Château Pichon Comtesse: a quiet revolution

Since 2007, with the arrival of the Roederer Group at the helm of this 2nd Grand Cru classé de Pauillac, Château Pichon Comtesse has been pursuing an ambitious path in close harmony with its terroir. Nicolas Glumineau, the château’s Managing Director, and Sébastien Moses, Owner of Twins, talk about the subtle revolution that has stirred this unique cru classé.

In search of Pichon Comtesse’s Pauillac identity

When it comes to the Pauillac appellation, Pichon Comtesse is in a class of its own. “Pichon Comtesse has always been considered more of a Saint-Julien or Margaux wine, with a relatively high proportion of Merlot,” Sébastien Moses emphasized. An analysis shared by Nicolas Glumineau: “In the collective unconscious, Pichon Comtesse is nevertheless a great Merlot”. And yet, when he was appointed Managing Director in 2012, the Merlot topic really caught his attention.

“The Comtesse’s reputation is closely linked to Margaux, Saint-Julien and sometimes Pomerol, but we’re still in Pauillac. When I look at our neighbours, the typicity of their wines is deeply rooted in Cabernet Sauvignon. Could there be something in the Pichon Comtesse vineyard that might be especially suited for Merlot grapes? That was the main question.

Nicolas Glumineau, Managing Director of Château Pichon Comtesse

To find answers, Frédéric Rouzaud, CEO of Louis Roederer, decided to draw up a geological map of the vineyard, prior to any restructuring. Creating the map was a long and painstaking process. “You have to imagine digging holes 1.50 to 1.80 metres deep, to find out what particularity each unit of soil unit and each unit of terroir contained in each 30-cm layer,” Nicolas Glumineau explained in detail. And that new knowledge was the starting point for what Sébastien Moses calls “a small revolution”.

Pichon Comtesse: a 20-year roadmap

So what did the Pichon Comtesse teams learn from the geological map? Unsurprisingly, the soil there is extremely gravelly. As a result, it is highly draining and particularly conducive to Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil moisture regime means Cabernet Sauvignon vines stop growing early in the season, and concentrate on the grapes ripening. What’s more, Pichon Comtesse has clay veins, that run through the vineyard. The soil moisture regime, favourable to the irrigation of the Merlot root system, is “absolutely extraordinary”, which is why Nicolas Glumineau says:

“Obviously, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape variety in the Pichon Comtesse vineyard, but when Merlot encounters favourable conditions, it produces outstanding results. It is also what gives the estate its reputation.”

Based on this geological map, the teams launched a plan for uprooting and replanting. Since 2012, the General Manager has been steering the changes in the vineyard’s grape varieties, and more specifically the portion related to Merlot grapes. Over time, the idea is to reach grape variety proportions of approximately 72-75% of Cabernet Sauvignon and 17-20% of Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc and a little Petit Verdot as well. Out of the 102 hectares, 4 hectares are uprooted each year. After leaving the land fallow for 2 or 3 years, the teams replant. Thanks to the expertise in biodynamic and organic viticulture developed by Maison Roederer, the plots left fallow are managed directly using biodynamic methods. The Pichon Comtesse vineyards are currently 100% organically and two-thirds biodynamically grown. An adventure that Nicolas Glumineau describes as “thrilling. We’ve learned a lot from it.”

And to support these transitions in the vineyard, the new owner has invested in cutting-edge technical tools. Ever since the 2013 harvest, the teams have been able to rely on a new vat room, entirely devoted to their quest for precision.

“We’re lucky enough to have a range of different sized vats, allowing us to vinify each plot individually. We have around 80 to 90 different wines to select from – both Pichon and Réserve de Pichon Comtesse – that’s where we aim for balance and precision.”

Nicolas Glumineau, Managing Director of Château Pichon Comtesse

Château Pichon Comtesse 2018 vintage: the turning point

Nicolas Glumineau sums up the Pichon Comtesse approach by saying:
“Being comfortable with the fact that our terroir is in Pauillac, while at the same time ensuring that Pichon Comtesse remains Pichon Comtesse”. In that quest, the 2018 vintage plays a special role. The team devoted a lot of time and effort to defining the Merlot grapes they wanted to grow. Drawing on their extensive experience, by 2018 the estate succeeded in producing “powerful wines as well as wines with very expressive, aromatic and elegant freshness that provides substantial complexity”. For the General Manager, that achievement is the outcome of a long-term strategy. Nicolas Glumineau also added that 2018 was “a turning point for them, paving the way for a series of vintages that we really like”. And he’s not the only one to share that point of view.

“As a wine merchant, I see consumers scrambling to get hold of the limited number of bottles available. You can sense that people are eager to taste Pichon Comtesse and Pichon Comtesse Réserve – that’s a sign that these wines are appealing.”

Sébastien Moses, Owner of Twins

Food and wine pairing suggestion for Château Pichon Comtesse 2018, by chef Arthur Leprevost: Pauillac suckling lamb, golden chanterelle mushrooms, cherries, blueberry vinaigrette and well-seasoned juice.

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