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Posted: Friday, 29 December 2017 11:42

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Star Interview: Loic Pasquet of Liber Pater Bordeaux

Dec 29: Loic Pasquet, owner of vineyards with pre-phylloxera vines and a boutique winery- Liber Pater named after the Roman God of Wine, is a winemaker from Graves, Bordeaux. Producer of small quantities of wines that cost more than Petrus or the First Growths as he is the only one producing these unique wines, was in India a few weeks ago and mesmerized everyone he met with his wines including Subhash Arora who was invited to a private, exclusive tasting dinner at Hotel Pullman Aerocity

Delhi Wine Club was founded in 2002...There was no Liber Pater.

Indian Wine Academy was founded in 2003... even then there was no Liber Pater.

Its French founder Loic Pasquet, a native of Poitiers, a small city and the former Capital of old Aquitaine  in the West Central France between Paris and Bordeaux is a mechanical and Chemical Engineer by profession, who was then working with the Peugeot car manufacturer.

Liber Pater was founded in 2004... in Graves, a sub-region of Bordeaux and situated on the left bank of the Garonne River,  by Pasquet who studied in La Rochelle in the north of Bordeaux and Dijon University in Burgundy, with no formal education in wine. A wine appassionato since the age of 13, he bought 8 hA of abandoned vineyard land in a small area which had escaped phylloxera.

In 2010, he started growing pre-phylloxera grapes like Tarney Coulaunt, Castet, Saint Macaire and Pardotte because of the soil and position, making it possible for him to produce wines from grapes grown on their own rootstock and not American rootstocks as is the case with Bordeaux and most of the world affected by the louse disease that hit Bordeaux not much after the 1855 Classification came into existence. He thus claims to be the only producer making wines that taste close to the wines of 1855 classification.

 Location

For those who think Bordeaux is only Left Bank and the Right Bank, they are really thinking of Medoc and Saint Emilion or Pommerol. Located in Graves, Liber Pater is merely 20 minutes south of downtown Bordeaux.  It’s around 13 kms from Chateau d’Yquem and around 20 km from Chateau Smiths- Haut Lafite. It is a good one hour drive from the Bordeaux Airport as it is on the other side of the city, in case if you plan to visit after taking an appointment.

Liber Pater-what’s in the Name

Why did he name his winery Liber Pater? In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Liber Pater ("the free Father"), was a god of viticulture and wine, fertility and freedom. Thus Liber Pater is the Roman God of wine and vine, says Loic. Questioning Bacchus as the Roman God of wine and fertility he says there are Liber Pater temples in Syria and Libya, but there are no such Bacchus temples in any of these countries. Of course, he agrees that in ancient Greek mythology Dionysus is the god of wine. He shows me a picture of a Gold Coin on which there is a picture with ‘Libero Pateri’ inscribed.

Pre-phylloxera wines

Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the staple grapes for him too but he stresses that they are different than Medoc in character due to the terroir, soil (gravel) which is special geographical place and has higher acidity. Bordeaux soil has a geological history of 4-12 million years while he has records to show that Liber Pater was 50 million years old. Gravel in Graves comes from Pyrenees Mountains. In Bordeaux the gravel comes from Massif Central. Over the millions of year 20-30 meters of sand has been collecting from the sea, giving Graves the special character and of course, protecting it from phylloxera.

He is also dismissive of Bordeaux wine producers claiming that their wines are special because of terroir. ‘Everyone talks of 1855 Classification. They are producing only varietal wines because of the American rootstock. When you graft on the rootstock you change everything-u don’t have the taste of terroir’, he insists.  He does seem to have a point. Late André Tchelistcheff, rated as America's most influential post-Prohibition winemaker who is known for his contributions toward defining the style of California's best wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon used to say that the Bordeaux vines on their own roots always showed greater varietal intensity and a more firmly distinguishable varietal character than the same grapes on the American  root stocks.

The climate is very special for him with winds from the Atlantic Ocean 40 kms away helping maintain the freshness

Beyond Time, Beyond Mode

He claims making wines that go much beyond fashion- the indigenous grapes he uses are an example. They also don’t follow any timeline.  He feels that the wines in Europe have been destroyed in three stages.

First was the French revolution in 1786 which brought wines from monks to the farmers. Monks knew where to grow what vines according to soil-for instance. Then there was of course phylloxera. But the third time it was after the second war. The vineyards had been destroyed. To make the bottles needed, Merlot was added to the blends and the flavours were changed. There was no Merlot used before the war on the Left Bank, he claims. Grapes like Tarney Coulant are difficult to grow and take a lot of time. He has been trying to go back to time and thus create wine the way it was meant to be. Chateau d’Issan made wine with 100% Tarney Coulant. Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is only a 300-year only variety, Tarney is known to exist at least since 925 AD.

When I ask him if he plans to make a wine like d’Issan, he says in the negative but says he has a barrel-full of wine from the grape but has not decided how to utilize them.

Though he suggests drinking his wines after 10 years of harvests up to 40 years, but feels that they should perhaps stay alive for 200 years (giving them the potential of a Collector’s darling).

Passion is no crime

The detractors are sure to criticise him for calling them timeless wines as a marketing ploy. In a market that has a lot of competition and where the Bordeaux Growths still rule the roost, it may be difficult for Bordeaux producers to fathom the enormous success enjoyed by Liber Pater with  the flavours claimed to be exquisite and unique, making them collectible wines.

But Loic is a passionate winemaker to the core. His annual production is limited to 200 cases, the normal years being 1,000-1,200 bottles when he releases the wines- red, white and a sweet wine. ‘I want to make the best wine in the world and when I am not sure it is, I do not release the vintage and simply let the fruit on the ground,’  he says.

Some may think he is eccentric in doing so but after releasing the 2006 maiden vintage and 20017 he did not make 08, 12, 13, 14 and 16 vintages. Even 2017 has been declared to be no- vintage. He is married to Alona, a Russian lady since 2010. She helps him in the business, especially during his intense travels, meeting customers. He says he is a farmer now and his needs are minimal so he can afford to let his heart decide about the best wines for his customers.  

To enjoy his wines the most, he recommends decanting for 5 hours. He also makes a small quantity of white wines from Semillon, and recommends it to be decanted for 2 days!  

Robert Parker and Bordeaux

If there were one person who made fortunes for the Bordeaux producers, it was Robert Parker, as his ratings ruled supreme for 30 years (he still wields a big influence), he says. Loic feels, ‘Parker was a big mistake for Bordeaux wines. French had been making wine according to French culture-elegant, mineral and with beautiful acidity. Parker changed that by favouring full bodied powerful wines. His palate was based on the American culture. He liked wines with more maturity, high sugar ripe grapes and fat, in congruence with American culture. I cannot claim to be a critic of Indian cuisine. What did he know of the French culture and cuisine and our wines? The problem is the owners changed the taste of wine to have a good score. It is good to know Bordeaux changing back to elegance after Robert Parker’.

Started High Prices.. Getting  Higher

Once I asked a Tuscan boutique winery owner if he made any profit selling such a small number of bottles. He said he was successful from the very first year. He kept the quality very high, priced his wine even higher and was a sell out. His secret! A group of journalists were really impressed with a Tasting; they gushed about it in the Press, there was huge demand and the production was a sell-out. He added cheaper labels to the portfolio later and could now afford to make a decent margin on them too as he had created the Brand.

Loic started similarly by pricing the wine at €1000 in the very first year. Every vintage saw a price increase; today the price is over €3,000-4,000; the cellar door price lists all the top label wines including white wine at an astronomical €6,000 each.

He may sound very commercial but Loic maintains he is a winemaker and wants his wines to be tasted by as many people as possible so they can get the authentic taste of Bordeaux wines as it was in 1855. The small quantity he produces is totally under allocation. Just like the consumers who wanted to buy out the entire stock of the Tuscan producer, some private collectors offered him any amount he wanted for the entire collection. But he says he would not deviate from his policy of not selling his wines to just a few select affluent.

He does spend a good amount of his time and money for the wine promotion in other countries, meeting affluent customers to keep a wider base. In the process, he even got entangled in a case of wine promotion subsidy with the European Union which ended up with him returning the money and a fine. But he continues his crusade without any break.

Tasting at Pullman Aerocity

The small, exclusive private Tasting at the Pullman Aerocity was the pinnacle of his visit to Delhi-attracting people from even Mumbai. His white, reds and the dessert wine were poured to the discerning invitees, matched with dishes curated specially by Executive Chef Anand and his team . With the wines being of such high standards, it was more of a ritual to talk about the wines than a normal wine tasting. The wines, without exception gave their impressive best with purity being that extra edge but whites were completely awesome; very complex, concentrated. One could say they were ‘cool, calm and collected’.

But would I pay the price for the bottle? I am afraid not. One needs deep pockets to indulge and are best left to the lucky few Collectors who may never open a bottle in the hope of getting still a better price. We simply await another visit from this maverick, eccentric (in an Einstein way) to come back to India soon or meet me in Bordeaux or some other country where once can taste his wines once again.

Subhash Arora

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