Working at the estate since 2008
Met by Gerda at the Château
Château Cheval Blanc
Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
I headed to Saint-Emilion to discover the exceptional white wine of Château Cheval Blanc: Le Petit Cheval blanc. Pierre-Olivier Clouet, technical director of Château Cheval Blanc since 2008, received me at the property. In June 2022, the owners of Château Cheval Blanc (the family of Albert Frère and Bernard Arnault) bought 11 hectares of Château la Tour du Pin Figeac with the aim of increasing white wine production. The château is located just opposite the entrance to Château Cheval Blanc. An exceptional opportunity. In 2006, Cheval Blanc bought 8 hectares of this same property which belonged to the Moueix family. Pierre-Olivier Clouet knows this terroir remarkably well, as he was technical director of Château La Tour du Pin and Quinault L’Enclos for two years.
Gerda: Tell us about you…
Pierre-Olivier Clouet: I would describe myself as an enthusiastic person, I sometimes have a little too much energy. Fortunately, I am well surrounded and supported by Arnaud de Laforcade (commercial and financial director), Nicolas Corporandy (vineyard manager) and Carole André (cellar master). We think a lot together.
At Cheval Blanc, we have over 200 years of winemaking history behind us. Despite this, we need to go further into the details. Thanks to our winery and our parcel-based approach, we can now be more precise, without forgetting to continually question ourselves.
As soon as I arrived at Cheval Blanc, I was lucky enough to be able to talk with Pierre Lurton. After 6-month engineering internship in 2004, I joined the Cheval Blanc team in 2006 to take care of the acquisition of Château La Tour du Pin Figeac (Moueix). Then, in 2008, I took over from Olivier Berrouet (now at Pétrus) as technical director. Young and of Norman origin, Pierre found that my atypical profile was advantageous for the estate.
In addition to my work at Château Cheval Blanc, I have had the pleasure of participating in a number of fascinating projects, including the experimental production of a dry white wine “from scratch”, with only 0.5 hectares of production, the first vintage being 2009. As we came to understand this new vineyard, and the spectacular evolution of white wines produced here, we decided to release the first vintage of our white, “Le Petit Cheval”, white, with the 2014 vintage. It has now become an essential vintage for us. From the beginning, it has been sold by our partners in La Place de Bordeaux, including Roland Coiffe & Associés.
Gerda: What are the main challenges you personally face, in the practice of your work?
Pierre-Olivier Clouet: The greatest challenge is to make an exceptional wine, reflecting the expression of the place where it was born. Beyond preserving our timeless style, which we must serve, our desire is to find living soils, increasingly fertile, and resilient, especially with regard to diseases and climate impact.
Gerda: Why doing white wines on a red wines terroir (so far)?
Pierre-Olivier Clouet: We don’t want to stay in a comfort zone. There is always a risk of complacency in these large properties which is very dangerous. We have to push ourselves to be creative and ask ourselves the question, “What is our identity?” and also “What if Cheval Blanc was white? This question opened our eyes. It was really enriching. We are lucky to have owners who are visionary and who give the necessary means to their ambitions. All of this stimulates us. It took several years to understand the interpretation of white at Cheval Blanc. Every time you make a mistake, you learn from it. Red wine is more forgiving because the tannins absorb the wood and the flavors open up over time. White wines are much more difficult. There is much more risk of oxidation and too much wood will remain. It’s a more demanding vinification. I can tell you that since we have been making white wine, I don’t sleep peacefully!
G: Do you have any models in terms of taste style when the product is born?
Pierre-Olivier Clouet: We make white wine with the software of a red wine winemaker. We look for concentration, density