CHÂTEAU SAINT-PIERRE REBIRTH, BAPTISM AND CONFIRMATION OF A GREAT SAINT-JULIEN

December 2017 - Estates

“Restaurant clients feel a certain pleasure in drinking a Saint-Julien that isn’t on the next table.”

Jean-Louis et Françoise Triaud entourés par leurs enfants Jean et Vanessa ainsi que leur gendre Orphée

Acru classé with a very long history, château Saint-Pierre underwent an extraordinary reconstruction in the early 1980s, following a fragmentation of the estate generated by family divisions. This history explains why its wine, a superb Saint-Julien vin-de-garde, is still building its reputation. Founder Henri Martin, a major figure of the 20th century Medoc, is no longer with us, so we were greeted at the property by his grandson Jean Triaud. Jean recently took over the helm from his charismatic father Jean-Louis Triaud. Alongside his sister and brother-in-law he has set about calmly preparing the future for the generations to come. He described the vision that has shaped the work of three generations of his family, both at Saint-Pierre and at  neighboring château Gloria, which already has a solidly established reputation.

Let’s start with a little history – at least as the current owners have managed to reconstruct it. They have no archives for château Saint-Pierre, nor any vintages older than 1982, the year that saw the rebirth of the estate. Ambitious Henri Martin was born into a family of coopers who had been established in Saint-Julien for three hundred years. He gave his son-in-law Jean-louis Triaud carte blanche to reform part of the vineyard, which had been included in the classification of 1855. Jean-louis and his wife Françoise put back together 17 of the original 40 hectares, making this the smallest of today’s Medoc crus classés. All of its vines grow on the fine gravelly plateau by the river, which is the highest quality sector in the appellation. Known as “Saint-Pierre-Sevaistre”, the reconstructed estate was renamed more simply as “Saint-Pierre”. Among the few sources of written history available, the famous cocks et Féret directory (1874) notes the vineyard’s ideal location “in the middle of a glorious constellation of elites formed by the crus of Gruaud-Larose, Léoville, Beaucaillou, Lagrange, Langoa and Branaire-du-Luc.
Château Gloria has a very different history that began in the mid-20th century. Jean tells us, “It was entirely created by my grandfather between 1930 and 1960, using parcels bought mainly from large Crus Classés in the sector and totaling 50 hectares. As it was 100% new, it obviously hadn’t been featured in the 1855 classification. The estate built its reputation in a different way, through Henri Martin’s enormous efforts to promote it in the 1970s.” We should say that long before Saint-Pierre came into the family, the paths of the two estates had already crossed. Among the parcels of crus classés bought to form the Gloria vineyard, nearly 15 hectares came
from the château Saint-Pierre estate before it had been broken up. In 2016 Jean-louis Triaud took a back seat to make way for his son – employed by the estates since 2005 – and for his daughter Vanessa and son-in-law Orphée. Having handed the reins and real decision-making power to the next generation, shortly afterwards Jean-louis also stepped down as president of the Girondins
de Bordeaux soccer club, a position he had held for 21 years. “But my father has continued to support what we do here, particularly in our longstanding commercial relationships. It’s a job you can never really retire from – like my grandfather in the old days, who was actively involved here to the end of his life.
Château Saint-Pierre had everything to prove and set about ascending the quality ladder under the benevolent eye of enologist Jacques Boissenot, followed by his son Eric. The year 2000 marked the first big turning point when Remi di costanzo took over as technical director. “He’s passionate, a wine-maker to the core. His expertise was hugely beneficial. For example, he designs pruning to optimize the number of bunches per plant, then adapts to create the desired harvest volume through canopy management after flowering, when the season of greatest risk from the weather is over.” A new gain in quality came in 2008 with the creation of a second wine, Esprit de Saint-Pierre, produced in limited quantities (18,000 bottles, exclusively for DuclOT). Though richer in merlot than its older brother, it still has room for plenty of cabernet-sauvignon (around 65%).
Since 2009 the use of satellite images to assess the vigor of the vines has enabled the team to  better judge when the moment of complete maturity has arrived. This technique has been  particularly useful in parcels that ripen unevenly, such as the cabernets francs, which have
trouble maturing right through to the seeds. In the resulting colored images (see photo), green indicates that the vine is producing plant tissue rather than sugars, and the greener it is, the longer the vines in this zone will take to ripen. “This analysis has enabled recent Saint-Pierre vintages to include around 5% cabernet franc, with a resulting gain in tension and tannic  elegance.
Then in 2015 the fermenting room was renovated and enlarged to make room for 23 new stainless steel vats with thermostatic controls, including 11 of reduced size (78 hl) to adapt to the new parcel-focused approach to harvest management. Most of the vats are also equipped with automatic remontage pumps for a gentler extraction of tannins and anthocyanins. The owners have also invested in a second sorting table with an option for optical sorting.
Saint-Pierre and Gloria, which together form Domaines Henri Martin, are both made by the same team in the same cellar yet produce two very distinct styles of wine, each a reflection of its own history and terroir. The cru classé is firm and forthright when young – the blend contains around 80% old cabernet-sauvignon – with remarkable aromatic richness and complexity and great aging potential.  Meanwhile château Gloria is a little more skewed to merlot (up to 35% in 2010) and some petit verdot. Though very subtle its seductiveness can be appreciated from the earliest years in bottle, and its velvety quality gives it a lot of charm, clearly apparent today in
the very pleasing 2012.
Because Château Saint-Pierre covers a small area, it doesn’t produce a lot in terms of volume. But the wine’s strength lies precisely in its rarity! We are proud to own two distinct wines in such a small and prestigious appellation. No future generation can change this.”

While Saint-Pierre has made a name for itself this century among tasters in the know in France and around the world, the wider public is still discovering it. Indeed, until 1982 the output of Saint-Pierre was almost entirely sold on the Belgian market by the previous owners who were traders in Antwerp. Jean openly acknowledges that “the reputation of Gloria sometimes helps us make people more aware of the beauty of Saint-Pierre, for example when we present both wines
together en primeur.” In promoting the Grand Vin, he says he also relies on the second wine esprit de saint-Pierre, which has now confirmed the estate’s place alongside its prestigious neighbors. And Jean puts his faith in the professionals – merchants, sommeliers and journalists: “For them there’s something exciting about making people aware of a small volume Cru Classé. And for restaurant clients there’s a certain pleasure in drinking a Saint-Julien that isn’t on the next table. So ideally we’d like Saint-Pierre to become better known – but not too much!”

Audrey Seitz-Dubourdieu