#15 Interview with Nicolas Thienpont, Saint-Emilion

What was the trigger to return to family property?

I wanted to leave the metal industry where I was in charge of HR for personal reasons. The decision to polyculture at Château Puygueraud came quite naturally. I had known my father to do this and that’s also when we decided to replant vines.

At the same time, we abandoned the cultivation of cereals (wheat, barley, corn, alfalfa seeds, apples, plum trees) and I added a new activity, that of the kiwi on the lands of Puygueraud. The Blonde d’Aquitaine business remained in the hands of my brother, Mathieu.

Can you explain to us what a “self-taught winegrower” is?

My past experiences have given me a certain Socratic aptitude. That is, when we don’t know anything, we will surround ourselves with people who know. I always approach things with a lot of caution. It may be a lack of assertiveness, but it’s my way of approaching it. I observe and surround myself with competent people because I have not studied wine or viticulture.

I learned about pruning, harvesting, ageing or winemaking with the teams on the job. In 1983, I was surprised at the first vinification I made at Château Puygueraud. Mr. Chaîne, our consultant oenologist at the time, told me “Nicolas, we are in the middle of the year of Moses … that is to say, let’s save it from the waters!”

I picked up the first bunches and I had Peynaud’s book “How to make the vinifications?” But I had never done it in my life! And wonderful! It ferments on its own. It’s a self-taught approach, but it is above all nature that comes to the fore.

You have some experience of the Right Bank with the management of four castles and others in the past. How would you describe this richness of the terroirs on the Right Bank?

I have worked on the richness of the terroirs on the right bank but I have never yet experienced the richness of the Graves on the right bank (Figeac, Pomerol). Quite simply because the opportunity did not arise.

When I was appointed here as manager of Château Pavie Macquin, I had some doubts. My wife said to me then “You go there and if you do not make it, we will know how to tell you”. I went there and it was through the success of Pavie Macquin that I was subsequently entrusted with other wines. First, in 2000, there was Château Bellevue located above Château Angélus. We find a terroir with beautiful clays and a limestone substrate. In 2002, I took care of Château Larcis Ducasse. In 2008, Château Berliquet, but the previous year I had left the management of Château Bellevue because Château Angélus had bought 50% of the shares.

I make a big dichotomy between Pavie Macquin and Larcis Ducasse. For Pavie Macquin, the very present clays bring a lot of power, the challenge is to achieve a certain grace without which we find rusticity. On the other hand at Larcis Ducasse, the finesse is there as well as the floral side with a terroir exposed to the South with molasses which retain a certain freshness. Our feet are cool with our heads in the sun, while at Pavie Macquin, we are on the plateau quite cold with a later start in the spring.

Then, I was entrusted with Château Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse… the icing on the cake! It is a pearl nestled between Beauséjour-Bécot and Canon with the Angelus at its feet and Clos Saint Martin by its side.

At what point does the search for finesse operate in Pavie Macquin?

We must first pick ripe, we must tame the vine in its yields and our winemaking methods must be gentle. You have to let matter come to you. I always take this comparison. At Pavie Macquin, we have vats with female first names and in a way, this is a comparison that falls within the realm of poetry. With a woman, it is better to express yourself with tenderness, just like with the substance of a wine, to get the best out of it.

When you took over Pavie Macquin, what were the major works?

All the decisions taken were with and thanks to Stéphane Derenoncourt who was a simple cellar worker with great sensitivity who revealed himself to the point of becoming a respected self-taught winegrower. We are both Flemish and we have learned to evolve together during these vintages. In 2019, this was my 25th vintage at Pavie Macquin. Now, more is being done to let the energy of the land express itself.

Of all the properties you have had in your hands, which has given you the most difficulty?

Berliquet without hesitation! I arrive there and I say to M. de Lesquen who wanted to reassemble this cru with certainty (this contradicts what I told you before): “Berliquet is a wine which should have more notes all the time. 90 points! ”

First vintage in 2008 that I obtained 85-86 points, second vintage 87-88 points … the cold shower. The downside at this time was that the traders weren’t getting wet at all. The prices came out, we put a note in front and then it sold or not. I never managed to get this wine off the ground in the eyes of Robert Parker. There was a fairly Cabernet grape variety and there was always great freshness and tension. I always thought he understood this tension as an under-maturity. It’s still damaging. We have always had cash flow issues on this property with low returns, low prices and lack of recognition. It was difficult management where the actions were very limited.

I never had the madness I had at Larcis Ducasse in 2005 by changing the prices from 15 to 60 euros. A stroke of madness that allowed me to reposition Larcis above 20 euros thereafter.

What would be the great qualities to make a great wine?

We are only master midwives. Only a good terroir can produce great wines. You have to be lucky enough to come across great terroirs and understand it in order to allow it to express itself.

“The origin may be beautiful, true beauty is at the end of things.” Can you enlighten us on your quote?

The origin is an achievement that does not depend on us, it is given to us but we must know how to bring it to completion. It’s not obvious!

It’s a program phrase I said to myself when I got here. Beauty is fulfillment, fulfillment like an opening flower.

Do you have winemakers and people who inspire you?

I rely very heavily on Stéphane Derenoncourt. Above all, he taught me a sensitivity to the size of the vine when bottling because he follows us step by step. I also knew Michel Rolland. He taught us how to pick ripe grapes, something we didn’t do before.

You work as a family with Cyrille, your son. The Thienpont family is a big family in the world of wine, what are its values?

There is a spirit of family solidarity. We are Flemish and at one time catholicity was quite significant. We had to offer to God the works that we could have, that is to say, to have children. We are a family of 13 children. So there was this solidarity where money did not come first and mutual aid came first at home.

What torch do you want to pass on to future generations when you say “we are just passing through”?

I would like to convey the notion that Nature is beyond us and that she is stronger than us. I teach them not to fall into shortcomings or green dogmatism. This nature is beyond us and I love this quote: “We command Nature only by obeying her”. It is the love of the terroir, of the grape varieties that we have selected and that must remain. I am not in favor of new grape varieties which sometimes have no taste while scaring us for the future. I am fully aware that the wines we made 150 years ago were different from those today.

“You will be great because you have climbed on our own shoulders”. That is to say that this transmission from generation to generation is important because it allows the next generation to see higher and further because it rises on the shoulders of the previous one.

Respect for the soil is an important element in transmission. When the wines live, we gain in quality and precision. I am against extremes that I call green fascism, I am realistic and aware of the situation but I remain optimistic because I believe in nature.

Is there a terroir or grape variety that you would like to vinify?

At my age, there is no more this madness! On the other hand, I would like to see the results of the mass selections of Cabernet Franc at Pavie Macquin that we have made …

What are the challenges of tomorrow for Château Pavie Macquin?

The challenge is to have a more accomplished recognition. We always have to gain in aura, in notoriety as can have a property like the Vieux Château Certan.

What are you most proud of?

My five children! Cyrille left the concrete industry to join me on the property. The second, Jérôme is in the wine trade at Barrière. Sophie is in Charentes and takes care of the marketing for her husband’s property in Cognac. Grégoire is in artificial intelligence, a mysterious world for me. Charlotte is a general practitioner.

Flow of consciousness

  • A memorable bottle: La Tâche 1951 in my childhood or Vieux Château Certan 1945 because it was linked to touching family moments
  • A grape variety: Merlot, my king grape
  • A vintage: 1998, it is not the greatest but it is the first time that we have been able to express the terroir of Pavie Macquin
  • A dish: a nice rib steak, it’s classic but I love grilled meats
  • A smell: the truffle also expresses what we do on our clay and limestone
  • A tree: the oak
  • A destination: Greece for a return to the roots of civilization
  • A perfect Sunday: a good family meal with my children and a nice bottle

To follow Nicolas Thienpont: @nicolasthienpont and the Château Pavie Macquin: @chateau_paviemacquin

The website of Château Pavie Macquin

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