INTERVIEW: Olivier Berrouet, Winemaker at Petrus
Olivier Berrouet is in charge of the vineyard and winemaking at Petrus, the Pomerol estate worshiped by wine lovers all around the world. He agreed to welcome BLOUIN ARTINFO for a tasting of the delicious vintage 2012, a well balanced wine adorned with black berries and rose flavors. In this interview, he explains how he sees his work as an interpreter of a great terroir.
What is the most creative part of your work?
We do interpret a matter which is given to us by the vineyard, depending on the year’s climate, and we have to make the best wine possible out of it. At Petrus, our aim is not to compensate the flaws of nature, or we would create unbalanced wines. We rather play with what is given to us, being really modest and knowing that we can never go beyond the potential quality of the grapes once they’re harvested.
What can you do when there are tricky vintages, like 2013 could be?
If we think that the quality is not of Petrus standard, we don’t issue a wine and the last time it happened was 1991. Otherwise we have lots of solutions that won’t fully change the wine, this would not be our philosophy, but that allow us to come closer to what the grapes can offer. When you buy a high quality tea, you’re often advised to observe a temperature and time of infusion: 190°F during three minutes, 170°F during six minutes...If you go beyond this, you will have a black, bitter, dry, rough tea, it will be unbalanced. The same happens with wine: if you are not able to judge the grapes, to evaluate their potential after the extraction process of vinification, if you go too far beyond this potential, you get an unbalanced wine, like with tea. There are tannins in tea like in wine, there will be bitterness, astringency, harshness, and no pleasure. After all, the aim is to have pleasure when you drink!
Can you name some other winemakers whose work you admire?
In the Saint Chinian vineyard (Languedoc), the Bergasse family at Château Viranel.
Thomas Le Grix de la Salle at château Le Grand Verdus, he creates fresh, balanced, savory, very enjoyable Bordeaux wines.
Also Franz Roskam at château La Lauzette-Declercq in Haut-Médoc.
Can you tell us about two vintages which have been handled in very different ways?
The best example at Petrus is 1975: there had been this 1974 vintage which lacked maturity and structure. My father, who made the wine at Petrus, had wanted to compensate the flaws of nature, he left some stems, he chose a longer vatting period, but as a result the wine quickly began to dry. Then came 1975, we had small berries, thick skins, acidity, high tannin levels, and he decided to do it in a completely different way: short vatting, some ten days, and this allowed the wines to keep being fresh, balanced, they did smoothly evolve, without any harshness, they didn’t get this angular feeling the 1974 have. In the end the 1975 have remained charming wines, even if they had more tannins than the 1974. For a wine to age correctly, the question is not the quantity of tannins, but their quality.
The year 2012 appears to have been rather propitious to Pomerol?
The climate did fit perfectly with our very clayey soils: if it’s a very dry climate, this clay gives water back to the roots of the vines, like drop-by-drop irrigation, allowing the plant not to suffer. Great terroirs are soils where the vines do suffer less. On the other hand, when the circumstances are too extreme, the feeding of the plant becomes difficult, there appear maturity and balance problems. Admittedly the vines never have to be overfed, they have to be under a certain constraint, but never under stress. In a state of stress, it will be difficult to have beautiful results.
Can you describe the style of Petrus wines?
When you taste many vintages, not one is like the other, but there is always this great aromatic richness, with recurring notes of liquorice, truffle, and blackcurrant. The wines are pretty structured, but the tannins are very smooth, onctuous, there is this creamy feeling, this is powerful, but never aggressive. We try to preserve these character traits when making the wine.
Sommelier Enrico Bernardo recently said that rich people often discover wine with Petrus, then they go on to Médoc, Burgundy, then the other countries of wine, and they come back to Petrus. Why?
You can enjoy Petrus at different levels: even people who don’t know wine very much can enjoy it, because it is always onctuous, smooth, and very aromatic, this is rather easy to approach. And when you know wine a lot more, and you come back to Petrus, you understand the different layers of the wine: beyond this enjoyable, charming side, you have something serious, something deep, complex, it is long in mouth, beginners don’t notice it, but when you have tasted lots of wines, you realize that if it is considered one of the best wines in the world, there must be a kind of truth in the glass, and there is.
Do you have a strong memory of a dish paired with one of your wines?
I recently had a pigeon dish which matched perfectly with one of our wines, it was simply roasted and served with light gravy, and this was great! I didn’t know this chef before, his name is Nicolas Sale and he cooks at K2 and Kilimandjaro in Courchevel. He prepared a remarkable dinner for 70 people, we also had a peas and lobster consommé with a white wine, this was delicious!