Inside La Place – An enthusiastic and dynamic person

Pierre-Olivier Clouet

Technical Director

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, weight in the mouth. Its balance comes from its contact with the solid. The quality of the lees is also very important for white wine, which is why we do a lot of work on the lees.

We use vigor-based viticulture. We let the plant develop with intensity, for example by letting the leaves protect the grapes. A Sauvignon Blanc that is burnt gives a taste of grapefruit or that famous “cat’s pee”. Consistency of water is also essential to make great whites, so we pay a lot of attention to the soil work.

We pick very early because we prefer vegetal grapes: fresh but not green and certainly not flabby. The palate must be taut and creamy. In 2020, for example, we picked on 19 August before the heat wave that arrived at the end of the month and beginning of September. The harvest date is crucial to keep the Petit Cheval Blanc style we want to produce. 2020 vintage is really fantastic for me.

G: The impact of agroforestry?

Pierre-Olivier Clouet: In 2020 we started our massive planting. We made the choice to bring back biodiversity in our vineyard. The vine is a beautiful plant, but it is a monoculture. We are convinced that thanks to biodiversity we will gain in soil fertility, and that it will then be able to regenerate itself and we will therefore have fewer diseases. We must move away from fertilization to ‘self-fertilization’ by reconstituting the natural soil cycle.

G: After years of pulling out whites, there is a return to great whites (also in Sauternes). How do you see this trend? 

Pierre-Olivier Clouet: It’s a trend that I think is great. I remember very well what Jean-Claude Berrouet (former director of Pétrus) told me: “In 1964 (Jean-Claude’s first vintage at Pétrus), there were more white grape varieties than red grape varieties planted in Bordeaux”. Today, we have an immense potential to make great whites in Bordeaux thanks to the “agricultural” revolution in viticulture. There is no filter between the terroir and the white wine. We have a real challenge with our gravel and clay soil. Our salvation is our viticulture practice: soil management, harvest time, pressing… It is an agronomic practice based on knowledge and common sense, not on technology.

G: Could you describe an exceptional white wine?

Pierre-Olivier Clouet: It is a wine with a real identity and great complexity. It’s a challenge to make a great white with sauvignon blanc on our terroir. A great Sauvignon Blanc must have depth, a certain bitterness, and not heaviness. This is “elegant power”.

G: Could you give me a few words about the harvest of your whites in 2022?

Pierre-Olivier Clouet: We harvested on the 18th, 19th and 20th of August 2022 very early in the morning to keep the freshness and the vegetal aspect I mentioned before. All the grapes went into a cold room. We vinified in demi-muids (600 litres), in foudres (15 litres) and in wooden vats of 15, 20, 25 and 30 hectolitres. We did not use barrels to have a better wood-wine ratio. The first tastings show no heaviness or oxidative signs at all. We plan to age this promising wine for 2 winters on lees.

GWhat will be the quantity evolution, now that you have bought the remaining 11 hectares of Château Tour du Pin Figeac? 

Pierre-Olivier Clouet: For the 8 hectares we bought in 2006, we planted 6.5 hectares in white and 1 hectare remained in red. For our new acquisition (which rebuilds the historic vineyard of La Tour du Pin), we will need time to decide. We think that a large part of this area will be dedicated to whites. So yes, the production of Petit Cheval white will increase in the future.

Gerda BEZIADE has an incredible passion for wine, and has a perfect knowledge of Bordeaux acquired within prestigious wine merchants for 25 years. Gerda joins Roland Coiffe & Associés to bring you, through “Inside La PLACE“, more information about the estate we sell.