A Man with a Plan: Bernard Magrez at Pape Clement

by Chuck Hayward

A Man with a Plan: Bernard Magrez at Pape Clement

Post by Cory Gowan | April 7th, 2011

After spending most of Tuesday tasting the 2010s of Pessac-Leognan, we headed to Chateau Pape Clément for a tasting, tour, and dinner. The chateau and vineyards of Pape Clement are unique in Bordeaux in that they are basically just outside the city limits, surrounded by suburbs and sitting right next to the small village of Pessac.

Walking Up the Steps and Back In Time

The story of Pape Clément is almost like a tale of two wineries. On one hand, there is the ancient chateau, dating back to the 1500's. On the other, is Bernard Magrez, owner of three Bordeaux estates (Pape Clément, Fombrauge in St. Emilion, and La Tour Carnet in the Haut-Medoc), as well as 31 other vineyards around the world.

Magrez is unshakable—dedicated to terroir, traditional winemaking and manual production. Whether it’s a $100+ Grand Cru or a rosé from Provence, he puts his name on the bottle and stands by it. A tireless worker, he is always looking for better wines and never shies away from a challenge. It was a pleasure to meet him and his son at Pape Clément on a beautiful spring day in Pessac.

Could I Talk You Into Opening This?

We were given the full tour, including a trip to the cellars where they keep vintages of rouge and blanc dating back to the late 19th century. (I made a joke about bringing my birth year wines back to the dinner table, since they had both the white and the red, but no luck...)

At the winery we were amazed to see that not only do they hand pick their grapes, they also destem by hand, which takes two teams of 100 people a day. That effort really shows the care they put into their property. The wines are all gravity fed, with no pumping, and fermentations are punched down by hand, as well.

Tasting Room Heaven

We went back to a Gustave Eiffel designed tasting room, which was abandoned in Paris before it was found, transported to Pape Clément and rebuilt. (This is now my new favorite tasting room in Bordeaux!) The light, airy feel of this salon was a nice change of pace, with sunshine streaming through the stained glass window, allowing for a beautiful view of the chateau and vineyards.

During our tasting we looked at a lineup of Magrez's wines, from the top French properties to his cuvées from around the world, including a Japanese white. (This may not be produced again for fear of radiation fallout from the reactor leak caused by the earthquake last month). His top reds, in particular, were astounding—Fombrauge, Magrez-Fombrauge, and of course, Pape Clément. Being able to re-taste the 2009 vintage gave us a solid foundation for understanding how it differs from 2010.

The highlight, though, may have been the 1995 Pape Clément. Still very young and taut, it was a pleasure to experience this older vintage in the ancient grandeur of the chateau.