I have always been intrigued by Chateau Pavie – not only because of the wine but partly due to its name and partly due to its history. Pavie is one of the most ancient vineyards in Saint Emilion and it lies next to the First Growth Chateau Ausone, which is named for Ausonius Consul of Gaul (Decimus Magnus Ausonius, 310-363 AD).
Ausonius is famous in history for his dramatic rise from humble beginnings to the highest elected office under the Roman Empire but for his teaching and his poetry.
Ausonius was born in Bordeaux, his father was a physician of Greek ancestry and his mother was descended on both sides from long-established aristocratic Gallo Roman families of south western France. In 334, he established a school of rhetoric in Bordeaux – his most famous pupil was St Paulinus of Nola.
Ausonius was summoned by the Emperor Valentinian to the imperial court to teach Gratian, the heir-apparent. The prince greatly respected his tutor, and after his accession bestowed on him the highest titles and honours that any Roman (besides from the royal family) could attain, culminating in the Consulate of Gaul (France) in 379.
After the murder of Gratian in 383, Ausonius retired to his estates in Bordeaux where he found inspiration for his poetry and meditation and died in 395. Like Montesquieu, the philosopher who lived 14 centuries later, Ausonius was prouder of his Bordelais vineyard than of his literary works. He glorified the vineyards of Bordeaux in his poetry and praised his own vines:
“I grow 200 acres in land: I have 100 of vines, the rest being half meadow and half woodland . . For the culture of my fields, I have neither too much or too little workers. I have springs, deep wells, and a clear and navigable river: the ebb and flow and leads me to reminisce . .
. My campaign is located neither too far nor too near the city . . . I am master of my happiness. And whenever boredom forces me to change seats, I go, and I take a in turn in my fields or in the town.”
There has been great debate as to the palatial villa at Lucaniacus where Ausonius grew his vines and there are several contenders in Saint Emilion and neighbouring Libourne. Roman remains have been found throughout the area including Chateaux Canon La Gaffeliere, Petit Corbin and Figeac.
Beautiful mosaics and statues of Diana and Venus have been found near Montagne Saint Emilion. I have always wondered whether Pavie and its neighbours were once the vineyards of the Consul.
Like its prestigious neighbour Pavie’s first vines are thought to have been planted in the 4th century but its name is said to take after the “pavies” (red-fleshed peaches) which grew there. Cultivated peaches are divided into cling stones and free stones,
depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not. In France you will find peaches of the cling stone variety referred to as “Pavia”. The word, which appeared in the language in 1560, is borrowed from Pavia, a town of Gers, famous for its peaches via the Silk Road.
There are also Pêches de Vigne (literally peaches of the grapevine), which are small red-fleshed peaches grown in vineyards. They are covered with greyish down, but the flavour is superb and not likely to be found outside markets in France.
This ancient variety of peach has traditionally been planted among the grapevines as an indicator plant. As peaches are even more susceptible than grapes to the same diseases,
the appearance of disease on the peach signals the immediate need to treat the grapevines before disease spreads. They practice this in Italy too – did the Romans introduce it to Bordeaux?
In spite of its humble position as a sacrificial lamb to the noble grape, the Pêche de Vigne is one of the most sumptuous.
Pêche de Vigne is basically a white peach, but its flesh is stained a deep red almost all the way to the pit. It is richly perfumed and tastes like a cross between a ripe and juicy white peach and a succulent raspberry.
The vineyards of Pavie that we see today were assembled by Ferdinand Bouffard, a Bordeaux negociant, in 1885. Bouffard certainly had an eye for vineyard potential – he was also the co-owner of Chateau Heritage Haut Brion, adjacent to the First Growth Haut Brion.
Bouffard created Pavie by buying up several neighbouring plots in order to form his vineyard, including the Fayard Talleman vines, Chateau Pimpinelle (the present residence), Dussaut, Pigasse, Domaine de Sable (inherited from his father) and Larcis Bergey vineyards.
Under Bouffard’s ownership Pavie gained renown amongst connoisseurs and the wines won several gold medals ( Exposition Collective, 1867, gold medal; Paris, 1889, gold medal; Paris, 1900, gold medal; Bordeaux, 1895,
gold medal; Bruxelles, 1897 gold medal; Liege, 1905, Diplome d’Honneur; Tourcoing, 1906, Hors Concours; Bordeaux, 1907, Hors Concours.
) Bouffard himself was awarded for his defence against Phylloxera with the Medaille de Vermeil in 1888 and for his vineyards in 1896 (Medaille d’Or) and in 1908 with the Premier Grand Prix de Viticulture.
Today Château Pavie is owned by Gerard Perse (who also owns Châteaux Pavie Decesse, Monbusquet, Bellevue Mondotte, Saint Colombe, Clos Les Lunelles and Clos L’Eglise). The wines of Château Pavie are as intriguing as its history – having caused a clash of critics at one time.
They are rich, fruit driven and concentrated with notes of ripe blackberries, black cherries, spice, pepper, blossom and earth. These are wines that should be cellared for at least 10 years – and enjoyed! If you would like to learn more please visit Jeff Leve’s tasting notes at Wine Cellar Insider and if you would like to try the wines you can find vintages at Interest In Wine.