François and Odile Pinon, 2015 (Photo: Isaac Rosenthal / @ikesite)

François Pinon, A Dear Friend, Has Passed Away.


François Pinon took over the family estate in Vallée de Cousse, Vouvray, from his father Claude in 1987, and over the past 33 years has transformed it into one of the finest domaines in the Loire. More importantly, François was a deeply intelligent, kind, humorous and generous man who offered the kind of friendship that makes life worth living to many of those who knew him.

The Pinon family has made wine in Vallée de Cousse for many generations. François' grandfather, Camile, expanded the domaine, planted more vines and was the first to bottle his own wine (selling it at fairs alongside the Foreau family). He was still alive when we visited the estate in 1981!  Francois' father, Claude,  took over from Camille, selling the wine under the name of Domaine des Douveliers. "When I was 20 years old" said François, "I wasn't ready to work with my father. It was petty teenager stuff. And though we never worked together, I was always able to stay on good terms with him." François left the estate to obtain an advanced degree in psychology and was enjoying a successful career in Tours. "When my father retired, I took over the estate. I was 35 at the time. It was a point in my life where I wanted to start over, to fully invest myself in something new.  The year I took over, we worked together so he could show me everything, but after that I was on my own. If I had any questions he would gladly answer them, but it was up to me to get the work done."

Last day of harvest 1930. Léa and Camille Pinon in the center

From Chris Kissack's fine profile in " When François Pinon accepted his new role, he came with a determination not to make any old Vouvray, a wine that would pay the bills and nothing more. He wanted to make something special, and if that meant doing things the hard way, then so be it. He started out with 13.5 hectares of vines inherited from grandfather and father; these were planted in a multitude of different plots around the Vallée de Cousse, and a number of these parcels were blessed with very old vines. The most significant development under François’ direction has been a conversion to organic viticulture." 

Photo: Isaac Rosenthal / @ikesite









"I've always worked this way, said Francois " but it came to a point where I felt it was time to make the work clear to the consumer. This way, it confirms what I do and avoids confusion or doubt. It's simple: if you voluntarily use chemicals in your vineyards, you might be making your work easier, but you're polluting the ground, water and the air. I see guys in the vineyard wearing space suits to protect themselves from the chemicals they're spraying on their own land.  Yet they'd still sell you their wine and continue to harm the planet. It's hypocritical nonsense."

François was blessed with two great vintages in 1989 and 1990, and made superb sweet Vouvrays that are drinking beautifuly today. By the time 1996 came around, François had made great progress - all of his wines in this excellent vintage were simply sensational. And during this time Francois' wife Odile gave birth to two daughters, Suzanne and Lucille and a son, Julien, who has been gradually taking over the estate.

Francois in "Les Deronnieres"

Like many great produceers of Chenin Blanc, Francois felt that Demi-Sec or Moelleux wines were the best expression of the grape - "the Chenin's acidity and the residual sugars work harmoniously." For many years the estate's main cuvee was labeled simply "Tradition" and was normally a demi-sec at around 18 - 22 grams/liter RS. While the bedrock in the vineyards is all soft limestone (Lower Turonian) the topsoils vary: 37% are clay, 26% are clay with a layer of black silex and 37% are clay with sand. As these terroirs bring different character to the wines, in 2007 Francois started to bottle according to soil type, first with "Silex," then in 2010, "Silex Noir" and "Trois Argiles," and finally bottling a separate wine from his best première côte parcel  on clay "Les Deronnieres" (Sec or Demi-Sec depending on the vintage). Of course François delighted in the sweet wines, producing a superb range including Moelleux, Moelleux 1er Trie, Botrytis and  Goutte D'Or depending on the vintage.  And although many Vouvray producers make their living on a large quantity of sparkling wine from young vines, François' Brut and Brut Non-Dosé are serious wines from older vines (perhaps benefiting from the slightly cooler temperatures in Vallée de Cousse than in Vouvray) which show complex, dense fruit, great expression of terroir and which age beautifully. I remember a group of Americans huddled around a fire in the cellar entrance as François poured a 1976! What a revelation - a great wine, with great character compared to a wimpy old Champagne...










François' wines were first imported into New York by Louis/Dressner Selections in the 1987 or 1988 vintage -  in the 1990s the wines were distributed to other states and François began making yearly visits to the US with Louis/Dressner winemakers for tastings with distributors and consumers. He obviously enjoyed the contact and camaraderie with this wonderful group of vignerons and he became friends with many wine-lovers all over the country. François and Odile would in turn welcome groups of Americans into their home for dinners and tastings that were incredibly gracious and convivial - one particularly stands out that included a flight of his father's dry wines from the 1950s! And he was enormously well-liked and respected in France, receiving many accolades in the French press and enjoying friendships with Noel Pinguet and Jean-Bernard Berthomé of Domaine Huet, Vincent Carême and many others.

Photo: Isaac Rosenthal / @ikesite
With Julien...  (Photo P. Lepeltier)















Of course we will remember François as we enjoy his wines over the years to come, but we won't need the wine to remember his honesty, his warmth, his modesty, his laugh, his keen intelligence, his sense of humor - which could be refreshingly childish at times, and his careful and serious explanations of his work. Not one to be critical of others, but a staunch advocate for Vouvray, I remember a funny moment about ten years ago when I asked him what he thought of the Baudry's Chinon (Chenin) Blanc. With a straight face and a twinkle in his eye he said "They make very good red wine!" Happily these qualities have been passed on to Julien, who took over the direction of the estate in 2018, an extremely capable young man who will continue the great work of his father as he makes his own mark on this wonderful domain.

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                                                            We love you, François Pinon!