In the mid-1950s, an Italian bricklayer from Piedmont named Modesto Ramognino invested in the Pibarnon hill to cultivate 3.5 hectares of Mourvèdre on the slopes. The location was superb but isolated and very dry, without water or electricity. Driven by an overwhelming strength - compensating for a lack of technique - he nonetheless produced a wine that akin to the great Italian Barolos with its crispness and elegance.
In 1977, after extensive research in several vineyards across France, Catherine and Henri de Saint Victor arrived in Bandol with the secret hope of acquiring a Domaine. While having lunch in a small restaurant on the Port, they discovered the 1975 Château de Pibarnon Red. It was love at first taste for this great wine. Gathering information and without wasting a moment, Henri and Catherine de Saint Victor set off to visit the property.
Modesto Ramognino’s successor welcomes them. Luckily, he makes them understand that life is very tough in Pibarnon, maybe even too tough... The cellar and the house still operate with wells, without running water, the terroir is very rocky, and the environment is harsh. But the beauty of the site, at an altitude of 300 metres, overlooking the scrubland and the Mediterranean, combined with the wine they tasted, convinced Catherine and Henri de Saint Victor to utter the words that led them to embark on a different life: "We are interested in buying..."
They then acquired Pibarnon in December 1977, 16 hectares in one go, clinging between the sky and the earth, including 3.5 hectares of planted vines.
In 1975, at the age of 51, Henri de Saint Victor, gave up his responsibilities in a pharmaceutical research laboratory to embark upon developing Pibarnon. He was no stranger to starting from scratch - in his previous profession he regularly filed patents, thus starting afresh with each new discovery.
Starting from scratch did not put this man off - indeed, in his previous profession he regularly filed patents, thus starting afresh over and over again with each new discovery. He had no knowledge of winemaking or viticulture, but he knew how to taste.
Regardless of the lack of agricultural workers, Henri became a tractor driver and took care of the vineyard. He immersed himself in his passion with the feary of a pioneer: clearing land, leveling it with bulldozers, moving tons of rocks, building terraces, and immediately planting 6 hectares of vines and then eventually reaching a total of 9.5 hectares. Henri took care of the winemaking himself and, together with his wife Catherine, approached nearby restaurants and wine merchants to build their clientele.
The house which was poorly laid out and uncomfortable, and the cellar which was too small, forced Catherine and Henri to rethink everything - they were unstoppable. They demolished the house and rebuilt a more decent bastide, better organised: a perfect replica of an 18th-century Provençal bastide. The cellar was completely redesigned with a modern gravity-fed winery - very innovative for the time! The task was huge, but Catherine and Henri took it on themselves, like builders from the Middle Ages. Only after 2 years did they start to rely on a young vineyard manager, and after 4 years, they appointed a cellar master!
Courage, determination, and an unwavering belief in the magic of the Pibarnon terroir gave Henri de Saint Victor the energy he needed to produce great wines. Catherine and Henri de Saint Victor made their first wine alone in 1978. As the years went by, the efforts made at Pibarnon by Catherine and Henri de Saint Victor, in both the vineyard and with the winemaking, did not go unnoticed by industry professionals.
Word starts to spread…
From the very beginning and throughout the ensuing years, great relationships were created with a few journalists, renowned sommeliers, and restaurateurs, and already with a few importers too. They were all ready to bet on the success of this venture - ready to introduce these Mourvèdre wines to their clientele, even pushing the sales.
In 1980, the time came to present the first wines at a prominent wine competition of the time: the “Concours Général Agricole” in Paris. And it was an instant success, achieving the Grand Slam with the 1978 vintage:
Gold Medal in Red and Rosé
Silver Medal in White
A total triumph for a first attempt.
For 6 consecutive years, from 1980 to 1985, for the vintages 1978-1979-1980-1981-1982 and 1983, the Pibarnon Red received the gold medal - a feat never before accomplished in the history of the competition.
During the 1980s and until the early 1990s, the Domaine gradually expanded. From 9.5 hectares, it grew to 15 hectares, and then to 20 hectares. Some sharecropping on the hillside also meant that the vineyard could develop. The vines aged and the produce became increasingly beautiful. Despite the expansion, Catherine and Henri didn’t have enough wine - the consequence of success being that demand outweighs supply. Whilst this meant that they could choose their retailers and importers carefully, consequently avoiding mass distribution, one cannot be at the helm of such a great Domaine without wanting to rise to the demand... Lo and behold, new vines and an amphitheatre vineyard would come to life!
After 10 years of earthworks, plantings, and relentless work, Pibarnon starts to gain momentum. Eric de Saint Victor, who completed his studies and undertook several internships in Bordeaux, joined his parents on the Domaine. He actively took part in the harvests, meticulously learning the art of winemaking from his father, starting with the 1989 vintage. The Red wine from that vintage would be classified the following year by the Slow Food Guide as one of the 150 best wines in the world.
A fantastic opportunity arose for the Domaine with the acquisition of 20 hectares of pine forest, uncultivated land, and a few vineyards in the magnificent amphitheatre in front of the cellar. A masterpiece created by Henri and Catherine, who shaped this terrain into terraces, extended the perspectives, and created their "Cirque d'Epidaure."
And so, the months of bulldozers, excavators, and even mines began again. Through their tireless search for treasure, they finally found it: the discovery of deep blue soils underground, which turned out to be blue marls from the Santonian period - the same ones found in the fabulous terroirs of Château Pétrus, Château d'Yquem, or Château Chalon. Luckily, obtaining planting rights was relatively easy at the time. In 1992, after two summers of work, the cirque was created and transformed into a vast amphitheatre facing both the southeast and the north and resembling an ancient Greek theater.
All the greatest winemakers will tell you… There are some exceptional years that stand out in the history of a domaine. For the second consecutive time, and this time for its 1990 vintage, Château de Pibarnon’s was ranked amongst the 150 best wines in the world by the Slow Food Guide 1992.
Evidently, the 1990 Pibarnon Red was a remarkable counterpoint, a passing shot that shook up convictions and began to establish itself as the great wine of the South, the "Lord of the French Riviera," as journalist Michel Smith wrote at the time. With its aromas of black fruits, its dense and captivating palate that extends with rich and opulent tannins, Château de Pibarnon took the lion's share in countless blind tastings. In 1990 the Domaine's reputation was elevated, it left a lasting legacy and etched itself into Bandol wine history.
Eric de Saint Victor wanted Pibarnon to take part in a major international tasting competition. In 1997, he decided to compete in the International Wine Challenge in London and entered the Château’s 1993 Red wine.
But what a surprise when he realised, whilst filling out the registration form, that Bandol is not listed in any of the categories… and neither is the Mourvèdre grape variety. Out of frustration, he ticked the "other" box and let fate take its course...
Two months later, his English importer informed him that Pibarnon had just won a trophy. Eric was not particularly impressed. A trophy, but no medal! What was the point of that? In fact when Pibarnon took part in its first International Wine Challenge, it had won one of the 10 Trophies of Excellence...
To welcome its guests, sommeliers, journalists, and importers in conditions befitting a great Domaine, Pibarnon established a reception hall called the Orangerie of Pibarnon.
This is the latest major project of the Domaine. The intention of this reception hall is that it should be used for private and professional events run by the Domaine. It was built in the same vein as the bastide. Opening out onto a spacious terrace and overlooking the vineyard amphitheatre and the azure blue of the Mediterranean, the Orangerie is a magical place, perfect for escaping.
After ten years at the Domaine, Eric de Saint Victor took over from his father and continued his parents' work with equal passion and dedication.
His knowledge of the vineyard and his progressive winemaking mastery enable him to guide the wines according to his palate, all the while remaining faithful to his father's wines. Eric learned from him how to get the terroir to express itself, with some gentle persuasion. The red wines gained in depth and finesse, the rosés’ elegance and refinement were heightened, and the whites, with their great aromatic purity, decidedly turned towards fine dining. With the new century and the new millennium, Pibarnon was honoured with being chosen for its 1990 Red, alongside the 1993 Château Simone and the 1994 Taittinger Comte de Champagne, to be served in Paris at a summit of European heads of state hosted by Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic.
The cellar team grew, expanded, and got organised. Creative and artisanal professionalism entered the Château. In 2008, Pibarnon engaged a Cellar Master - a young œnologist and graduate from the University of Dijon called Marie Laroze. Her experience in Burgundy enabled her to quickly and precisely get to work on the Domaine’s patchwork of vineyard plots (220 cultivation units).
Her experience with the Greats of Burgundy, as well as her four years of experience in Hungary, affirmed her talent and developed her entrepreneurial spirit. She contributed to creating an increasingly precise organisation in the cellar, guiding the wines towards finesse, length, and elegance. Her work, in tandem with Eric de Saint Victor, became tangible and propelled Pibarnon even further. The vertical tasting of the wines since her first vintage, the 2008, easily confirms this.
The 2005 vintage marked a turning point abroad, especially in the United States, where the American press hardly commented on Pibarnon wines that did not fit the trend of heavily oaked wines that were popular at the time. The Mourvèdre grape, the king of Bandol and Pibarnon, is also less well known there. But...
But like all talented artists who eventually have a breakthrough, the 2005 Red wine from Pibarnon was rated 95/100 by Wine Spectator in 2009.
This remarkable rating, given by one of the world's best tasters, meant that Château de Pibarnon was making a name for itself, then being mentioned numerous times in the Anglo-Saxon press.
2011 and 2013 mark the successive departures of Catherine and Henri de Saint Victor. In just two years, the Domaine finds itself orphaned by its two creators. Two true pioneers, tireless builders, creating at Pibarnon a present that was initially ungrateful, then a more civilised future, and even a past!
Indeed that was their genius: to have succeeded in creating an emblematic Domaine in a short period of time, while endowing it, in everyone's imagination, with a long and significant history...
The true magic of Henri and Catherine was only known to some, who certainly have in mind one of the many anecdotes they loved to share. Their personalities and temperaments made them extraordinary individuals. Excessive, yet subtle.
First in creation, then in longevity, blending tradition and modernity with beautiful whimsy and unwavering conviction.
Witnessing the wave of the new rosé trend in Provence, we decided to delve into the magic of wines in this colour with a pure Mourvèdre rosé, sourced from a dedicated plot.
Rosé has always held an important place in our production, as it pairs perfectly with Provençal cuisine. In 2014, we decided to create a new rosé, delving deeper into the magic of this colour. Pure Mourvèdre immediately stands out, and bold winemaking techniques and extended ageing (in large oak casks and sandstone jars) result in a delightful, deep, and flavourful wine. Initially, we patiently waited for over a year before offering it to sommeliers, but it turned out that it is even better two years later. Thus, Nuances was born, a great rosé for meals, with subsequent vintages already leaving a lasting impression, as they defy the traditional ideas one may have about this colour. We have here a rosé that sparks conversation, perfectly complementing dishes that lean towards the "terrestrial" rather than the "maritime."
The Head of Viticulture, Louis Audibert, left the Domaine to retire after 40 years of work on site after having planted dozens of hectares alongside Henri. Eric Schladenhaufen replaced him in January 2016.
Louis Audibert spent his entire career at the Domaine since 1978, when Pibarnon consisted of only 3.69 hectares... Nearly 40 years later, the Domaine had grown to over 50 hectares, all planted by Louis and his teams. Louis converted the Domaine to organic farming in 2006, although certification became necessary only after his departure. It was Eric Schladenhaufen who took on this task, while subtly bringing his own methods oriented towards the biodynamic movement. Above all, his observant spirit, his experiments, and his extreme precision, combined with excellent intuition, are all in perfect harmony with the immense work on plants and environmental aesthetics undertaken throughout the past decades
After three years of traceability and analysis undertaken by accredited organisations, Château de Pibarnon obtained its certification in Organic Agriculture. This was merely an administrative formality, as the conversion actually began much earlier, in 2004, and was completed in 2006. Louis and his team successfully and relatively easily transitioned their farming methods - particularly soil management and weed control - to achieve a respectful cultivation approach quickly. The certification requirements were fulfilled, and everything worked smoothly.
Four years after Eric Schladenhaufen's arrival, the 2016 Red from Château de Pibarnon entered the Wine Spectator's Top 100 list (December 2020). This recognition crowned all the tireless work undertaken and followed the earlier gold medals received.
There had never been a special cuvée at Pibarnon, as Henri de Saint Victor had always refused it. However, in 2012, the Bel Air plot offered such a distinctive personality and balance that we decided to isolate a few hundred Magnums to create our “Henri-Cath”. At the same time, our experiments with red wine vinification in terracotta jars resulted in the release of the Epidaure Cuvée after 6 years of ageing.
Bel Air is part of the historical plots of the Domaine. This small hectare, planted in the late 1950s by Modesto Ramognino, could represent the soul of Pibarnon. Always essential in the blend, Bel Air produces mysterious, ethereal, and dense wines. Founders Henri and Catherine passed away in 2012 and as a nod to them, Bel Air shone brightly that year, and we decided to extract 999 magnums from the blend to create a cuvée in their honour. A cuvée named Henri-Cath, with "Cath" being the affectionate nickname Henri gave to his wife Catherine. After patiently waiting in the cellar, we were delighted to release Henri-Cath 2012, once it reached its first peak, in the spring of 2022. Let’s hope that Bel Air (or another plot) will offer us more Henri-Cath cuvées in the future.
2022 also marks the release of the first vintage of the new cuvée, the 2016 Epidaure. Following the renewal of the large oak casks, which began in 2010, the increase in precision and purity was so evident that we were eager to explore so-called alternative containers. Hesitant about concrete, we opted for an Italian terracotta jar, with a capacity of only 9hl, or about 1000 bottles. This jar would be the sole vessel for the grapes and the wine until bottling. Researching the containers was associated with the selection of only one single plot of Mourvèdre, located in the vineyard's amphitheatre, hence its name “Epidaure”. Subsequent vintages such as 2017, 2018, 2019... would follow under the IGP Méditerranée designation.
"Pibarnon is a legacy. The legacy of trailblazers who left everything behind to settle on the top of this hill, to clear it, shape it, with incredible energy and with beginners’ success. The occasional discouragement, too, which never prevented them from getting back up again, carrying on, anchoring the emerging Domaine in both the present and the future, but also paradoxically in the past. Being part of such an adventure from the beginning inevitably shapes the spirit, taste, and character. Having the opportunity to continue this work by running it is as much a grace as it is a deep-rooted effort.
We are nothing without our great team. The team that brings the Domaine to life is enriched by their own experiences, as well as those acquired here. I like to think that everyone here enjoys a certain freedom of thought and action, which means that we always strive for the best: to be innovative and fully engaged. Because this profession is a craft and it requires knowledge, creativity, and transmission.
The trust built over the years of working together allows us to express, each in our own way, the excellence of the Domaine, in its most precious form: fine wines, honest and unadorned, where only the essential constitutes the elegance and personality of each of them."