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Prieure-Lichine: Then & Now

Written by: Emerson Baun |  Date of Published: 6th December 2016

For Etienne Charrier, Technical Director of Chateau Prieure-Lichine, innovation and technology is a good way to improve and develop the wine as long as these new shifts respect the integrity of the grapes. The chateau, which is under Ballande et Meneret Group since 1999 has done several developments to further enhance the quality and continue to be the best representation of Margaux appellation. In fact, one of the best development they've done is the advanced sorting system where an optical system scans the individual berries with different parameters like the colors, shape that led them to be confident enough that the grapes coming in their tanks are in perfect condition. Having a large vineyard as big as 80-hectare could be a hit or miss, but to Charrier, the winery is confident that they are doing the best way possible and focusing on the tiniest details to maintain the equilibrium that the estate has been since its founding.

Chateau Prieure Lichine is indeed embracing the new era of winemaking, but how far can they apply this contemporary style? To when and where has to implement the traditional way and modern techniques? Of course, everything can be discussed over a bottle of wine, and here's how my short but productive conversation with Etienne Charrier goes.

Name one of the changes in the winery since Ballande et Meneret purchased it to Alexis Lichine?

When Ballande took over 17 years ago, the primary focus was the selection of the different plots, which it has to be done more precisely. In the beginning, the chateau uses only 25 big capacity tanks of 2,000 to 30,000-liter each, so the selection is quite hard. To produce great wines, you need to have more tanks with smaller capacity that gives us the freedom to be selective with picking up grapes. That instead of thinking of ONE plot, we can start working on the PARTS of each plot so we can achieve the right ripeness point of the grapes as you know, grapes have a different ripening point. There's also a new map of the vineyard for a better identification of individual plot. With that given new set-up, we would be able to be more precise and respect the quality of each grape. We also have the sorting line which is another amazing technology that scans each grape, and I can say that we are one of the first to use that in Medoc. 

What is the first vintage that undergone this sorting technology?

Prieure Lichine 2009. For the second label, from the 2010 vintage, all the grapes have been sorted in this system.

What is your style of winemaking that is different from Alexis or Sacha, the former owners of the chateau?

The chateau used to work with Michel Rolland before Ballande et Meneret came into the picture. They are using traditional pumping over and short maceration, it means that you put all the juice in the tank, once the maceration started, all the skins go on top, liquid fermenting at the bottom, take the juice from the bottom and put it on the top to let it drain. But at present, to have more round and gentle tannins and a very nice extraction we work with 'pigeage,' it's a physical action to push the grapes into the bottom of the tanks while the juice is fermenting. This technique is commonly used in Burgundy more likely with Pinot Noir. 

And are you satisfied with the results so far?

Yes. We've been experimenting this since 2010, on merlot and cabernet sauvignon and both varieties, it works very well but what is important is to be confident in the quality and the maturity of the grapes.

Can you tell me something about the sustainable farming technique in your vineyard management program?

We have an 80-hectare vineyard, so the most basic and important thing to do is to look after each plot mostly every day. We have a person in charge of the vineyard who knows the vineyard for almost 25 years now, and his primary job is to go around every parcel every single day to have a look and see how the vines are growing and if he can see some disease, we will treat it. The thing is we are not certified in any bio-agriculture or biodynamic but it inspires us, yet we don't want to be linked and enslaved with biodynamic certification. If we encounter a problem, say a forecast of substantial rainfall, heat or disease in the vineyard, we want to be able to treat the vines with what is needed at that time because what is important is to be present in the vineyard, to be in the situation and nurture the vines.  

So you are really not into biodynamics?

We look after it, in France, there is a big question about the pesticide used nowadays, so we are very sensible about that. However, if the situation urges to use pesticide to treat the big disease coming in the vineyard, we won't have the opportunity to use it, and that's the reason why we don't want to be certified.

What Makes Prieure Lichine stands out from any other Margaux Wines?

It's one of the biggest estates of the Margaux Appellation. Due to its long and rich history, it's now more or less 80 hectares vineyard, and the thing which is unique for Prieure-Lichine is that we are located in 5 different villages of the Margaux Appellation, it composes of 5 villages - Cantenac, Margaux, Labarde, Soussans and Arsac. And the vineyard of Prieure Lichine is not just one lot, but we also have in every village. We can pick and select the best terroir from each appellation; we can be precise and take only what we want and what is best - that makes Prieure-Lichine unique because we have a lot of option.

A smile of pride came out next, and I was convinced.

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