2020 Update: It feels strange re-writing profiles like Pépière’s. Almost like erasing the past, a past I was only tangentially part of! Joe and Denyse first visited Marc Ollivier in 1989. They likely began selling his 1988 in NYC shortly thereafter. Kevin McKenna, an equal partner at LDM since 1995, was their first customer for it when he was the buyer at Astor! It was our first Loire wine! I was three years old!
But the Pépière profile REALLY needed an overhaul, so here we go. For starters, 2019 was Marc's last vintage. He's officially retired. And while his house is just minutes from the cellar, he and Geneviève plan to spend the majority or their time in Brittany enjoying the finer things in life (namely seafood). It's hard not to imagine Marc, who is REMARKABLY photogenic, as the face of the estate anymore. He is so engrained in our history, a true peer and friend; erasing his name and face from Pépière will be impossible for many of us. At the end of the day, Pépière is his creation and his presence will always be felt. And if you need your Marc fix, you can always read his interview from 2012.
Today the estate is in very capable hands with residing proprietors Rémi Branger and Gwénaëlle Croix. Rémi is a local that Marc has known since he was a kid. When his father retired in 2005, Marc purchased his land and Rémi started as an employee in 2006. Having long realized his daughters were not interested in inheriting the estate, Marc had him come on board as a partner in 2011. Gwen, on the other hand, joined in a less straightforward fashion.
After a decade working in the industrial sector, she moved to China with her family for her husband’s work. Gwen discovered wine there and it quickly became a fascination. Upon returning to France, she decided to switch careers and studied viticulture and oenology at Montreuil Bellay. Her first visit to Pépière was a pruning formation in early 2011. She instantly hit it off with Marc and Rémi (which to be fair is quite easy) and after finishing school, worked at the estate a year before becoming a partner in 2014.
Marc will be the first to admit that adding new people and perspectives helped push Pépière forward. He largely credits Rémi as the impetus of finally converting to organic viticulture, Gwen for biodynamics. Things in the cellar have evolved as well, with more judicious applications of S02 and a fearlessness to push sur-lies élevages to new heights of three, four and even five years. Rémi and Gwen's enthusiasm and ambition have also expanded on Marc's legacy of single vineyard cuvées with their development of the cru bottlings for Clisson, Château-Thebaud, Monnières-Saint-Fiacre and Gorges. But let’s rewind a bit.
When Marc started Pépière with seven hectares, the terroir was unified and it made sense to produce only one wine. But as the estate grew and the terroirs diversified, he began doing "what has always been done in the rest of France": he was already vinifying each parcel separately, so it was intuitive to start bottling single vineyard cuvées: Clos des Briords in 1988, Cormermais in 1992... While this may seem totally normal to the average French oenophile, the Muscadet works a bit differently.
Despite having some of the most varied terroirs and micro-climates in all of France, it remains a region of scale and bulk dominated by large négociant operations. One could optimistically opine that Muscadet's strength lies in blending all of its terroir into a more complex whole, but the blunt and far less charming truth is that most vignerons get paid (poorly) for grapes by the kilo irrespective of where they are grown because négociants don't care. Even for independent estates, it is quite common to only produce a single cuvée despite the obvious variations of soil and micro-climates within their plots.
Because the appellation is vast, grows only one grape and produces largely for immediate consumption, prices remain artificially low and do not encourage risk taking or breaking the mold. Despite being some of the cheapest viticultural land in all of France and home to living legends like Jo Landron, Michel Brégeon, Guy Bossard, Marc Pesnot, Luneau-Papin and of course Pépière itself, the environment remains poorly suited for small, ambitious vignerons. A young kid could easily, for example, start a four hectare estate in Anjou and find an immediate audience. In the Muscadet they'd need at least double the surface, would still have to charge much more than the average local bottle and would find themselves fighting an uphill battle in a reticent, price driven market. It's a shame and also why you don't see a tremendous amount of new talent emerging like in other cheap areas such the aforementioned Anjou, Touraine, Roussillon, Mâconnais or the Beaujolais.
So what does all this have to do with Pépière? Well, for the few estates who have dedicated themselves to show the true potentials of Muscadet's terroirs (essentially the names mentioned in the above paragraph along with a few others), it's been a boon of opportunity. Over the last decade, there has been a push by the appellation to create cru designations in hopes of bolstering Muscadet's reputation. Pépière was way ahead of the curve here, with half of the estate's 42 hectares falling within the crus of Clisson, Monnières-Saint Fiacre, Château-Thébaud and Gorges. At the time this was simply Marc, Rémi and Gwen picking the most interesting vineyards. And to give perspective, the average independent Muscadet estate only has holdings of 15 to 20% within the crus.
And while 50% of the estate’s vineyards fall within the cru limits, cru wines only represent an average of 15% of Pépière's annual production. In some vintages they will produce less or no cru wines at all if the quality is not there. Aging on the lees is always longer than the mandated 17 months, lasting a minimum of two years. But Marc, Rémi and Gwen have not been afraid to push it to 36 or even 48 months in some cases. All grapes within the crus not deemed up to snuff (again, around 85%) go into the the entry level La Pépie cuvée.
What follows is a break down of all the cuvées and their respective terroirs:
The La Pépie cuvée is a blend of estate fruit from all of Pépière's terroirs, 50% of which fall within the Muscadet Sèvre & Maine appellation and 50% within the crus. Since 2016, the cuvée is is supplemented with purchased fruit from neighboring parcels with similar characteristics. This decision was not made lightly and results from a series of unsustainably low crops.
Clos des Briords is located on the hillsides of the river Maine, a tributary of the Loire. The site totals 4.40 hectares and the vines were planted between 1950 and 1989, with the vast majority of the vines between 50 and 70 years old. The soils are "granite de Thebaud" but do not fall within the Château-Thebaud cru designation (more on that terroir later). Only a small part of the oldest vines produce the Clos des Briords bottling.
Gras Moutons is a lieu-dit made up of two parcels totaling 1.8 hectares in the cru of Monnières-Saint Fiacre. The soils consist of sand, limestone and gneiss. The constant winds in the area make for grapes that have to be harvested later than the rest. While released young, this wine always benefits from a few years in bottle.
Clisson was originally called "Granite de Clisson" after the unique bedrock in the vineyard. Marc changed the name to Clisson to agree with the INAO cru communal classification. Pépière owns 5.5 hectares within the cru but only a part makes it to the actual Clisson bottling (the rest goes into La Pépie). It's a patchwork of vines of various ages planted on a unique mix of gravel, clay and sand on a subsoil of granite. The oldest vines were planted in 1929 and on average the vines are 60 years old.
The estate rents vines in the Gorges cru that used to belong to regarded grower Michel Brégeon. The plot is 1.67 hectares and was planted in the late 1960/early 1970's. Because it is so far from the estate, their colleague Fred Laillé works the vines organically, Pépière works his Clisson vines and they exchange hand-harvested fruit. Gorges is the only area in the Muscadet featuring basalt soils. The wines have a unique structure compared to the others of the region.
Monnieres-St-Fiacre, planted in sandy limestone on gneiss, is the first officially designated cru in Muscadet. Prior to this being a cru, Pépière would occasionally produce this wine as Cuvée Eden and/or it would go into Gras Moutons. Pépière owns 3.35 hectares within the cru. The vines were planted in 1948, 1984 and 1991.
For Château-Thebaud, Pépière owns 14 hectares within the cru but only the best grapes go into the Château-Thebaud bottling, with the vast majority going towards the production of La Pépie. They work a plethora of plots of all ages and sizes, many as small as 20 ares. The vines were planted between 1952 and 1997 with most vines planted between the late 1960's and early 1980’s. The “granite de Château-Thebaud" here is fissured and permeable by the vine roots which have access to water during dry spells and absorb micro-nutrients along the way. Thébaud always needs longer aging on the lees than any of the other cru wines, for example 42 months in 2012.
In addition, a little over three hectares of Carbernet Franc, Côt and Merlot are cultivated, planted by Marc so he could have some red to drink. As there is no red wine in the Muscadet appellation, these are classified as Vin de Pays.
Wow, the recap is done! Because I didn't feel like deleting it, here is Joe's original profile from who knows how long ago:
When Marc Ollivier is on, these are the top wines of the AOC - wines that are not only delicious young, but that can also age 10, 20 or 30 years.
Ollivier’s Muscadet-sur-Lie is the authentic item — it has lees contact until the time of bottling, generally in late May. This extended contact gives it the crispness that makes Muscadet so refreshing, and the classic wine match for seafood. It is the traditional way to make Muscadet, but has become the exception as growers and shippers rush to bottle “technically correct” wines by early January.
In this rush to bottle, Muscadet producers use special “starter” yeasts (which often also add flavors and aromas) to accelerate fermentation and enzymes or other techniques to finish the wine early. Sterile filtration is in rampant use.
Ollivier takes his time. He hand harvests (also a rarity in the region), uses natural yeasts, waits for the wine to finish and bottles with a very light filtration. The vineyards are in old vines (40 years and older) with a particularly good exposition on a plateau overlooking the river Sèvre. All the vineyards are from original stock: Ollivier is the only grower in the Muscadet who does not have a single clonal selection in his vineyards.
Ollivier also produces a very-old-vine cuvée of Muscadet from a single-plot vineyard in schist, the Clos des Briords. These are among the oldest vines in his estate (they were planted in 1930) and they enjoy a particularly good exposition. Also, when most of his estate’s vines are planted on poor, shallow soil with hard granite very close to the surface, the Clos des Briords has a much deeper top soil of clay and silica over a brittle granite subsoil: this ensures excellent drainage in wet years, and better moisture retention in dry summers. Ripening is slower, and the longer hang-time before harvest allows for optimal maturity to be reached.
The vinification techniques are traditional for the area: no skin maceration but direct pressing within 2 hours of picking, racking of the must after 12 hours to remove the solid matter, and controlled temperatures, not to exceed 71.6 degrees F, for the fermentation. The aging of the wine, on its lees in stainless steel vats, lasts until bottling, about eight months later.
His latest cuvée, called Eden, comes from a vineyard he acquired from his neighbor. The soil is gneiss. The wine is lively with lovely floral notes.
As of late 2010, Domaine de la Pépière is run by Marc Ollivier and his new partner Rémi Branger. The two met when Marc purchased a considerable amount of Rémi's father's vines, ultimately leading to Marc hiring him because of the increased work load. After five years of hard work in the vines, Marc saw enough potential in Rémi to offer him the opportunity to become a part of the estate.
This interview with Marc Ollivier took place at the Salons des Vins de Loire in February, 2012.
Tell us about Domaine de la Pépière.
Domaine de la Pépière is 35 hectares, and is run by my partner Rémi Branger and I. 30 of those hectares are in white, 5 in red. We are almost to the point of having the entire estate converted to organic agriculture; it's been a step by step process and currently the majority of our vines are worked this way.
Working organically has been a long term goal for you. Can we talk about this?
There are of course many factors in this decision. I think that Rémi's arrival gave me more time to sit down and really think about how I could do it. It's also a much better time to work organically from a technical standpoint.
A huge inspiration has been through you guys, through meeting all the vignerons who were working organically. I tasted their wines and immediately felt there was something really interesting about them. I started exchanges with these guys, and through some great conversations I realized that converting isn't as hard as most people think.
Tell us your personal journey to becoming a vigneron.
My grandfather was a vigneron. At the time is was just a few hectares, spread amongst other crops (tobacco) and livestock (cows). At first, my father and uncle continued my grandfather's exploitation. But when their children were born, things had to change because the farm's production wasn't enough to feed everybody. At that point, my father became an agricultural technician, while my uncle and cousins continued the farm work.
I was going to university in Nantes at the time, studying science. I realized very quickly that these studies could only lead to a job in education, and I had no desire to be a professor. I wanted to work outside, to be in contact with nature. I also wanted to stay in the Muscadet, so I thought: "Hey, why not viticulture?" At the time I was not passionate about wine; it was just an idea. I found an oenological program for adults in Burgundy and I spent a year there. I was about 18 at the time, and I came back having found my true calling.
Can we talk about the evolution from making only the base Pépière to now producing a large amount of cuvées?
When I first started, there were only 7 hectares of vines. Everything was in Pépière, so the terroir was unified. As the estate grew and the terroirs diversified, I began doing what has always been done in the rest of France: I was already vinifying each parcel separately, so it made perfect sense to make different cuvées. I started making Clos des Briords in 88, Clos Cormerais in 92, etc…
And the reds?
I've always wanted to make reds. My original plan was to make red and moelleux wines. Evidently, the Muscadet is not the best place to make moelleux; we've tried but the results have been less that satisfactory. Reds, on the other hand, are perfectly adaptable to our terroirs. I had a tiny parcel at first. We then tore up and replanted a parcel at the bottom of a coteau, which was believed have been used for vines a century earlier. We planted 2.5 hectares there in the 90's, and have been planting new vines bit by bit since then.
Have you always worked with native yeasts?
Not always. I used to yeast one or two tanks and let the rest ferment naturally. I quickly noticed that the native yeast wine was more interesting; the wines I made with selected yeasts always had simpler, more primary aromas. I decided that working with native yeasts would be an interesting way to make wine. It brought me back to the days when my grandfather made wine, and he never had any problem with his fermentations.
I come from a generation where you were told you had to yeast or the wine wouldn't ferment. I was never convinced by this argument, because as we all know wine has been made without preselected yeasts for millions of years. I knew it could be done in modern times.
Let's talk about Rémi. How did you meet, and how did you end up partners?
Rémi was born a kilometer from my house. I've know him since he was a little kid. A few years ago I was looking for some vines, and I knew that Rémi's father was going to retire. I approached him and asked if he had a predecessor, and when he said no I told him I was interested. Rémi was finishing up his studies at the time, and with the acquisition of these new vines I was also looking to hire an employee. I can't remember if he asked me or if I asked him, but he started working for me immediately. This was in 2006, and I very quickly told him that if he was interested, he could have a place at Pépière.
Let's talk about the Muscadet A.O.C, which has a bit of a bad rap (at least in France).
I have a theory on this, which is worth what it's worth... The Muscadet has always been under the influence of négociants. This was originally a good thing, but the dynamic changed when the focus shifted to bulk sales, which require a simple, uniform product. Under this influence, a standardization of Muscadet occurred. This phenomenon was perpetuated and spread by agricultural technicians, who used machine harvesting, preselected yeasts and whatever technology available to make "clean" or "flawless" wines. This soon became the norm, and everyone was doing the exact same thing.
Muscadet stopped being interesting because it was made like a Vin de Pays. What I mean by that is the wine's relation to terroir was completely abandoned. Technology was what mattered to people, not terroir. Like any A.O.C in France, if the vines are maintained and their is a real point of interest, you can make varied, interesting wines.
Another big problem is that people started planting vines everywhere to create a larger supply of Muscadet. The obvious results are that the vines are in soils not suited for viticulture. People forgot about terroir, and by doing that they forgot what makes an A.O.C: vignerons, grapes and soils.
Did your grandfather sell to a négociant?
My grandfather only worked 3 hectares, and sold a large part of his production in barrel to cafés in Nantes. He would deliver them himself, barrel by barrel. He also sold a bit to the négociant. In the 60's there was very little wine being bottled.
How did you decide you wanted to bottle independently?
After my formation, I worked at my uncle's for two years. When Pépière became available, I knew I wanted to take over and I knew I wanted to bottle independently. At the time, you made a good living selling to the négociant, but bottling independently felt like the only way to meet the actual people who drank the wine. I never envisioned it any other way.
Did you always want to work in Muscadet?
When I went to school in Nantes, it was so I'd be close to home. I didn't know it would be viticulture at the time, but I did know that whatever my job ended up being, I would do it here. That's why I have a tough time traveling. Your father had to really twist my arm to come to the U.S. I refused for years!
What can I say? I'm a peasant, I've very much linked to soil and to nature. I have a hard time being anywhere else.
Let's talk about "natural wine". Where do you stand?
Rémi and I have never claimed to be part of the natural wine family. I've always been very interested by these wines, and do envision my wines to have the same qualities. But we've always used SO2, and we don't plan on eliminating it. At the same time, I know the term "natural" is imprecise, and that many would consider me a natural winemaker even if we use a little sulfur.
There is a technical reason we use S02. Pépière is all about minerality, purity and freshness. We don't want any malolactic fermentation, so after alcoholic fermentation we rack the wine to a cold, temperature controlled tank and slightly sulfur it in December and January (on average 5g total). We almost never sulfur at bottling.
I don't care how people categorize me within this debate, but I must say that when I drink sulfur free wines, I notice that you really taste the grape and the terroir. I've also realized that you can make sulfur free wine and it can still age. So progressively, we have tremendously reduced the amount of sulfur in the wine over the years.
What do you like to drink?
A lot of things. I love Loire wine, and they represent about 50% of the wines I drink. I still love moelleux, and regret the Anjou and Montlouis guys make less of it because it's hard to sell. I like the Rhône and the South a lot.
This visit at Domaine de la Pépière took place in June, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by John Kafarski and Jules Dressner.
You'd think that by this point, we'd have run out of things to say about Domaine de la Pépière. WRONG!
We started the visit by driving to the lieu-dit Gras Moutons, a terroir Marc started vinifying in 2007.
Soil wise, Gras Moutons distinguishes itself by being very clay heavy and rocky.
The microclimate is also unique, characterized by its constant winds.
"This helps aerate the vines, and keeps them clean of illness."
Sadly, the constant winds also mean that shitty chemicals being used by neighbors occasionally float over to the Pépière vines. Here's a leaf suffering from herbicide burn:
The Gras Moutons vines are spread over two parcels for a total of 1.7 hectares. They are 15, 40 and 65 years old. Rémi's father grandfather owned 9h of these at one point.
Here's a picture of a weird bug I'd never seen before.
After hopping back into the Marc Mobile, we drove over to Pépière's newest Cru, Château-Thébaud.
The soils here are rich granite and sand.
1.5 h are spread over two parcels. The first is planted in extremely vigorous young vines, so much so that in some vintages Marc and Rémi feel obligated to green harvest in order to LOWER yields. Melon de Bourgogne vines tend to produce very high yields even without chemical fertilizers, and to assure optimal concentrations, the Pépière crew intentionally keeps things at a very low 35 to 40 hl/h.
The lower yielding, older vines are over 60 years old.
Marc and Rémi love working here because the exposition is more South, and the "hotter soils" means more advanced, homogeneous flowering and maturing.
Our final and longest vineyard visit was a long stroll through the Pépière vineyard, the 10 hectare clos that produce the base Pépière and Clos des Briords cuvées.
The soils here are composed of super-light, sandy granite.
Upon further inspection, Marc pointed out the slender, silver micha-schist chunks that can be spotted all over the vineyard.
While they don't add anything to the soil's complexity, Marc theorizes that their constant reflection of the sun affects grape maturities. Upon even the slightest bit of friction, these flake into paper thin morsels.
In the late 90's, Marc decided to plant some reds here. At the time, he used what was available to him and planted, amongst others, Côt from clonal selections. Years later, he was able to acquire some massales from Clos Roche Blanche's 100+ year old vines. The difference in vigor and quality has amused Marc for a long time, so he decided to give us a side by side comparison.
The massale is the one on the right: a third less vigorous, but two thirds more concentrated. If it hasn't already been made clear, Marc is a fan of quality over quantity.
We also saw the oldest vines on the estate, which are over 100 years old.
Marc says these are productive as ever.
This visit at Domaine de la Pépière took place in February, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Susie Curnutte and Bonnie Crocker.
After a flight from JFK to Amsterdam, a quick connection got us into Nantes. We grabbed our luggage, hopped into our official LDM tour vehicles (sponsored by Jean Paul Brun's Drink Beaujolais! ad campaign) and drove to our first destination, the beautiful, peaceful town of Clisson.
This sleepy town of 6,000 is split by the Sèvre river. Every summer, 115 000 people invade it to celebrate...
Kiss, ZZ Top, Def Leppard and many others are headlining this year. The pizzeria we ate at had Twisted Sister poster autographed by the whole band, and I can't tell you how much of an honor it was eating in the same place as Dee Scheider.
Our first night in town, Marc and Geneviève Ollivier joined us at La Bonne Auberge, which was in many's top 3 meals of the trip. The restaurant is adorned with beautiful cat art.
The following morning, we drove to Pépière for the 16th annual Muscadet-a-thon, aka the culmination of all that is good in this world. Look at Marc's beautfiful house!
After being greeted by Marc and Rémi, we were introduced to the newest member of the Pépière team, Guenaelle!
Gwen just started in January, and is full of enthusiasm to be working at the estate. After our introduction, we do what we always do at Muscadet-a-thon, which is head to the cellar to taste upcoming vintages.
If you've been reading these visit recaps regularly, you know what I'm about to say. Everything was great, the wines are delicious, buy them blah blah blah... One point of conversation that was particularly interesting, however, was about the new Muscadet A.O.C's going into effect over the next few years. Clisson, Gorges and Le Pallet now exist as Crus since the 2011 vintage, and 4 more will take effect in the next two years. Marc truly believes will change the perception of Muscadet for French wine drinkers, who for the most part associate the region with cheap, standardized and mass produced supermarket wine.
We then set off to the vines, starting with the site that produces the Clisson cuvée.
This year, Marc decided to switch things up and give us a lesson on how to prune!
Without getting overly technical, the process involves selecting one of the many canes that will produce the grapes in the coming vintage, as well as prepping one for the next vintage. A pruned vine looks like this:
So to reiterate, that cane tied down to the left will produce 2013 fruit, and the little guy you can spot towards the middle of the foot will be for 2014. Marc does this so quickly and instinctively that you would never guess he was making educated decisions affecting the next two years of his production.
After Marc's demonstration, the brave Nicholas Montigelli from Avant Partir gave it a shot.
Josefa also had a go at it. Let's just say they both need a little more practice.
Next up, we checked out Clos des Briords. It was muddy!
Here Marc talked about his viticultural practices, which I wrote about in detail last year.
After the vines, it was time to EAT OYSTERS AND HOMEMADE PÂTÉ AND DRINK BACK VINTAGES OF PÉPIÈRE GOING BACK TO 1983!
The woodcock and fois gras pâté was my favorite, with the wild boar a close second. Big news: this was the first wild board pâté Marc made with a boar he hunted himself! Not only does this continue the being served wild board on trips trend, but it inspired me to coin the term "slayed and made". Don't be surprised when that catches on.
Also, Geneviève is the best because she always makes sure there is an abundance of vegetables to eat.
Seriously, those were the only vegetables we ate the whole trip. Unless rilettes are technically considered a vegetable in France, but I'm pretty sure even they acknowledge that it's meat slow-cooked in its own fat.
A.O.C Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine