The adventure started with a neighborly “getting to know you” over coffee in our Normand vacation home, English Channel in the distance. A dear girlfriend wished to introduce me to two childhood friends of hers, sisters, living in Normandy and vacationing in Bordeaux: “They make wine and so do you, so it should be fun to meetup!” she said, and without further ado, we did.
In our small home in the Shire (as we have nicknamed our seaside village next to Cherbourg), two worlds connected in coincidental ways; American and French, Bordeaux and Burgundy…. We met Agnès and Cécile Corre, sisters and partners in the family-owned domain of Château Pavie-Macquin in Saint-Emilion and they brought over an extraordinary bottle of their 2006 Château Pavie-Macquin 1er Grand Cru Classé as a hostess gift for dinner. Mutual plans were laid to sally forth and explore unknown lands with this bunch of merry women.
In the summer of 2017, Agnès traveled to Oregon with her children to visit family in Eugene and made a long detour to Three Feathers on Chehalem Mountains. Agnès was impressed with our endeavors at Three Feathers, called them “pioneering”, and said our story was reminiscent of her grandparent’s challenges at Château Pavie-Macquin. Over a glass of 2016 Three Feathers Pinot Noir in the formal topiary garden, we celebrated our first bottled vintage, shared vineyard lore and discussed terroirs in general knowing full well that Bordeaux and Burgundy are like apples and oranges, not to mention Bordeaux and Oregon Pinot Noir!
Agnès knows all about pioneering. Her great-grandfather Albert Macquin (1852-1911), who purchased about 64 acres from various châteaux in Saint-Emilion from 1887, is famous for saving his own vineyard, as well as that of the entire Bordeaux region, from the devastating vine disease phylloxera that had been wreaking havoc since 1866. Agricultural engineer, Macquin was aware of new techniques involving grafting the phlloxera resistant Vitis labrusca American rootstock onto Vitis vinifera vines. While other châteaux were looking to cure the infected vines, Macquin proceeded to replant his entire vineyard with more resistant rootstock and was able to rebound quickly from the phylloxera epidemic that was crippling the Bordeaux wine industry. Albert Macquin is hailed as a man of transformation and reconstruction, advocating Vitis berlandieri which is less susceptible to chlorosis – he produced more than 1 million plants in 1887 – and developing scientific vine plot monitoring.
The phylloxera story is a cross-viticultural one that intimately links France and the United States from a rootstock perspective. Exchange between France and the Oregon is at the root of vine planting in this State since the mid-1800’s when early Oregon vineyards were planted on their own roots, before the arrival of phylloxera, by European settlers. This contrasts with European vineyards, where all wine grapes have been necessarily grafted onto Phylloxera-resistant rootstocks since the nineteenth century. Since phylloxera was discovered in Oregon in 1990, most new vineyards have been planted on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Agricultural engineers without borders, in true botanical spirit, have been sharing, comparing, grafting and testing since ocean transportation made it possible way back when.
We decided to schedule a long detour from Paris to Bordeaux to check out the illustrious Château Pavie-Macquin and in the fall of 2019, just after harvest, our schedules coincided and a date was set. While selecting a couple of bottles (our 2017 Three Feathers Pinot Noir and 2017 Cuvée Virginia) to bring down with us, the daunting prospect of proposing our wines to taste in a region of such historical reputation began to make itself felt. In anticipation, I boned up on Bordeaux and Burgundy – since, just like Burgundy wine, the Pinot Noirs produced in the Oregon Willamette Valley are single varietals – and learned some interesting things.
Recognized for their fineness and elegance, only cuvées from the same grape are blended to make Burgundy wines; Pinot Noir for reds from northern Burgundy, Gamay from the Macon and Beaujolais regions. Bordeaux wines (powerful and robust) derive their richness and complexity from savvy multi-varietal blending of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, but also in smaller quantities Petit Verdot and Malbec for the reds.
Why are Bordeaux and Burgundy bottles shaped differently… and why are wine bottles made to contain 75 centiliters?
In the 18thcentury the city of Bordeaux flourished through maritime trade with the colonial world of the time. Back then, wine bottles did not have a standardized shape and their capacity depended on the manufacturers, making the job of commerce quite confusing. English traders based in Bordeaux had the idea of fixing their capacity at 75 cl to facilitate the calculation of barrels to bottles; a Bordeaux barrel making 225 liters, or 50 gallons, contains therefore 300 bottles and one gallon is equivalent to 6 bottles. An English innovation that has imposed itself over time to become a mandatory European standard, with a few exceptions.
The English also invented the dark glass bottles and cork stoppers to better preserve the wine. For exporting Bordeaux overseas, the angled bottles were cut to measure in order to be efficiently stored in the holds of boats. The elbow of the Bordeaux bottle was conceived to prevent the lees of the wine (yeast deposit at the bottom of the bottle) from running out when pouring.
Contrastingly, Burgundians maintain their own traditions – making “pieces”, as they are called – not “barrels”, of 228 liters (300 bottles). Their king grape varieties, focused on the fruit, are aged in gently sloping bottles, aerodynamic and feminine. Burgundy vineyards are delimited by “Clos” whereas Bordeaux vineyards are identified by “Castles”. This tradition dates back to the Middle Ages when the monks in charge of cultivating the vines for the Bishopric surrounded the rows that gave the best wines by small stone walls. Those areas became the Clos, of which the walls of Clos Vougeot are still visible today.
Saint-Emilion is a very beautiful and impressive town with an exceptional 12th century gothic church, the Église Collégiale, and a spectacular monolithic church of gigantic proportions (38 meters long and 12 meters high). The weather was sparkling and the tourist population was not at its peak, so we were able to stroll around and take photographs without interference. I was impressed by the careful preservation of the buildings, steep cobblestone passageways and the Middle Ages / Tolkien feeling of it all.
We stayed with the Corre sisters in their ancestral home located on Les Chênes de Macquin (The Oaks of Macquin) vineyard, the second wine produced by Château Pavie-Macquin. The traditional Bordelaise architecture of this stone edifice combined with its aging natural state made the experience all the more profound. A sunrise walk revealed golden rows of vines and a large heap of pressed grapes left over from harvest waiting to be retrieved for recycling.
After breakfast we headed off to visit the vineyards of Pavie-Macquin, situated on the highest and most prominent plateau of Saint-Emilion. Encompassing 37 acres (15 hectares), average production of Pavie-Macquin is around 65,000 bottles for each vintage (primarily exported to the United States) – a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The impressive hundred-year-old oak trees that border the property are visible from afar as are the vineyards clearly visible from the town of Saint-Emilion, within walking distance from the Château. The “Château” is very modest compared to some, in the form of the original Bordelaise house recently renovated with a modern tasting room and accompanying apartment for guests.
Our visit coincided with the winding down of the harvest and most of the exterior activity had ceased to be replaced by vat work indoors. Plans to increase the size of the wine production facility are in view, including the replacement of the oak vats for modern concrete ones. Longtime manager Nicolas Thienpont and consulting oenologist Stéphane Derenoncourt are refining and modernizing the Château with new wine making techniques. We ate lunch in a lovely and functional new kitchen facility built next to the winery for the workers and decided to dine that evening in town.
Visiting Pavie-Macquin with Agnès and Cécile Corre was a moving experience. The vineyard setting and backdrop are not only noble but familiar and accessible on a human-scale. The pioneering heritage of Albert Macquin shines through to this day with an eminence and humility right down to the crest that is their logo: two oaks leaves in honor of the hundred-year-old oaks on the property and a hangman’s noose in reminder of the dangers of excess. (Agnès told me that an earlier version displaying three nooses and one oak leaf was modified by her grandmother who found the triple noose much too sinister!)
My tale ends with five of us at L’Envers du Décor (appropriately, Behind the Scenes) around a bottle of Château Pavie-Macquin 1er Grand Cru Classé and a bottle of Three Feathers Oregon Pinot Noir. If you have ever had the chance to taste the former, you will know that it is an unforgettable experience from beginning to end. A deep and complex nose, fruity and robust on the palate, long in the finish. Having recuperated from the emotion of that bottle and commentary subsided, I served a round of Three Feathers Pinot Noir and waited in silence.
Primarily Bordeaux Pavie-Macquin drinkers, Agnès and Cécile raised their eyebrows and Agnès smiled. She said that the wine had really evolved well since the 2016 vintage but felt that it needed to open up more in the glass. I served her some more. Cécile drank her taste more quickly and said that it didn’t quite have the depth of a Bordeaux, but that it merited coming back to. I served her some more and she did. The conversation continued about our wine and I felt myself relaxing. Where there is fire (conversation), there is a flame (spark) and if our Oregon Pinot Noir was good enough to set off a positive and constructive discussion with Pavie-Macquin drinkers, I could feel proud.
While Pavie-Macquin and Three Feathers are like apples and oranges, a common point can be found in the passion transmitted when talking about our wines and the constant search of solutions to extract the best for our vineyards from the climate and the best juice for our wines from the terroir: rich, elegant and unique.