How Wine is Made at Chateau Pédesclaux? Precision Winemaking at a State-of-the-art Winery in Pauillac
Chateau Pédesclaux, classified fifth growth of Pauillac in 1855, certainly sits on a great terroir, nestled between the illustrious vineyards of neighboring Chateaus, Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, and Pontet-Canet.
But great location, and a potentially-great terroir is not all. Capturing the essence of its vineyards and bottling the complexity and refinement of the Pauillac gravels overlooking the Garonne river is a difficult challenge.
Despite its enviable position among some of the greatest estates in Médoc, for decades during the past century Pédesclaux had been focused on producing volumes of average Pauillac wines rather than looking at excellence.
Everything changed in 2009 though after the acquisition of the property by current owners Jacky and Françoise Lorenzetti.
Technical director and winemaker Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen (who had already been involved in Château Lilian Ladouys, a Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois acquired by Jacky and Françoise Lorenzetti in 2008) has since been restructuring the vineyard, pulling out vines and replanting where necessary, adapting rootstocks and controlling viticulture to the highest level of precision.
An entirely new winery was also build in 2014, designed by the same architect that built the new cellars at Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Jean-Michel Wilmotte.
The new modern facilities give the winemaker the level of technical control required to apply precision winemaking for processing and respecting the natural quality of the grapes.
During a visit at Pédesclaux in September 2017, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the keys to making great wine in Pauillac, and how the team at Chateau Pédesclaux uses its savoir-faire and technique to project the chateau into the renaissance it has been going through in recent years.
See How Wine is Made at Chateau Pédesclaux in Video:
The Key to Great Wine: Determining Harvest Date
It is common at any winery nowadays, to use chemical analysis of the grapes to evaluate their level of maturity.
Quantity of acids, sugars, color pigments or tannins are determined in labs after sampling each vineyard’s grapes to closely follow the evolution of their maturation. Chateau Pédesclaux, like everyone else, also uses this method.
But, considering there is nothing better than human perception to better track the real taste of grapes and their potential to make harmonious wine, Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen has also developed his own proprietary method of sensory analysis of the grape’s tastes and ripening state.
Several qualified members of the winemaking team gather to taste berry samples from each vineyard on a regular basis and analyze, using nothing else than their senses, how the aromas and flavors of the pulp, the skin, and the seeds of the grapes come through to the palate.
Beyond knowing the potential alcohol and the level of acidity in the grapes, this allows Pédesclaux to precisely monitor how the maturity of each vineyard comes along and evolves, on a day-to-day basis.
With this information, the team can decide and plan when each vineyard is going to be harvested, approaching the ideal level of maturity for each plot.
Even through my fairly-long winemaking experience, I had never seen such a precise method to determine the date of harvest.
Listen to and watch my Interview with Winemaker Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen:
Sorting Grapes to Get a Pure Expression of Terroir
Once the grapes are picked, it is challenging to any winery to destem them properly, eliminating any piece of green and vegetal material, and sorting out any rotten or sun-burnt berry to keep only the berries that are ripe and will taste good in the wine.
For this, Pédesclaux uses extra-long sorting tables, and a squad of trained staff to look at, virtually, every grape berry before it is directed to the fermentation tanks.
I counted up to 20 people involved along the sorting table gear, before and after the destemmer!
Make sure to watch the video ‘How Wine is Made at Chateau Pédesclaux‘ (link above) to see it in action.
Gravity-Powered Winery: Vinification & Cellar
Many believe that using pumps for making wine damages the wine and the integrity of its natural fruit expression. And its makes sense it would.
Wine pumps can heat up the wine as it goes through, and/or mechanically affect its molecules, tannins and aromas. They are commonly used in most wineries to ‘pump over’ the juice from the bottom of the tanks back to the top and extract color and tannins from the skins, for racking off the less, or transferring into wine barrels.
Using gravity only for all wine transfers is a very gentle method, meaning that no drop of wine ever gets squashed or compressed in any hose or pump at anytime during the whole winemaking process, preserving the most-natural state of the grape juice and its components.
For this, Pedesclaux’ new winery building uses the following 2 key features.
- The grape reception area is located at the top of the building, meaning grapes can be fed into the fermentation tanks simply by transferring them through small containers after the sorting tables line. The barrel room is located underneath the tank room, so the wine natural goes down the 3-storey winery as it evolves through the winemaking process.
- The winery is equipped with a unique system of 2 tanks mounted on elevators at the center of the winery. They allow to drain wine, using gravity force only, from any vat of the winery, and to simply lift the wine up or down wherever in needs to go, from the reception area at the top of the building, or down into the barrel room at the lowest floor.
The Wines of Château Pédesclaux
In Bordeaux more than anywhere else, it is believed that attention detail allows to make the most precise wines.
There’s got to be more to winemaking for sure than pure technicality.
Yet, one has to admit Chateau Pédesclaux’ efforts to increase the quality of their wine, and bring out the potential of their terroir is paying off, year after year.
I had the opportunity to taste their wines vertically, from vintage 2009 to the baby 2016 vintage, and clearly despite the natural vintage variations, quality is simply shooting up.
Read the whole Château Pédesclaux vertical wine tasting article:
Of course, we’re in Bordeaux, blending plays a key role to making a consistently high-quality first wine.
Each wine batch is tasted, its quality evaluated, and every slightly lower quality vineyard’s production put aside, often blended into the second wine.
The first wine, or ‘Grand Vin’, hence, year after year benefits from the best possible vineyards’ production on that vintage, the best selection of wines, working in harmony with each other.
Chateau Pédesclaux second wine, called Fleur de Pédesclaux gives a good taste of the winery’s style, offering a precise and clean fruit character, typical of Pauillac without the price tag of an expensive top label.
I particularly appreciated the 2010 vintage: