Sunday, March 29, 2009

Winemaker Pascal Madevon becomes a Canadian

Photo of Pascal Madevon courtesy of Vincor

Chalk up another win for the Okanagan wine region: Pascal Madevon, the winemaker for Osoyoos Larose, is about to become a Canadian citizen.

Born in Paris in 1963, Pascal arrived in the Okanagan just days before the 2001 vintage, the first at the Osoyoos Larose vintage. Astonished at the quality of the grapes, hardly something he expected, he soon decided he was not going back to Bordeaux to make wine. He moved his family here in the summer of 2002.

It is a profound validation of the Okanagan when an experienced French winemaker prefers to make his career in the Okanagan.

It is even more telling how many other top winemakers have settled in the Okanagan and not in the regions where they started. For example: Tom DiBello, CedarCreek’s California-trained winemaker, says there is no other place in the world where he would rather make wine.

Pascal had an urban upbringing and studied mathematics in high school before enrolling in winemaking studies at the University of Bordeaux. At the time, he had never even been on a tractor.

“I like to be outside, I like nature,” says Pascal, who spends more time in his vineyard than in the winery. “That’s why I chose agriculture. And I chose wine because my grandfather had a very small vineyard in Burgundy, in Aloxe-Corton.”

He got diplomas in both viticulture and enology because he believes a winemaker needs both skills. “I wanted to know everything about wine,” he says.

Eleven years of his winemaking career in France was spent at Château La Tour-Blanche, a cru bourgeois of Médoc. In addition to making wine, Pascal wrote two wine books, one of which has gone through several editions and sold 25,000 copies.

He was managing Château La Tour-Carnet, a fourth growth, when he was recruited for the Okanagan by Groupe Taillan, the joint venture partner with Vincor Canada in the Osoyoos Larose project.

Groupe Taillan has several top Bordeaux estates, including Château Ferriere of Margaux, Château Chasse-Spleen, Château Citran and Château Gruaud Larose. The latter inspired half of the Okanagan winery’s name; the other half comes from the town of Osoyoos, a short distance from the vineyard.

Pascal continues to be in awe of how well the Bordeaux varietals grow in the south Okanagan’s dry and healthy climate. He was alerted to this in the first vintage when, a few weeks after harvest, he found a bucket of grapes that had been forgotten in the vineyard. Due to the dry climate, the grapes had barely deteriorated. If the same thing had happen in Bordeaux, where rain often occurs late in the season, the grapes would have been rotten.

The other appeal of the Okanagan, Pascal says, was the egalitarian spirit compared with the hierarchical social structure in France. Here, he has had good friends among his cellar and vineyard workers as well as among his winemaking peers and his employers.

“In France,” Pascal once told me, “it is impossible that a manager would have a friend who is a worker.”

In the style of a French château, Osoyoos Larose has only two wines (both reds). Le Grand Vin is the flagship. The wines remaining when that blend has been assembled go into a second label, Pétales d’Osoyoos.

The style of these wines is reminiscent of Bordeaux reds – but don’t try telling that to Pascal. “It is first an Okanagan wine,” he bristles.

Our gain is Bordeaux’s loss.


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