An afternoon with Jacques Thienpont, Proprietor, Le Pin.
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It’s a lovely sunny day in downtown Pomerol, I’m standing in the shade of two pine trees, in front of a modest, slightly dilapidated house, which can’t really be described as a chateau, as Jacques Thienpont arrives on his bicyclette to allow me to taste his 2009 Le Pin.
This is my first meeting with JT, a man who not only has been very successful but clearly has a sense of humour. He speaks about his plans to demolish the modest little house beside the two Pine Trees, and build a swimming pool and tennis court. Its only when he mentions that from here he intends to host the Pomerol International Tennis Masters that I realise the truth is intermingled with humour!
We step into the chais of the winery containing 29 barrels of what is no doubt the most valuable 2009 merlot on the planet and he assembles a special Antique Wine Company blend. Sadly only three glasses of this cuvee will ever be available, one for me, one for my colleague Julien, and one for himself, and we are going to drink it now. “I purchased a spitune but after a few days I left it at home because no-one used it” said Jacques! M Thienpont emphasises the contrast between different barrels, remarking upon the almost daily changes at this stage of the wines life, comparing this to that of the female temperament, although he consistently complements his wife Fiona’s winemaking abilities and enthusiasm for the management of Le Pin.
At Le Pin fermentation is carried out in small stainless steel tanks with the malolactic fermatation in barrique. Historically the 225 ltr new barriques have been supplied by Seguin Moreau, but in 2009 for the first time the boss at Taransaud has convinced them to experiment with one of their barells. This tonellerie based in Cognac is very popular in burgundy, but seen less in Bordeaux. JT comments that he expects the effect of their oak to be more but still refined, whereas his Seguin M barrels tend to become almost completely diffused after their first 6 months.
The first vintage of Le Pin was 1979, it was the debut of the “garage wines” followed by Valandraud. Initially the vineyard was only 1 hectare and subsequently expanded to its current 2ha20. I asked Jacques how Le Pin has managed to succeed in being recognised as similar in status to the Medoc 1st growths, he interrupted me to point out “ it’s not gone to my head – it’s the result of constant uninterrupted quality that has been recognised by the market”. JT insists he doesn’t interfere with the market, but keeps wine making simple, no cooling or heating system in the winery and just lets the wine do its own thing.
In 2009 the harvest took place on two days, 22nd and 25th September (after the rain). The wine has a surprisingly low level of alcohol at 13.5%, especially in comparison with other Merlot wines in this vintage. According to Thienpont this is entirely the result of terroir and the earths gravel content, on the gentle slope that provides drainage.
The 2009 shows a dense purple colour, solid to the rim, tannins are so approachable, plenty of tannin but no aggression or masculinity. “Women love this wine, but personally I prefer wine that I have to flight with a little” remarks Thienpont. In the mouth the wine envelopes the palate with super-concentrated sweet black fruit, exotic, and leaving this rich coating around the mouth which seems to go on for ever.
Thienpont is also currently experimenting with three barrels of wine he has made on some nearby land. A few ares he purchased nearby but this won’t be included in Le Pin. He only sells this wine to some of his chums in Belgium as generic Pomerol.
I asked Thienpont how he felt about the fact that his wine sold for such astronomical amounts of money, in particular his 1982 vintage which the Antique Wine Company last sold a case of for £50,000. He compares his wine to artistic masterpieces, and although he finds it difficult to identify his favourite of the 29 vintages produced so far, (“if you have twelve children, then how can you say one is your favourite”? he remarks), and he goes on to say that his first three vintages, he regrettably sold in their youth to repay the money his bank loaned to him to buy the vineyard. “I wish I had kept the wine and the debt, and sold just a few cases to repay them years later”. It is certainly interesting how the appreciating value of this precious liquid has outpaced the cost of borrowed money so dramatically.
Talking further about how many of the older vintages might still be on the market, Jacques remarked that he only has one bottle of the 1982 in his cellar, I am still unsure if he was joking or serious! He does admit to having more bottles of his first 1979 vintage, although he suggests it was his “draft attempt” and might not be the best example of Le Pin to buy.
Le Pin received more visitors to taste its wine en-primeur this year than usual, especially from Asia and some from China. According to Jacques, the Chinese are becoming accustomed to giving Le Pin as gifts, especially at the highest political levels. The Chinese gift Lafite to one another regularly, but if it’s for an important politician or official, then apparently the equally pronounceable Le Pin is the wine to give.
We stepped outside onto the ploughed piece of land designated for ”proposed swimming pool and tennis court that is so close to Jacques heart ”. Jacques confirmed to me that he has purchased land in St Emilion, a rumour that I had heard recently. He said that he chose the site adjacent to Troplong Mondot, for two reasons; the first being because he thinks Cabernet Franc will be an increasingly important ingredient in overcoming the consequences of global warming, and secondly because he will be in good company! No doubt Christine Valette, proprietor of Troplong, will feel the same!
After a most interesting, informative and entertaining hour, Jacques set of on his journey home, in the same modest way in which he arrived, on his bicyclette!
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© Copyright 2010 Stephen Williams