A Visit to Domaine de la Pépière, 2019

Rémi Branger knelt down on the floor of the second of the many (well, three or four) cellars we visited and began lifting away thick planks of wood, in doing so opening up a hole, perhaps a metre square, in the ground. As he removed the planks the treasure hidden below was gradually revealed; a small access panel, beneath which was his 2017 Château-Thébaud cuvée, nearing the end of its élevage on the lees, which for this particular cru communal appellation is a minimum 24 months.

I remarked to Rémi that, while I had seen my fair share of vignerons dipping their pipettes into their subterranean cuves, so often secured beneath a metal grid, metal plate or plastic cover, I had never seen one so deeply buried, or indeed one hidden beneath planks of wood which looked as though they might have been reclaimed from the Mary Rose. “It’s a good design”, replied Rémi (pictured below) with a grin, “because it is just as easy to get to the wine……but you also get a seat!”.

Calling in on Rémi

I confess I have visited fewer domaines in Muscadet than I have in any of the Loire Valley’s big-name appellations such as Chinon, Vouvray or Sancerre, so it was a delight to call in recently on Rémi Branger to see how the domaine here is developing. Now is a particularly interesting time to visit, for the estate has in recent years been undergoing a transition of ownership. When I first stopped off to taste the wines of Domaine de la Pépière it was with Marc Ollivier, a warm-hearted vigneron (with an appearance befitting a biblical king) who had essentially created the domaine from scratch in the early 1980s. For decades he ran it single-handed, but with no heir apparent in 2011 he entered into a partnership with Rémi Branger, the son of a local vigneron, the intention being to eventually hand over complete control of the domaine.

The team has since been strengthened by the arrival of Gwénaëlle Croix, and so it seemed to me that the transition period must surely be coming to an end. Rémi and I began our morning together with a look at the Pépière vines closes to the domaine, and as we walked up toward the vineyard I asked after Marc. “Marc is essentially retired now”, replied Rémi. “This was always the plan, that I and Gwénaëlle Croix would take over the running of the domaine, but Marc injured his shoulder which has accelerated his retirement a little”. With Marc en retraite Domaine de la Pépière is now a two-person team once again, but with Rémi and Gwénaëlle at the helm I believe it remains in good hands.

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