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Returning to Bordeaux: An Organic Winemaker Gets Back to Her Roots

April 27th, 2021

Pauline Lapierre, one of the organic winemakers whose sustainable wines are available at Thrive Market, lives among her grapes on a gorgeous gravelly slope in Cadillac, a medieval town 25 miles south of Bordeaux. Her children play in between crooked, wild vines and walk along the banks of the Garonne River. But it wasn’t always this way.

From Finance Exec to Organic Winemaker

In her twenties, Lapierre spent two years in Singapore working as a financial controller. During that time, she faced a conundrum: She couldn’t find a delicious bottle of wine at a fair price. “I personally hate buying wine and being disappointed,” explains Lapierre. “Opening a bottle should be a strong and positive experience.”

Good wine is in Lapierre’s blood. She spent her childhood on her family’s winery in Bordeaux. In Singapore, 6,700 miles from France, every bottle Lapierre came across was either “absurdly expensive or super industrial.”

When Lapierre’s parents came to visit her in Singapore, they brought wine from the family estate. “It was pure and fresh. The taste immediately brought me back to my childhood,” she reminisces. That’s when Lapierre knew something was missing from her life.

“I realized I was just doing a job,” she says. “I didn’t feel any fulfillment or accomplishment.” Lapierre left her career in finance and returned to France to study Oenology, the science of wine and winemaking. She bought her own small plot of land upon graduating, located just a few miles from her parents’ estate. “I saw it as an opportunity to train in organic farming and do my own thing.”

Getting Back to the Roots of Winemaking

Her small estate had been farmed organically for a decade by the previous owner. Lapierre’s number-one priority became growing healthy grapes in a healthy environment without relying on chemicals. “This is, I think, the main task of my generation,” explains Lapierre.

When her parents founded their vineyard Château Haut-Rian over 30 years ago, most winemakers believed that scientific advancements would improve everything. It became common for producers to manipulate their wine’s flavor, color, and mouthfeel with additives to appeal to consumer tastes while keeping prices low. Simultaneously, as The Guardian reports, winemakers became reliant on fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides to protect their precious grapes from pests and mildew.

But those very advancements unfortunately had some negative effects. Research shows that heavy use of pesticides can degrade soil quality, and The Guardian goes on to detail how synthetic pesticides may be harmful to the people working in the vineyards. Beyond that, when loads of additives enter into the winemaking equation, what’s in your glass no longer reflects the terroir and climate in which the grapes were grown, or the meticulous care of the farmers and vintners.

In stark contrast to many winemakers today who use chemical manipulation to achieve results, Lapierre’s approach to winemaking involves good land management and minimal intervention between the grapes she grows and the wine you drink. Lapierre’s organic wines get their character from the air, the gravelly soil, and the way the sun hits her southeast-facing vineyard.

Her vines are up to 50 years old and she lets grass grow wild around them. This translates to lower grape yields, but also increased depth, complexity, and structure in the finished product. She exclusively uses her estate-grown organic grapes, and does everything from fermentation to bottling at her winery, Les Vignes de Coulous. By doing everything from grape growing to bottling onsite, Lapierre can be 100% certain that what’s in the bottle is not only organic, but a pure and honest reflection of the land from which it came.

Paving the Way For a Better Future

“Pauline’s wines represent expertise, passion, and risk,” explains Josh Nadel, Master Sommelier and the curator of Thrive Market’s clean wine program. He had the privilege of tasting Lapierre’s first-ever vintage at a wine trade fair in Germany, and was drawn to her responsible practices and the beautiful expression of terroir in her wines.

Nadel hopes Lapierre’s approach ushers in a new guard of vintners doing things the old way. “She’s paving the way for other winemakers who want to get back to the roots of winemaking and transition to organics,” he says. “Her well-deserved success will help inspire them to take the leap.”

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This article is related to: Clean Wine, Organic, Sustainable Agriculture

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Erin Mosbaugh

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