Château Pierre-Bise, 2023 Update

One of the Loire Valley’s iconic domaines, arguably the leader of the Anjou pack through the 1990s and first decades of the 21st century, Château Pierre-Bise maintains this standing today despite the direction of the domaine having transitioned from Claude Papin, the father, to René Papin, the son.

René continues the philosophies of his father, who first introduced organic methods to the domaine in 1976. Claude saw the health of the soil as key to the health of the vine, in particular encouraging and not disturbing (such as by ploughing) the microbial life within. Cover crops were introduced as an essential component in this process, given that the roots penetrate the soil, providing entry points for air and water, and they also deliver minerals and trace elements, especially nitrogen, as well as sugars which benefit soil microorganisms.

At the end of the season the grass dies back, allowing the return of organic matter to the soil; this can be augmented by mulching with straw over winter. Either way, the organic material further feeds the microorganisms, keeping the soil healthy and vibrant. René Papin follows the example of Masanobu Fukuoka, the Japanese agriculturist who advocated “do nothing” farming; René’s aim has always been to return the land to its natural state (save for the vines, of course), and then maintain it that way; this has involved a shift towards agroforestry (the planting of more trees around the vines), improving biodiversity, and the introduction of chickens to the vines to feed on unwanted pests.

Château Pierre-Bise

Meanwhile, in the cellar, the wines are made with the least intervention possible, the grapes for the whites (dry and sweet) pressed and the juice goes through both alcoholic and malolactic fermentations (I find the latter occasionally shows through, but more often it does not – while the wines have youth on their side, anyway) before élevage in a mix of foudres, barrels and stoneware jarres. The reds are vinified in a conventional manner and tend to be matured in barrels. There is also a notable Crémant de Loire cuvée the purity of which reflects René’s assiduous approach, and on this occasion a new sparkling cuvée named Gaudette.

Read on for my thoughts on these most recently tasted wines.

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