The Domaine de la Pépière is an estate of the Muscadet, in the western wing of the Loire Appellation. The Muscadet wines which are overwhelmingly white have made a comeback in the last years, they were a bit looked down for being light fresh wines but thanks to the good work of several winemakers there, wine amateurs discovered that there could be terroirs behind a Muscadet, and even that these wines could age well.
The Domaine de la Pépière makes very beautiful Muscadet wines on terroirs thick with granit stones and debris, and I discovered during my visit there that they have also hidden gems with three very nice red wines, an oddity for the Muscadet Appellation and another proof that good winemakers shouldn't limit themselves to the varieties and colors sanctionned by the Appellation system. Another thing is the fact that in spite of a relatively large surface of vineyards (28 hectares), Marc Ollivier farms organicly and took special steps at the harvest and handling of the grapes so that his wines could be vinified without lab yeasts and nutrients.
They're 5 people full time here to work in the vineyard, but he receives very few individual customers which spares lots of time. His export share which is very big (88 %) also helps, as the wine leaves the winery by pallets at a time.
Marc Ollivier doesn't have a winemaking lineage behind him, he wanted to work outdoor in the region, so the wine trade was an option, he went to Macon for a degree in viticulture, came back from there with a passion for winemaking and worked as an employee at his uncle's winery from 1979. In 1984, his neighbor who was a vigneron died unexpectedly, and he had the opportunity to buy his winery to keep it running. This was then a 7-hectare estate with mostly white Muscadet, the rest being 20 ares of Cabernet Franc. As of last october he had grown up the estate to a total of 28 hectares including 4 hectares of red vatieties. I wrote as of late october because there may be additional vineyards on the way since then.
Asked if there were specific teachings in Macon for the particularities of winemaking in the Muscadet, Marc Ollivier says that this is an interesting point, because most vignerons in the Muscadet didn't travel to other regions for their training, they learnt the trade at the Ecole de Briacé, a home-grown viticulture and enology school where most future Muscadet growers go study. Marc and a few other guys of his generation studied in faraway wine town like Macon and they sort of came back in the Muscadet with new ideas inspired by the wine culture of other regions. But Marc Ollivier says that what influenced him the most was his encounters with other winemakers in the Loire Valley, including the ones making natural wines, even if he doesn't consider himself as being part of their movement. Exchanging with all these vignerons made him evolve differently compared to a Muscadet vigneron who wouldn'd have looked elsewhere for his wine culture.
Speaking of the SO2, he adds a small dose like 1 or 2 grams/hectoliter at the arrival of the grapes on years when the condition of the grapes is not parfect, like in 2010 where there's been a bit of Botrytis here and there. then during the élevage in winter he adds some more like about 5 grams per hectoliter, which is half of average used elsewhere. SO2 is the only additive he uses, and he doesn't add any at bottling, the objective being that there remains 20 mg free SO2 in the bottle, which is usually the case as his adding takes place in the middle of winter.
As written above, Marc Ollivier also makes 3 reds from a 4-hectare planted vineyard (only 3 hectares in production right now), about 20 000 bottles per red cuvée (there are 3 of them). A Cabernet, a Côt and a blend. The Cabernet and Côt are vinified through 3 or 4 days of cold maceration, then he lets the temperature go up with the fermentation unfolding for 3/4 days, after which he racks the vat when the juice is between 1030 & 1050, very early before there's much alcohol in the juice with the goal being not to extract tannins and keep a tender, supple wine.
The yields are usuall about 40 ho/ha for the Crus Communaux, 45 to 50 ho/ha for the old vines and 55 ho/ha for the generic Muscadet. The reds are about 50 ho/ha, with the Merlot sometimes a bit over that (not this year though). The Merlot goes into the Cuvée Granite, the red blend, where you find Cabernet Franc (50%), Côt (20%), Merlot (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%).
I didn't take notes during this visit but we tasted through all of his wines, great stuff with lots of purity, and for me the reds were also a surprise because I didn't expect to find them in this corner of Muscadet. I was particularly impressed by the Cab Franc 2009 (sold out alas) and by the Cuvée Granite of which I bought a case [picture above : tasting the reds with Marc and Julien, a cool young guy who joined the estate for a few months after working on fishing boats]. These wines aren't labelled as Muscadet and like all of Marc Ollivier wines, they're a terrific value, especially if you buy them at the winery, like these reds cost 3,5 € tax-included and his Muscadet whites about 5 € if I remember, amazing, especially when you taste the wines.
For the anecdote, the importer Joe Dressner found la Pépière through a fellow vigneron in Burgundy located not far from where Jo & Denyse have a house in the Maconnais. Noel Perrin had been spotted at the time in the Guide Hachette and Joe visited him to taste his wines, and the vigneron tipped him about Marc Ollivier as they were both part of a group where they shared their contacts. He came over here, made some trials imports in the States and it ended up working. Marc Ollivier says that Joe Dressner can be credited for bringing the wines of the Loire at large in the United States, because he's the one who made all the upstream work to put these wines on the map there, which was far from obvious at the time in the early 1990s'. David Lillie of Chambers Street Wines also took part to this awareness job, and Marc Ollivier says that there is hardly another wine shop in the world with such a wide range of Muscadet wines, except maybe in a couple of Cavistes in Nantes.
Read the Wine Doctor's indepth report on la Pépière.