On the eve of her departure from Rouge Tomate Chelsea, Loire Valley native and Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier talks with Jane Gladstone about economics, biodynamic chenin and her next steps.
Green Chartreuse from the Tarragona period, when the Chartreux were banned from France, and, if possible, one from the 1920s or 1930s. This is probably the most complex, exhilarating and delicious beverage one can encounter.
If you could change one thing about the wine world, what would it be?
I would have the world pay more attention to the economic, social and ecological possibilities and responsibilities. The organic and biodynamic movements should not be the marginal ones.
Emmanuel Verstraeten, in his farewell-from-Rouge Tomate letter to you, referred to a passionate conversation about Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner in economics, when he first met you 11 years ago. Can you share the gist of that conversation?
When I met Manu [Emmanuel] in our Paris office, I had no idea he had come to fire me: The director of the Paris office hired me as a corporate sommelier without letting him know, and he did not approve of it. But we started to chat and he asked me about the transition from philosophy to wine, and to the business of wine. He asked me if I knew Amartya Sen—which I did. I had read Development as Freedom and parts of Collective Choice and Social Welfare during my philosophy studies, and it led me to rethink my prejudices about economics—not as a mechanism that is structurally predetermined but as another way of thinking about how the economy affects social happiness and human goals—economy with a purpose. Manu happened to be an avid reader of Sen, and wanted to build his business inspired by his vision for an ethical business, positive freedom and individual capabilities. I have to say this is probably what saved me from being fired.
One of the many things I love about the wine list at Rouge Tomate is if there was an exceptional wine made in Georgia or Slovenia or Croatia you had it alongside the aged René Engel. But I also consider you an ambassador for your hometown of the Loire. What makes the Loire so important a wine region to you?
The Loire is just the wine lover’s paradise: every color, every style and every personality of wine, with a palpable history, a charm, freshness and elegance. The region offers a fantastic diversity of wines, at every price point, to drink now or to cellar for decades. And visiting, you will more certainly be welcomed by the person farming and making the wines. The landscapes are beautiful, the gastronomy unique. And because of the price of the land, there is an extraordinary dynamic of new producers, making the area a center for forward-thinking farming and winemaking.
Is there a wine you never had that you would really like to have?
I am lucky to have tried a lot of the wines I would consider benchmarks for me…but I would not say no to a glass of Romanée-Conti made from the time the vineyards were still pre-phylloxera.
Madonna, Jesus and Pascaline are all known simply by their first name. Hey, when you’re good, you’re good. You can kind of name your next job. So let’s brainstorm a bit. We’ve set up an email address where readers can submit ideas: email@example.com
Ha ha ha …. Obviously, with the examples you are naming, it can only be rock and save the world! My brain is definitely on fire, but I will take more wood to fan the flame! I know who I don’t want to work for or with: companies with no social nor ecological ethos. From that, everything is possible—being a buyer for the right global, forward-thinking organization for whom I would design a beverage program that can impact the way we drink and eat; writing books or producing documentaries to demystify yet illuminate the work of producing wine and food the right way, encouraging critical thinking; teaching and researching while collaborating with worldwide influencers from multiple fields; supporting wine events and organizing trips to wine regions.
Might you try your hand at making wine?
I am doing a collaboration with winemaker Nathan Kendall: chëpìka, a wine project to rediscover the potential of organically grown native grapes and sparkling wines in [New York’s] Finger Lakes, inspired by the original wine history of the region (chëpìka means “root” in the Delaware [native American] language). We did two pét-nats in 2016, a 100 percent delaware and a 100 percent catawba, both certified organic, with zero free sulfur and 15 parts per million total [sulfur], with spontaneous fermentation. Barely ten percent abv and really quaffable.
What is your idea of happiness?
When you are not preoccupied—always thinking about what is next, what is not here, what could have been done—and you are fully living the moment.