”
Attention to detail in winemaking at Château Pédesclaux doesn’t skip a step. A focus on the texture of the tannins results in the employment of nine coopers, each providing different toasts on their barrels to insure the proper texture and mouthfeel of the wine. Along this line, they follow the wine and see where it leads to determine what it needs to maintain its freshness and texture.
I found the 2014 to polished and structured. Layers of concentrated red and black fruit mingle with dried roses, cassis, licorice, baking spice, fresh tobacco, cedar, black pepper, smoke, and worn leather. Ripe tannins envelop the palate in velvet. This wine will age for a decade or more but with a good decant drink well now, which is part of the modern focus of winemaking at Château Pédesclaux.
Bache-Gabrielsen explains the 2015 vintage is the first to include Petit Verdot. It is a blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. He believes the Petit Verdot increases the wines spice notes and density, stating gleefully “it is our Syrah in the Medoc.” With a tannin structure similar to the 2014, Bache-Gabrielsen sees it as more elegant, with a powerful punch at its finish.
I could immediately smell the sweet spice and violets from the Petit Verdot on the nose and see the subtle purple hue in the glass. The 2015 is a supple wine with more tension between sweet notes and the savory earthiness. The fruit, spice, dried herbs, and vanilla rests peacefully on a mineral vein comprised of slate. A powerful wine that walks a line of elegance and restraint, rounded out with structure, focus, and length.
Bache-Gabrielsen explains the Medoc did not experience such wild weather swings as the rest of Bordeaux in 2016. This allowed them to harvest each varietal when they wanted, at ideal ripeness, instead of harvest being dictated by the weather. He shares, due to each varietal being “very interesting” all four comprise the 2016 blend, making it “the most expressive of our terroir to date.” Adding, “Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were much higher quality in the Medoc in 2016.” The blend is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.
I found the 2016 to be a beautiful wine. Each wine, better than the one before. 2016 is complex, richer, and more opulent. The four grapes together provided the broadest structure and layers of flavors. The Cab Franc provides an evident green pepper note that seamlessly mingles with the black fruit, dried lavender, sweet baking spice, dusty cocoa, licorice, and graphite. This wine is lean and focused; elegant yet powerful. Bache-Gabrielsen says, “The 2016 is the fullest expression of Château Pédesclaux terroir.” If true, Château Pédesclaux has a great future.