Interview with Pauline Lapierre Dietrich of Château Haut-Rian

Apr 03, 2020

by Jessica Rutter, Fine Wine Specialist

About 18 miles outside Bordeaux, France you’ll find Château Haut-Rian, a family-owned and operated winery founded by Michel and Isabelle Lapierre over 30 years ago.

I was curious to learn more about Château Haut-Rian and had the opportunity to interview the winery’s Chief Operating Officer Pauline Lapierre Dietrich, daughter of Michel and Isabelle.

Pauline grew up in a winery, helping her family in the vineyards and making wine, but this isn’t the only reason why you could say she was destined to take over the family business. In fact, both of Pauline’s parents are children of winemakers.

However, as a teenager, Pauline knew that she wanted to discover the world and travel so, at the age of 17, she left home to study finance in Paris and spent a few years working in corporate finance after graduating. Although she enjoyed her work, Pauline missed the countryside and working in her family’s vineyard. This prompted her to make a career change and go back to school for two years in Montpellier where she earned a degree in oenology. In 2017, Pauline returned to her family’s winery and spent another two years working with her father learning everything she could about the business before he retired.

chateau haut-rian vineyard
chateau haut-rian estate

Q: Can you explain in your own words the story of the winery or share some details that couldn’t be found on your website? 

The winery as it is today had only been as such for the past 30 years. My parents bought a cellar, some plots of vines around and a building which used to be a place to make barrels. So our history is quite recent.

The benefit from that? We have plots in five different villages with each village having its own terroir and sun exposure. It is a bit tricky to work (you need to drive a lot), but the richness that we get out of these five villages is definitely worth it. [Our name] Château Haut-Rian refers to the village where we live—Rions.

Q: Are there any wines that you’d consider more unique?  

You have in your portfolio two very special wines:

Sélection Parcellaire Les Acacias: This is a beautiful hill clay on limestone soil with old Sémillon (1970s, 50 years!), and we produce this 100% sémillon, which is completely unusual for Bordeaux on the lemon/citrus/freshness side of Sémillon.

Sélection Parcellaire Saint-Seurin: In the village of Rions, one plot that is very near our cellar, nice slope, southeast exposure, beautiful clay & sandy soils on limestone. We make a red Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon that is slightly spicy, with soft tannins and a good concentration.

Q: Are all of your wines made from estate-grown fruit? If not can you explain any long term contracts that you may have? 

100% ESTATE FRUIT. We never buy grapes; we grow our own grapes. To me, this is very important to understand as we are following some strict rules in the vineyard to be Terra Vitis (sustainable viticulture) certified. It is also a very important aspect for the quality of our wines. We need to know our soils and to know when to pick, how to blend, etc.

Q: Are your wines organic, biodynamic and/or vegan? 

Sustainable for 100% of our plots (80 hectares). We are certified for three different programs called Terra Vitis, Haute Valeur Environmental and Bee Friendly. Eleven hectares are certified organic.

Q: What clones are being used at Château Haut-Rian?

We are lucky enough to own very old vines that were planted before clonal selections (meaning massale selection). On one of these plots we are currently doing the work of massale selection to keep the genetic diversity we value so much (these old vines are less sensitive to powder mildew and deliver super nice grapes almost every vintage).

Q: What is your favorite vintage and why? 

2018 is my favorite vintage because it was our first vintage where we had this triple certification in the vineyard which was very rewarding. The start of the season was absolutely awful with rain and heavy mildew powder pressure and then on the 1st of July, all of a sudden, the sun started to shine for three months. Unbelievable and easy harvest!

Q: What are the types of soils in your vineyards, and how do they impact your wines? 

What is so different in our specific regions is the hilly side of it: having hills allows us to have plots on nice slopes so the water is never stuck, there is good natural drainage. The second thing is that the diversity of soils around here is impressive: sands, clay, loam, gravels. By adapting the plot with the grape variety, you can produce super nice reds and whites.

Q: What trellising systems do you use? Why do you prefer that system? 

We have 5,000 vines per hectare (rows of two meters, one meter between each vine). It is a density high enough to get structured and concentrated grapes and low enough to manage costs. (Last harvest the maximum yield allowed in my village was 54HL/ ha meaning 5400 liters produced per plot of 1 hectare.

Chateau Haut Rian team

Q: What is the long term plan for the winery regarding production levels, replanting, style of winemaking, consumer targets, etc. 

Year after year, we are converting more and more plots to organic farming. I don’t want to grow in terms of surface, but I want to focus on sustainable and organic farming in the next years. We are replanting every year one plot to increase the diversity of grapes (Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc recently planted).

Q: Are you experimenting with anything in the winery that you can share? 

We made our first red without any added Sulphur in 2019! This was my idea so I was a bit stressed and very concerned. Right now, it tastes great. Very pure and rich fruit–a treasure to me!

Q: What is your most memorable sales call or work with and why? 

Being in the US is always super rewarding for a French winemaker because people would taste right in front of you and say directly what they think, which is completely unusual for me. Last February, I was invited by the Bordeaux Wine Council to talk about white wines from Bordeaux, and I presented our 100% Sémillon fermented in barrels; it was great to see that people from the trade can be surprised and curious about these kinds of wines that are small and secret but worth the work!

Q: What makes your winery special? What is something that you want people to remember while drinking your wine? 

I would love them to remember they are actually selling a product Wine Warehouse buys directly from a small family-run farm. Why is it so important? Because our wines are not standard drinks. They are the reflection of specific soils that vary from one vintage to another. However, our objective is to deliver to you some bottles that are also reliable and good no matter the vintage at a fair price.

To me, everyone should be able to drink and eat good products, and Wine Warehouse–by sourcing directly from small and reliable producers is giving this opportunity to encourage sustainable viticulture and artisan wines. We are a total of eight people working [at Château Haut-Rian]; everyone in the company knows Wine Warehouse and is super proud to know that our wines are so popular in California!

Wine Warehouse Portfolio

Wine Warehouse was founded in 1973 by brothers Bob and Jim Myerson who wanted to share their enthusiasm for premium quality wine with the wine trade in Southern California. Today, the company is one of the largest distributors of alcoholic beverages in the United States with branches in Northern and Southern California covering the state. We are dedicated to offering a wide selection of wine, beer, spirits, non alcoholic beverages, and glassware to licensed retailers and restaurateurs in the California market.

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