Philippe Pacalet is a vintner without vineyards of his own. In the face of astronomic real estate prices for vineyards in Burgundy, he just gave up the idea of ownership when he started his activity several years ago and decided to rely exclusively on rented vineyards to make his wines, thus having also more choice to choose among what he considered the best suited terroirs and vineyards in the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits for the type of wines he wanted to make. His wines were soon remarked for their aromatic purity, proving that there were other ways than inheritance or considerable wealth to be a successful independant winemaker in Burgundy. Of course, the young winemaker had a good upbringing in the world of wine, with Jules Chauvet and his uncle Marcel Lapierre as mentors and inspirators, and this explains a lot.
For the work in his vineyards (which is important for the type of viticulture management he professes) he also gave up on having a permanent group of workers, not only because his plots were spread on a large area but also because of the dissuasive work regulations in France, and he used vineyard service companies from the start. Lastly, his virtual winery was spread into 3 different places: Beaune, where he squatted part of the Domaine Sabre winery, Bouze-les-Beaune (a village north of Beaune) where he shared a cellar with whisky-maker Michel Couvreur, and a facility in Gevrey-Chambertin. Now that he added even more vineyards to his portfolio of rented plots , this couldn't work, and he looked for a place of his own (is this homeless vigneron on his way to settle down?), which he found in the middle of Beaune...
When we arrived, Philippe Pacalet was busy with French Customs officers checking documents in the office. Here is a country where even state-owned mammoths like the SNCF (the French Railways-now on strike) or La Poste air all the time business-friendly-sounding commercials , but in the real world the entrepreuneurs like him feel more the squeeze and the scrutiny of the many arms of the administration (this was my rant of the day)...He does not seem too much worried, saying that the Customs are not the worse of the French Administrations, and they just do their job (let's remind that in France, the French Customs are in charge of checking the tallying of the taxes being paid, with the real volumes of wines as registered on the books), but he just complains that as a manager of a very small company, he is basically alone to take care of administrative hassles like this, which are not at all related with the making of the wine itself, while big companies (and wineries) have full-time employees who are specialized to address the issue (law, building norms etc...).
__Pacalet Beaujolais 2007. A Beaujolais more on the press-juice side.
__Pacalet, Beaujolais 2007. Granitic soil with sand in some parts. More tannic wine, beautiful texture in the mouth. He tells his customers (and I understand it) that while they can already enjoy this wine now (on B-N day), they can also wait a few months, like until next spring (2008) to open these bottles.
__The third, that we didn't taste is a low-alcohol (11°) Beaujolais.
As we taste his Beaujolais, comes Nicolas Luquet who is Pacalet's cellar manager. We exchange a few words as we remember him from our first visit at Domaine Sabre a couple years ago. He is taking care of all the winery/cellar part. Philippe Pacalet has now a permanent worker also for the vineyard side (even if he keeps using the vineyard management companies for the many tasks), and another employee for the office/accounting work. I can understand he took some help : at the Caves Augé tasting several weeks ago where he was invited along with several vintners from Burgundy, Augé's Marc Sibard had printed "partout" (everywhere) near his name on the tasting sheet, instead of listing all the region's Appellations that he keeps adding all the time : Cote de Beaune, Cote de Nuits, Beaujolais and Chablis. He makes Chablis since 2004. asked why, he answers that he likes Chablis, but paradoxally was is not always satisfied with the Chablis he tasted, so he decided to go for it.
We tour his new facility in Beaune. He visibly just needed more room and has not changed the fixtures, plumbing and lighting or re-equipped the building with winemaking technology, and there's a reassuring feel from the 1960s' in the place. He has about 15 wooden open-vats like the ones you can see on the picture on top, for the vinification of his different wines. It's enough, he says, and they don't always use the same vat for each wine, it depends of the yields of each of the blocks on a given millesime, as the capacity of the vats are diverse. The low-tech approach is also striking when you consider how he bottles his wines : no in-built bottling line of course, but neither does he use an external bottling service company (these high-tech mobile units coming at the winery for state-of-the-art, aseptic bottlings). You'd be amazed to see the simple tools he uses : a basic 4-spout wine bottle-filler which doesn't need any pump [picture on the left-click to enlarge]. He just puts a vat on a pallet and elevates it above the machine and fills quietly the bottles by gravity, 4 by 4... It's a time-consuming job but they don't bottle all the wines at the same time, so it's just fine. He and Nicolas Luquet usually work together for these bottlings, he says one hour is all it takes for about 300 bottles, one of them managing the filler while the other corks manually the bottles [pic on right - click to enlarge] with an even more traditional tool which is the direct heir of the 19th-century corking tools. That reminds me a memorable bottling experience with Marcel Lapierre in Paris 3 years ago...I think that the use of these two simple tools are an important issue (not often addressed) which, along with his selected terroirs, his vineyard management and his inspired, uninterventionist vinification, help understand Pacalet's wines.
Philippe Pacalet uses only several-wines-old casks, the wood is here to let the wine breath. Long elevage on its lees. Intrigued by strange glass-stones on several casks, I asked him what was it for and he said that it was just a reminder he uses to pinpoint the casks needing a topping up. I was already beginning to romanticize and imagine they were there to channel the moon ernergy into the casks...
A few wines from the cask :
__Pacalet Gevrey 2006. He has 4 plots there. Vinified in his former facility in Gevrey, and hauled here february 2007. Mushrooms. Complexity. Whole clusters. Raised on its lees. Bottled between january and end-march 2008. B. feels fruit and mignonette notes.
__Pacalet Pommard 2006. Cask #32. He puts numbers on the casks because he tastes regularly all of them. A bit of reduction on the nose I would say. Ripe tanins. Elegant. Liquorice.
__Pacalet Chambolle-Musigny 2006. Refined. Balanced. Length. I remember our last visit, it was in the middle of winter and so freezing cold that we couldn't really warm up our glasses in our hands. This time we really enjoy the tasting..
__Pacalet Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru 2006. "CM1" on the casks. 3 plots. Fruits and chocolate. Density, ripe tanins.
__Pacalet Pommard 1er Cru. 2 plots. 6 casks. He vinifies the two plots together because the volume is small. He would vinify each plot separately if he could have 5 casks per plot. Intensity on the nose. Warm and mineral, he says, and more stretched in the mouth than the Pommard-Village. B. likes its energy on the nose, with blueberry notes. very nice wine indeed.
__Pacalet Lavaux Saint-Jacques 2006. Gourmand. Nice one.
__Pacalet Charmes-Chambertin 2006. Very beautiful mouth. Refined tanins. Violet notes, says B.
__Pacalet Ruchottes-Chambertin 2006. Vineyard on stony soil. More austere. Pacalet says that it is a very "cistercian" wine, it shares the features of the monks : Very beautiful, but without flourish, just pure and luminous... He has 3 casks of this wine.
his wines are 80% exported, mainly to Japan (a very serious buyer of his wines), Brazil, Italy (he went to the Merano Wine Festival and loves the enthsusiasm of Italians for good wines), Denmark, Russia, and the US (Return to Terroir).
Philippe Pacalet has 4 children, aged 14, 11 and 4 (twins).
Thank you so much for the the time and the visit.