The story of Château Pavie has been one of decline and rebirth. In this it is not, of course, unique; we could argue that the story of all Bordeaux during the 20th century followed this exact same pattern. Few, however, have accelerated forth in the manner that Château Pavie has achieved. Two or three decades ago the estate was one of many in St Emilion which got by turning out wines that were pretty enough, although they perhaps did not appeal to those who look for power and texture in their glass. These extra ingredients would only come when the property changed hands, in 1998. This was when Gérard Perse arrived.
Gérard Perse (pictured below) was a supermarket magnate who, having made good in the world of groceries, sold up and moved to Bordeaux, buying several notable vineyards in the process. Château Pavie was surely the grandest of his acquisitions, and the one on which he appears to have focused most. It is not exaggerating to say the estate has been reborn, the vineyard expanded and replanted, the château itself razed to the ground and rebuilt, a palace of glitz and gilt. And the style of wine shifted in parallel; the genteel wines of yesterday’s Pavie are no more, having been replaced by wines rich in colour, texture, extract and muscle. The flavours are those of extreme ripeness, supported by layers of tannin and alcohol. The wines of the new Château Pavie were, and still are, controversial. Some will love them. And some will despise them.
Gérard Perse will, I suspect, not be too concerned about the words of his detractors. He has the opinion of the most influential critics on his side, and his place within the St Emilion hierarchy has been assured. Within less than two decades he has gone from newcomer and outsider to occupying a position at the very highest level in the region, as under his direction the château featured in this profile has leapt to the very top tier of the St Emilion classification, moving up alongside Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone, and there is no doubt that this promotion results directly from his investment and motivation. And I also have no doubt that Perse intends to stay at this level; the fact that the ‘Level A’ status is now engraved in stone, over the central archway of the new Pavie palace, tells us this much.
This profile examines the work of Gérard Perse in detail, but first as always I look to this estate’s history. It is considerable, the domaine having been born out of the amalgamation of a number of properties on the Côte de Pavie.