Your scribe is a long time admirer and close friend of May de Lencquesaing. She took over the controlling reins in July 1978 of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac a Deuxieme Cru Bordeaux Official Classification of 1855. May’s conscientious management and hands-on dedication to quality wines resulted in super-second status for this property for nearly 30 years when sold in 2007 to Louis Roederer. What a brilliant run of vintages in the eighties from 1981 to 1989! Historic full round 1982 “was an easy hot ripe year” but classic 1983 “a constant battle” requiring her to miss an August vacation to be on site avoiding rot from the rains and protecting the vines from the red spider to achieve that fantastic “clean intensity”. May just celebrated her 95th birthday on May 17, 2020 in Stellenbosch South Africa at her Glenelly Estate producing excellent Bordeaux-style red blends led by flagship Lady May. Such fond memories of being with her at Pichon enjoying her 70th & 80th birthday celebrations. Thought it would be fun to get together on line with some of her longtime wine friends on June 10 to salute her valuable contributions plus relive so many exciting nostalgic memories. Nine hour time differences meant starting 10 am in Vancouver and 7 pm in South Africa with other participating zones in between. May showed up brightly on screen using brand new Zoom tech for the first time with her usual vibrant knowledgeable contributions to the event. We discussed many vintages including her first one 1978 where she “didn’t know yet how to control the vine selection but even though it is not a big wine still remains fresh vibrant with the aromatic quality of elegance & charm that is so very Pichon”. Delicious 1985, long aging structured 1986, bad beginning + good ending 1988 (weather similar to 1978) tannins late harvest, 1989 early pick September 11. Some pre-May vintages also intriguing with underrated 1975 (some coulure issues on the merlot) finally resolving those firm tannins and exquisite 1953 Nicolas bottling still elegantly singing with such a long finish. Memories of enjoying in Vancouver with May back in November 1986 both the 1962 & 1953 in unique Marie-Jeanne format (a three bottle size of 2.25 liters) now discontinued. At that time May compared “owning a vineyard is like owning a racehorse requiring high maintenance”. Asked her whether she still had this same opinion now at Glenelly. May replied “owners in South Africa are realizing the potential is there to make wines of very high quality”. There the Bordeaux grapes ripen at quite different times extending “picking over a longer 6-8 week period – less quickly than at Pichon – but though the problems are different the issues are similar with big challenges presented to produce the very top wine.”
On June 5 on Vinous Live the Pichon manager Nicolas Glumineau did a delightful presentation on their current releases. Since 2012 they have been replanting the vineyard at about 3 hectares every year increasing from roughly 50% cabernet sauvignon to 70% and reducing the merlot from 40 to 25. Your scribe asked him why they now were using less petit verdot in the blend. Though they used that elegant flavour enhancer of 6% petit verdot in the 2014 they are tending away from it as he “can’t quite understand it as a fragile variety” and prefers instead the use of more cab franc in the mix. Nicolas feels these changes will provide “more backbone to Pichon and deliver more of a Pauillac styled wine.”
We liked thinking back with May to that amazing retrospective tasting over 2 days in Los Angeles mid-November 1987 trying 1986 back to 1875 with a star flight the second one on the second day of 86, 85, 84, 83, 82, 81, 80, and 79 that prompted Harry Waugh to say “it was best of all flights”. All those were wines made by May! Riedel supplied for the very first time all the Bordeaux glasses for this tasting specially embossed on the base with “LOS ANGELES 14.-15. 11.1987”. What a keepsake! Pleased to report that May is well and thriving as a continuing wine legend. Look forward to a virtual tasting of Glenelly vintages with her this Fall. Check out her old style Pichon wines and her new exciting venture as well.You might also like:
Wow ! The Grand Dame is still with us. I had the pleaseure of meeting her several times when the top chateaux came to Los Angles back in the late 80’s (?) Well, we always say that red wine keeps one fit.