The Rising Star of St. Emilion: Pierre Paillardon Reporting from Bordeaux
Many small Chateaux in St. Emilion have immense potential, but most, particularly given the current economic slowdown in Europe, are hesitant to devote the resources necessary to reach it. When I look at what Jerome de Monteil has set in motion at Chateau Haut Rocher in just a few years, I think back to 1977 when Andre Mentzelopoulos purchased Chateau Margaux. Margaux had been underperforming for years, but by 1979, this 'forgotten' First Growth was again reaching the heights of its competitors such as Latour and Haut-Brion.
Until 2008, Chateau Haut Rocher put out a St. Emilion Grand Cru that would have rated in the middle rung of the appellation. The wines, while aways solid, were somewhat rustic. I always contended that this rusticity was a function of the work in the vines, and the Chateau's hesitancy to control yields, push the envelope on ripeness. Haut Rocher was decidedly old fashioned at a time when the market was looking for the new modernism.
Jerome is the third generation of the de Monteil family to assume control in St. Emilion. His timing was perfect. Greeted by the excellent 2009 vintage -- a very warm growing season -- Jerome de Monteil's new regime got off to a running start.
Set in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse at the eastern edge of St. Emilion, Haut Rocher has always enjoyed one of the more splendid situations of the appellation. With neighbors like Chateaux Faugeres, Peby Faugeres, and Valandraud, I've always viewed Haut Rocher as an underachiever. But, that would all change when de Monteil met with Gilles Pauquet, one of Bordeaux's greatest enologists. In his formative years, Pauquet had learned his craft under Emile Peynaud. Today, Gilles' client list includes Chateaux Cheval Blanc, Figeac and Conseillante -- for very good reason.
In the very warm summer of 2009, the first vintage under Pauquet's winegrowing direction, de Monteil's investment in the vineyard and the cellar advanced Haut Rocher significantly. But it would be in the strange growing season of 2010 (more on this in the next report) -- one of the great vintages of my lifetime -- that Chateau Haut Rocher began to really stand side by side with its neighbors, Faugeres and Peby-Faugeres.
The 2010 Chateau Haut Rocher St. Emilion Grand Cru is deep, dark and polished. The nose offers a sumptuous mix of raspberries, dark plum, cedar and new French cooperage vanilla. After 45 minutes in a large glass, the aromas become much more intense, piercing and clearly delineated. On the attack, the marvelous concentration of the 2010 vintage shows through. Big, rich and voluminous, filled with red and black fruits, the tannins are still supple and fresh.
My expectation is that the 2010 Chateau Haut Rocher will be quite enjoyable for another 18 months before it 'shuts down' for a couple of years, returning to form around 2018, after which it will age gracefully in cellar for another 6-10 years. This is a superb, and very much underpriced St. Emilion from one of the rising stars of the region -- in a vintage that many of us believe will 'beat' every harvest since 1982.
-- Pierre Pailardon, Bordeaux Janvier 2013 (translated from the original French)
Pierre secured 1500 bottles for WineAccess, accounting for the entire American allocation, all to be directly imported this fall from the cellars in St.-Etienne-de-Lisse.
About Pierre PaillardonPierre Paillardon was born in Brittany in 1957. Curiously, given his chosen profession, at the age of 13, he was involved in a moped accident, nearly severing his tongue in two.
We first met Pierre on a spring afternoon in 1982 at Gerard Vie's 2-Star "Les Trois Marches." Two years before, Paillardon had won the blind tasting competition earning himself the title of "Meilleur Jeune Sommelier de France." That afternoon, we'd get a bird's eye view of Paillardon's palate in action.
The table at "Les Trois Marches" had been set for eight. The bottles had been dropped off a week in advance -- 15 vintages of Chateau Cheval Blanc, beginning in 1949. All would be served blind. Paillardon's guests had challenged the young sommelier to identify each wine.
Two hours later, when the bottles were disrobed, the collectors broke out in applause. The baby-faced 24-year-old redhead, with the silver cup draped around his neck, was a perfect 15 for 15. Afterwards, Pierre joked that it must have been the moped accident that accounted for his razor sharp acuity.
After several years as sommelier in Versailles, Paillardon was lured to Pauillac by Jean-Michel Cazes, the owner of Chateau Lynch Bages. Over the following twenty years, Pierre would assume the direction of the Relais et Chateau Hotel Cordeillan Bages in Pauillac, before being named President of the three Bordeaux negociant firms, most notably of blue chip AXA Millesimes (Pichon-Baron, Suduiraut, Brown-Cantenac).
Pierre and his wife, Danielle, live in Bordeaux where they're trying their best to deplete their cellar -- and more importantly, to finally slow down.