The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Domaine de la Pepiere - A Summer Red Worth Searching for

It’s easy to understand why a grower would be motivated to farm diligently and struggle to make wine of the very highest quality in Burgundy, or Napa. There’s a lots of potential financial reward for ambitious wine folk in those regions, not to mention a fair amount of public recognition for their efforts. But what gets Mark Ollivier out of bed early in the morning? His home region of Muscadet is flat, and extremely machine-harvestable. Human nature being what it is, everyone uses rumbling machinery to efficiently bring in damaged fruit. Except for Ollivier. And maybe three other guys we’re not presently discussing. Ollivier picks his grapes by hand, and the pristine quality of his raw materials immediately makes Domaine de la Pepiere’s wines stand out in a sea of mediocre Muscadet. By the way, since Muscadet is only an AOC for white wines made of the Melon de Bourgogne grape, this wine is bottled under the larger Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Marches de Bretagne moniker. Nobody knows where that is, it might as well be labeled simply “wine from France”.

So while this is a region with a distinct soil type that is excellent for growing grapes, in short a region brimming with potential, for decades the western edge of the Loire has been primarily the source of thin, one-dimensional, ridiculously overcropped white wines that at best added some acid to your oyster course. Today most everything from the region is still industrial junk. Ollivier’s wines are the antithesis of a modern commercial “product”. He only uses natural indigenous yeasts to start fermentation. He never uses sterile filtration, only permitting one light filtration prior to bottling. He is the only grower in the whole region to not have a single clonal selection in his vineyards. Over the last century grape growers (like all farmers) have lost a huge proportion of the plant diversity in their fields. It’s a rare treat to be able to buy wine from a grower that still has all original genetic stock in his vines.

I’m happy Mark Ollivier and his ilk are out there. It’s heartening that farmers can take the high road and make wines the correct way, even when there is little financial reason to do so. Look at the price of this wine- no one is getting rich at Domaine de la Pepiere. Ollivier and the rare vignerons like him are protecting the right way of doing things in an era when market forces and general indifference/ignorance to tradition seem likely to remove his type of living wine from store shelves and restaurant lists. A sip of Cuvee Granit demonstrates how well-made affordable wine does not have to taste simple.


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