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Interview: Chantal Perse, Chateau Pavie, St-Emilion

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Chantal Perse and her husband Gérard, a former supermarket manager, bought two Saint-Émilion estates, Château Monbousquet (in 1993) and Château Pavie (in 1998). Since their beginnings in Bordeaux, they have greatly improved the infrastructure of Château Pavie with the key to its promotion to the rank of Premier Grand Cru Classé A.


What were the reactions when you arrived in Saint-Émilion?

Not very good! Maybe because we came with money. We bought a vineyard in an area where we had no roots. My husband is very intelligent; he has his idea of what a quality wine is, he practiced green harvesting and improved many things in the vines. A lot of people looked at him and called him crazy… “He has too much money, he does weird things. “It was a bit difficult at first but now it's better.

In what state was Pavie when you acquired it in 1998?

Not very good, but that's also why we were able to afford it. If everything had been in perfect condition, it would have been [too expensive] for us. We had to replace the chai and the old cellar, and replant the vineyard. There was a lot to do, but it is one of the best terroirs in Saint-Émilion. It was urgent to do something because the cellar was really old, with big concrete vats.

How has the wine changed since you arrived?

His style changed a lot between 1997 (the last year when [the former owner] Mr. Vallette was at the helm) and 1998. The first year, we halved the yields with the green harvest. We also harvested very late. All the other producers in Saint-Émilion had finished their harvest when we started ours, so our grapes were very ripe, with a higher concentration. The change has been clear.

On the other hand, between 1998 and now, I don't think there have been any major upheavals. We know the terroir better, it's more of an evolution.

Has the blend of grape varieties changed since you took over the business?

When we replant, we try to change the varieties to adapt to global warming. We have a lot of Merlot and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon; we are therefore looking for a better balance and less powerful wines. The problem in Bordeaux right now is that the sugar levels in the grapes are rising rapidly. We are currently working with 70 % of Merlot, 20 % of Cabernet Franc and 10 % of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Did you expect the promotion of Château Pavie?

We hoped so. We weren't judges, so we could only hope and we were rewarded. The jury [decide] who can be promoted, according to the quality of the wine, the quality of the terroir; it has very specific criteria.

How did you feel when you heard the news?

First a lot of joy, emotion and pride. We congratulated the team while reminding them that we had to work harder to maintain this rank.

How did you celebrate?

We invited the whole team to the vineyard. We all had lunch together and my husband gave everyone a bonus.

Are some people jealous of your success?

Yes, it is human. All winemakers think they're doing their best, working hard, and when they hear that another area has been promoted, they don't understand why they aren't being rewarded.

Some people were disappointed when our promotion was announced. They were happy for us, but also a bit jealous. It does not bother me. I'm proud of the way we did things; we didn't cheat.

You increased your price by more than 50 % during the difficult 2012 en primeurs campaign, when most Bordeaux wines reduced their prices by around a third. Why ?

We have increased our price by approximately 58 % to reflect our new ranking. It would have been ridiculous not to. I think it is important that there is a difference between the categories.

It is true that the year was particularly difficult, some consumers were less inclined to pay more. However, we have no regrets. We opted for a higher market positioning than our colleagues. Now we offer something different: a new cellar, a new image.

Who is your wine for?

We make wine for the consumer, but according to our taste.

What is your main market at the moment?

We export to 60 countries, but Hong Kong and China are our biggest markets.

When and why did you launch Esprit de Pavie?

In 2008. We had a property in Côtes-de-Castillon. Even if his wines are very good, they are not very easy to sell. My husband wondered what he could do with this grape. Added to that of the young vines of Pavie, we were thus able to create Esprit de Pavie.

You own several other properties including Monbousquet and Pavie-Decesse. Does it bother you that only Château Pavie attracts the attention of the media and consumers?

When you go to Saint-Émilion, you want to visit the flagship estate. If this is not possible and we propose to visit Monbousquet or Pavie-Decesse, we are told “No thank you, we will come back in two years”. It's normal: if you visit Paris, you prefer to go window shopping on Place Vendôme.

Your daughter lives on the estate, with your two grandchildren. Will she take over the reins when you decide to retire?

Yes, she already works for the estate, with her husband. We plan to pass the property on to our daughter, maybe in 20 years!

Source: Rebecca Gibbs
July 3, 2013

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