C ult status in the world of wine collecting runs the gamut, with some wines coveted because of their consistent quality and others due to rarity. The most sought-after are an amalgam of the two. Le Pin in Bordeaux belongs in the latter group. Although it is not classified and it started almost as a garage winery only several decades ago, today the Pomerol estate commands prices even higher than those of Pétrus and First Growth Bordeaux wines.
Located at the heart of the Pomerol plateau, Le Pin takes its name after the lone pine tree standing at the property. The estate produces truly unicorn wines with its minuscule annual production of 400 to 600 cases from only 2.7 hectares (6.7 acres) of vineyards.
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Characteristics of Le Pin
Le Pin is made entirely with Merlot. While the vineyard has several vines of Cabernet Franc co-planted, those grapes are not used for the wine. The vines are about 35 years old, although older plants date back to the 1950s. Vineyards lay on clay soils, rich in iron, with layers of sand and gravel.
Le Pin is a more opulent, richer style of Bordeaux. It is aged entirely in new French oak barrels for 14 to 18 months, which gives it concentration and exotic spice notes. Owner Jacques Thienpont is quite strict when it comes to releasing the wine. Select lots are not deemed worthy of Le Pin and are declassified. Indeed, in a difficult vintage, no Le Pin will be produced.
The History of Le Pin
The pedigree of Le Pin is somewhat recent. The Loubie family first ran the property beginning with its inception in 1924, but they primarily sold grapes or blended them to produce unremarkable wine. It was not until 1979 that Le Pin as we know it today came to be. A dramatic shift happened when the Thienpont family (also involved with the well-known Pomerol house Vieux Château Certan) purchased one hectare (2.5 acres) of land.
Initially, the belief was that the grapes from the property would be for Vieux Château Certan, but that never made economic sense since the price of the land would increase the cost of the existing wine. Therefore, it had to be its own unique project.
Yet, the investments didn’t end with the initial purchase. The facilities and equipment were in poor shape when the Thienponts took over. The property required further backing, but it remained humble. Hence, the comparison to a garage winery is not far from the truth.
These modest beginnings shaped the house style in a way. Le Pin was one of the first Bordeaux wineries to complete malolactic fermentation in barrels. Namely, this happened because they didn’t have enough fermentation tanks, so they had to move the wine to barrels for completion.
The winery’s reputation grew significantly with the third vintage, the famed 1982, when Robert Parker praised the wine with many collectors following the advice. Because of the low quantities, the wine quickly became a rarity. Since then, its price has continued to reach new heights of unclassified Bordeaux.
Over the years, the size of the estate grew in small increments, and in 2012, Jacques Thienpont constructed a modernized château and cellar. Today, Jacques’ cousin, Alexandre Thienpont, who also manages Vieux Chateau Certan, overlooks the vineyard of Le Pin, while Jacques makes and sells the wine.