Abbaye de Pierredon
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Simona - Winemaker
Date of publication 1 February 2023

Abbaye de Pierredon

Reading time 10 minutes

Our vigneron is unlike any other: he may taste the wine but not drink it.

Lorenzo Pellicioli, the Italian top manager, is now an equally visionary wine owner: he has chosen a Muslim for the most important role in his winery.


Simona and I are driving along the D78, one of the most scenic roads in all Provence, when I call Lorenzo and warn him that I will be arriving somewhat earlier than agreed. His reply is already a greeting: a warm, verbal handshake. “Don't worry, I'm here waiting for you. But make sure you keep to track on the left.”

Abbaye de Pierredon - Arrival

We enter the Alpilles, the small mountain range rising between the Durance valley and the plain of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the chassis of the jeep squeaking and screeching in continual protest.
Leaving the main road, we take the track running alongside the Gaudre de Malaga, the mountain stream running through Department of the Bouches du Rhône, crossing a canyon hundreds of metres deep and snaking around a series of bends.

I drive slowly for some 3 km, the track now flanked by gigantic rocks towering over lush almond groves lashed by the wind. In the heart of the 650-hectare estate, after passing a majestic lavender field, the Abbey of Saint-Marie de Pierredon, from which the estate takes its name, looms up before us.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Lavender
Abbaye de Pierredon - Lavender

The view is cinematic. 

The all-encompassing set recalling that of 'A Good Year', the film based on the novel of the same name by Peter Mayle.

The atmosphere seems to stage the descriptions of the Provençal writer Jean Giono who, himself a tireless walker, dedicated the most beautiful pages of his bucolic fiction to the land of his birth.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Park

Nestling amidst olive and fruit trees that welcome and muffle birdsong, the Abbey is a jewel hidden away from the world. Contemporary sculptures, scattered here and there around the estate, keep watch like sentries over the vineyards. Centuries-old plane trees line the driveway: their foliage enticing you to lie down in the shade below and turn off every 21st century gadget to reconnect with nature.

It is here that Lorenzo Pellicioli awaits us. Wearing green trousers and a white shirt, made solely of linen, he exudes an indiscreet, and for that very reason, charming gentility. 

Abbaye de Pierredon - Lorenzo Pellicioli

"It all began with the chapel of the church of Sainte Marie de Pierredon, here in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence," he tells us, pointing to the walls behind him. "It was built in 1100 and donated in 1205 to the coenobite monks of the Monastic Order of Chalais who then founded the monastery and abbey.”

Abandoned by the monks in the 1300s, the Abby was to change hands multiple times. Surviving unscathed the wrecking fury of the French Revolution, it was once again abandoned at length, before returning to being sold and resold in the 1800s.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Abbey
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Park
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Estate

We stroll around the grounds, exploring hidden nooks and crannies that look for all the world as if they’ve come straight out of a Cezanne paining. As we do so, we are chorused by birdsong, the splashing of fountains and the sonorous buzzing of bees; a sound so loud we can only imagine the very fattest of bees at work. After all, there is no shortage of honey here: its scent is everywhere, alongside that of lavender and rosemary. This place is a pure concentrate of Provence.

Simona moves in silence as if intoxicated by everything around her. A colonnade in the large courtyard, a pool surrounded by centuries-old chestnut trees, three fountains and a swimming pool surrounded by trellises festooned with roses and old vines. It takes a phrase from Lorenzo to recall her attention: 

You have the same expression as Charlotte* when she asked us to lay on the estate for her wedding.


Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Park
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Park
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Park
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Park
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Simona
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Simona
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Park
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Park

Lorenzo goes on to recount. Indeed, the best is about to come.

Passing from one owner to another, eventually the Abbey was purchased by a painter. A man straight out a novel: a gigolo before the war, he frequented Picasso and became the lover of one of the Guinness heirs.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Simona - Lorenzo
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Simona - Lorenzo
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Simona - Lorenzo

We fall silent. Three pieces of information and we are already stunned.
"During the war, however, it seems he was part of the Resistance and that where we stand now some Nazis were tortured; and perhaps, who knows, he even had a hand in it? Then, in 1951, he returned, purchased the property and came to live here."
Things don't end there, though.

Having dramatically lost his only son from his second marriage, he decided to adopt his wife's cousin, who helped him prepare the colours for his works. It was from him that we purchased the estate. He was the last non-automated lighthouse keeper in France, on the island of Bréhat. When my wife and I arrived here for the first time, we found him lounging on a deckchair surrounded by thirty peacocks keeping watch."

I interrupt him because, although he is the narrator, it is I who has to catch my breath. His way of narrating and engaging us is enviable. 

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Lorenzo Pellicioli

But who is Lorenzo Pellicioli?

‘The man who knew how to speak to drawing rooms’: that was the headline of La Repubblica newspaper in a 2011 article dedicated to this man who shaped the recent history of Italian finance.
There are few interviews about him (in his fifty-year career he has always opted for a British low-key profile) and even fewer rumours or gossip.
One thing, however, is certain: the signature feature of his whole life has been rising to challenges, both inside and outside companies, which explains why today this top manager is an equally enterprising and visionary winemaker.

The honey-coloured stone walls of this Provençal oasis seduced him and his wife in 2001.

There was not a single vine stock on site at the time. Starting from scratch was a bold gamble, won quickly and, what is more, with organic farming.

In 2005, the first Sauvignon and Merlot vines were planted, while in 2010 saw the arrival of the man whom Lorenzo calls the most singular of vignerons: Badigh Maaz.
"Badigh is of Tunisian origin and is Muslim. Religion dictates that he may taste wine but cannot drink it. Without him, and perhaps without this peculiar characteristic that makes him different from any other vigneron, we would not make such good wine here.

I will shortly have the chance to see Badigh at work and to say that I will be impressed is a supreme understatement.
For now, though, we float suspended in the garden. The baking sun beats down on our backs and the lizards warm themselves idly on the stones. These are blissful hours we indulge ourselves among the wildflower paths, increasingly intoxicated by the scents of mint and sage, rosemary and fennel. 

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Simona - Lorenzo

Lorenzo goes on with his story as we wander around, marvelling at all that has been achieved here. The 650 hectares surrounding the Abbey are a wild expanse of woods and olive groves, but it is the vineyard that is truly extraordinary.

We walk along a gravel track dotted with signposts indicating the direction to our destination. By this I mean the winery: the perfect fusion of the romanticism of the Provençal countryside and Lorenzo's entrepreneurial vision. Walls as white as chalk dust blend with the pastel colours of the doors and shutters, while inside, wood and cement preserve the rooms where the wine rests. 

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Estate
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Barrels
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Barrels
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Barrels

It is here that we finally meet Badigh. I immediately adore his approach and forthrightness, “Let's make one thing clear from the start: from the grapes to the wine, everything here is done in an artisanal way. Our farming is organic, we only apply plant-based infusions to the vines following the lunar calendar."

He goes on to explain that these are not the great terroirs of Bordeaux or Burgundy and that working against heat, limestone soil, wind and drought is a constant challenge. On the other hand, though, the strong mistral wind comes to the rescue here, protecting the vineyards from most diseases. 

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Vigneron - Lorenzo

And here we are at the long awaited moment: the showcasing of the vigneron's talent, tasting without drinking. An initial olfactory evaluation, a small sip, a pause for a few moments in the mouth, a slight movement to allow the wine to reach the middle of the throat, and then out, discarded as if it were poison. The process takes place several times, one for every label in the cellar, each more evocative than the last.
I strive to divert my attention from the ritual and focus on the wines. Eventually I arrive at my selection: my fantastic four from Abbaye de Pierredon.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Tasting
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Tasting
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Tasting
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Tasting

The first is Luna Plena, an all-round superlative white. Produced in a very limited series, it is extremely fresh and has an unusual density that leaves a hint of lemon on the palate. On a hot day like today, it is a real panacea.

Initium is a marvel of a red wine that takes me back to the paths I have just tread. With my eyes closed, I am surprised by a gust of Mediterranean vegetation: it is the garrigue, with its typical aromas of thyme and rosemary, to which a hint of cocoa is added. The palate is fresh and mentholated. The aromas of fine wood are persistent. 

Estravaganza is a rosé of very limited production. The name it bears speaks volumes about why it came into being: it is 'an owner's folly' that comes from a Rolle-Grenache blend with a perfect 50-50 balance. I taste it for myself and can't help but wonder: what would life be if we didn't indulge in a little madness now and then? 

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Vespro
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Vespro

Fourth and last, but first in my own personal ranking, is Vespro. If it wins my respect and sympathy more than the others, it is because it is a "conjurer" of a wine in that it presents itself under false pretences. At first it is fresh and perfumed, but mere moments later it unleashes its power with Syrah pepper and surprises us with a lingering persistence and roundness. A restless and stunning wine that is nothing less than a great Bordeaux.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Simona

The fantastic four of Abbaye de Pierredon are Luna Plena, Initium, Estravaganza and Vespro, the winery's astounding conjurer. Let it amaze you too, go to the archive.

The results of Vespro and the other labels are unequivocal and not only for me. 

In 2019, at the Vignerons Indépendants competition, the estate won a number of gold and silver medals, and Badigh is optimistic for the years to come: "The vines are getting older, and this can only bolster their quality."

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Gunter - Simona - Lorenzo

As we leave the estate I turn my gaze to the mountain ridge.
On its summit stands ‘Luce, luce, luce’: Claudio Parmiggiani's staircase, which Lorenzo had mentioned to us in his office a short while earlier. "Parmiggiani has sculpturally represented something we perceive every day: the spirituality of this place, something that is above and beyond the house, the garden, the vines, something that has been in Pierredon long before us and will continue to be there long after us." This artwork, that is both physical and metaphysical, rises from the earth towards the sky in a mock precarious balance, as if to indicate the direction to follow and the need to impose no limits despite adversity.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence
Lucio Rossi, Foto R.C.R. Parma
Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence

The sun slowly sets like liquid gold dipping below the horizon. The surrounding hills turn from amber to deep purple as we drive the jeep back towards Beaucaire.
Lavender surrounds us. Lavender as far as the eye can see. Lavender from here to infinity. We cannot miss the opportunity to stop at what many computers use, not surprisingly, as a screensaver. Hypnotic and relaxing, this backdrop does not confine us but sets us free to think and dream.

Abbaye de Pierredon - Provence - Lavender

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