We’ve extolled the virtues of Domaine Pithon-Paillé many times, but this time around, our enthusiasm is tempered by a touch of the bittersweet. Jo Pithon and stepson Joseph Paillé created some of our favorite Loire Valley wines over the years, but the 2017 vintage would be Jo’s last as proprietor: The winery, négociant business, and 22 acres of meticulously restored vineyards were sold to French businessman Ivan Massonnat in April of 2018.
This is a monumental shift for a domaine so fundamental to the development of the Loire region. The name Pithon-Paillé is synonymous with the most inspired level of biodynamic winemaking and farming thanks to Jo’s heroic land reclamation efforts. Our minds are eased by the knowledge that Massonnat was handpicked by Jo to take over the business, promising to preserve his legacy of organic farming. Jo has also stayed on as consulting winemaker to ease the transition. But while we mourn the (semi) retirement of one of the Loire’s most charismatic vintners, what better way to celebrate his life’s work than by drinking his last vintage as owner? The 2017 Anjou Blanc “Mozaik” epitomizes everything we love about this funky little property. It’s a gorgeous, dry, textural Chenin with enough acidity and “oomph” to make you giddy. This is the beating heart of Chenin Blanc, grown on some of the greatest Chenin terroirs on earth by a winemaking hero with Chenin running through his veins. Massonnat plans to focus his efforts on the estate’s production of dry Chenin Blanc, but this bottle represents the end of an era. And what a beautiful era it was—today’s wine is an indelible reminder!
Jo Pithon got his start in the Loire in 1978 with Domaine Pithon, gradually accumulating vineyard holdings to amass almost 50 acres across a number of appellations. He was an early champion of organic viticulture and what we think of today as “natural” winemaking: indigenous yeast fermentations; minimal effective sulfur additions; rejecting chaptalization; and fermenting and aging wines in neutral oak. Jo walked away from Domaine Pithon after losing control to an outside investor whose opinions on viticulture differed radically from his own.
In 2008 he, wife Isabelle, stepson Joseph and daughter-in-law Wendy formed the family-owned Pithon-Paillé. Theirs is a négociant business: half of their fruit is sourced from trusted partner-growers in six different appellations throughout the Loire. The other half comes from their own 22-acre parcel, carefully reclaimed and restored after vineyards fell into disrepair, abandoned because the slopes were too steep and rocky for machinery. They revived the land so successfully it’s become part of a government-protected network of core breeding and resting sites for the EUs rare and threatened animal species. The family farms without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. Only natural composts, infusions, and remedies are used to treat the vines, which are cared for in conjunction with the lunar calendar. The vines used for the Mozaik are approximately 20-30 years of age, and named for the mosaic of limestone and slate soils on which they’re planted. After hand-harvesting and indigenous yeast fermentation, the Chenin Blanc racked into neutral French oak barrels and a big, 60-hectoliter oak vat for 10 months of gentle aging. The wines are then moved into tanks approximately one full year after harvest, and left to settle underground for another four to eight months. Very gentle filtration allows for a reduction in sulfur usage.
The wine is a vibrant golden-yellow in the glass. Be sure not to drink this too cold; it should be a hair under cellar temperature and will even benefit from 30 minutes of decanting so the acidity does not dominate the more subtle flavors that bloom with a little warmth. There’s so much to discover here: the smell of lunchbox apple slices, slightly oxidized but no less crunchy and flavorful. Orange blossom and chamomile tea provide a floral topnote, with mango peel and warm straw giving the wine an unexpected richness. The palate adds salinity, Asian Pear, and honey. Texturally, it is extraordinarily generous, showing some hedonistic viscosity.
We like this wine with a really classic pairing, like butter-poached scallops with a scoop of celeriac purée. Pour it into big Burgundy stems and watch how it blossoms with your meal. You can definitely cellar this bottle for the next 10-15 years with ease, but that being said, it is just hitting its stride and will be the perfect accompaniment for those last, sweet, late-summer nights.
Chenin Blanc 100%
Slate & Limestone