Jo Pithon, a trailblazing vintner in the Loire Valley’s Anjou appellation, has sold his Pithon-Paillé wine company, including 22 acres of vineyards and a négociant business, to French businessman Ivan Massonnat. Included in the deal, slated to close Aug. 30, is the jewel of Pithon’s holdings, the nearly 7-acre Coteau des Treilles vineyard. The purchase price has not been disclosed.
With retirement approaching and without a successor, Pithon and his wife, Isabelle, were looking for a buyer who would continue their life’s work and philosophy. Massonnat, a partner at PAI Partners, one of the largest private-equity firms in Europe, is a minority investor in Burgundy producers Thibault Liger-Belair and Philippe Pacalet and was looking for a winery to purchase. As Massonnat explained to Wine Spectator, he and Pithon met at a wine show in Angers, where the two hit it off, sharing similar interests in organic and biodynamic farming and the style of wines they prefer.
Born into a winemaking family in Anjou, Pithon’s career as a vintner began in 1978 when he established his domaine. Pithon has significantly contributed to the recognition of the dry white wines of the Loire Valley as well as the lesser-known Anjou appellation by producing high-quality dry Chenin Blanc from the area, which was known chiefly for sweet wines. He also promoted organic farming, indigenous yeast strains and refraining from chaptalization or acidification, as well as the Burgundian approach of single-plot selections and barrel aging.
The Pithons resurrected Coteau des Treilles, a steep vineyard in Beaulieu-Sur-Layon that had been abandoned during World War II as farmers adopted tractors that could not handle the grade, gradually buying all 70 parcels from 25 different owners and uniting the vineyard under a single owner, rare in the area. They replanted it in 2000. Pithon-Paillé produced about 2,500 cases a year of domaine wines, and another 2,500 to 4,100 cases of négociant wines.
While Massonnat had previously invested in Burgundy, he decided to buy in the Loire Valley because he has owned a country house near the Chinon commune for a decade and has developed a passion for the region’s wines. “This is one of the best terroirs, especially as the region benefits from climate change,” Massonnat told Wine Spectator. He added that, financially, “[the] Loire also made a lot of sense, as it’s one of the last frontiers in France, where you can find great deals, given the modest popularity the region enjoys compared to the rest of the country.”
Massonnat plans to create a new domaine, yet to be named, which will focus primarily on dry Chenin Blanc, but also what Massonnat calls “drinkable” sweet wines. Along with Coteau des Treilles, he acquired the Pithons' other vineyard holdings, including smaller plots in Savennières, Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon.
In addition to Pithon’s 22 acres, Massonnat has recently acquired nearly 25 additional acres in the Quarts de Chaume grand cru and Coteaux du Layon Premier Cru Chaume appellations, top sources for sweet Chenin Blanc, from Domaine Laffourcade. “I have a mosaic of soils now, and would like to express that through a single variety, Chenin Blanc,” said Massonnat.
The Pithon-Paillé brand will become the source of the négoce wines, including all the non-Chenin Blanc wines Pithon currently makes, such as Mozaïk (made from Cabernet Franc) and Grololo (Grolleau).
According to Massonnat, Pithon will stay on as winemaker for several years to ensure a smooth transition as Massonnat brings on a new winemaker. “I’m on a patient journey to make Chenin Blanc popular and Coteau des Treilles famous globally,” said Massonnat. His dream is to establish his new estate over the next 10 to 20 years as one of the reference domaines for Chenin Blanc.
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