The cellar boys

Text by Erwan Desplanques

The village

The cellar boys

The village

The cellar boys

They watch, in silence, like warrior monks of racking and fermentation.

The cellar boys

We call them “the cellars boys“. Despite appearing lighthearted, this nickname carries a lot of tenderness and respect. They’re always the “good guys.” The ones who roll the barrels, spinning them on their bases as if turning the steering wheel of a rudimentary yet extremely refined machine, storing them in this dimly-lit shrine where the wine rests and develops for no less than two years.

In the trade, other terms include “cellarmen,” “technicians,” or “wine merchants.” But Nicolas, Mathis, and Pablo don’t haggle, least of all over their time! Every day, they have a front-row seat to the miracle of alchemy, contributing to the process with every gesture, whether wood inspection, egg-white fining, racking, or filtering.During the harvest, they work tirelessly together to fill the vats, pressing the whites and extracting the reds. They work in smaller teams for the rest of the year, monitoring the barrels and casks in a cellar divided into two spaces, two processes. The barrels sit in precise rows in the half-light under the watchful eye of Olivier, the demanding cellar master, and Hervé, a fermentation expert and walking laboratory with a keen sense of detail. They each seem to have been hewn from the same wood, united by their dedication to wine maturation, the subtleties of vinification, and the mystery of the angels’ share.

They watch, in silence, like warrior monks of racking and fermentation
Nicolas Pescina — Cellar Technician

Nicolas, long distance in the blood. Here is someone who has mastered endurance and the passing of time. In 2023, Nicolas completed the Médoc marathon in 3 hours and 15 minutes, ranking 46th out of 9,400 runners. This is his best athletic performance to date, other than navigating his way between barrels on a daily basis for the past 16 years. Having arrived at Château Palmer in 2007, he is the oldest member of the team, the “memory of the cellar,” as Olivier likes to say. Imbued with a quiet strength, he loves nothing more than “good tiredness,” the one that comes with an abundant harvest.

Nicolas grew up in Soussans, just a couple of miles from the château, which he would look out for on his walks as a child (“as soon as we rounded the bend, I couldn’t take my eyes off it”). His father was a winegrower, and his mother worked for the national lottery company, La Française des Jeux. It seems that fate led him to this profession: after graduating high school with a science baccalaureate and studying biology at the University of Bordeaux, he helped out with the grape harvest. He then started working in the cellar for Château Palmer, and he has been there ever since. The atmosphere of the place suits his calm nature, and he enjoys the clear-cut, almost clinical beauty of the setting. He says that he sometimes feels like he is “working in a museum.” And every photo of his job that he posts on social media is a huge success, from floods of casks, pendulum-like tuns, and vats arranged like enormous organ pipes.

His favorite part is watching the wine’s transformation, from the bubbling must as the fermentation begins to the final bottling of the vintage. “It’s wonderful to see the initial murkiness fade and disappear with each racking, allowing the wine to emerge, clearer and clearer.” Routine checks of new barrels and the exhilarating peak of the harvest are all part of the endless observation required to preserve each vintage for almost two years…Whether running a marathon, inhaling the aromas of the grape pomace, or working his forearms – on which the date of birth of each member of his family is tattooed in Roman numerals – Nicolas understands the importance of the passage of time.

“It’s wonderful to see the wine emerge with each racking, clearer and clearer”
Nicolas — Cellar Technician
Mathis Trimouille — Cellat Technician

Mathis, the new wave. Since the day he picked 150 lbs. of cep mushrooms in an hour, his friends have nicknamed him “La Cueillette” (“The Gatherer”). Mathis loves harvesting the fruits of his labor – and those of nature – and he is particularly joyful, energetic, and frank. Describing himself as a “bon vivant” he started out at Château Palmer as an apprentice at the age of 15. He then extended his high school years and returned to the cellar as a full-time employee four years ago. “I feel good in this world. It smells good, I like working here with a small team, and I have so much to learn from Olivier.” He speaks and laughs from the heart, with a hint of a Médoc accent.

“Racking the wine by candlelight is an extraordinary experience”
Mathis — Cellar Technician

As a child, he dreamed of becoming an oyster farmer in the bay, like his uncle on his father’s side. Instead, he followed in the footsteps of his other uncle, on his mother’s side, a winegrower in Carcassonne. His parents work for Ariane, a company in the aeronautics industry, but Mathis has carved out his own niche here at the estate, shuttling back and forth between the vats and enjoying the artisanry of the trade: “Racking the wine by candlelight is an extraordinary experience!”Alongside his job, he has just enrolled in a BTS (a vocational training course) in viticulture and oenology in Blanquefort, where he hopes to master wine theory and truly understand the impact of every action at the vineyard. At weekends, when he isn’t surfing or watching the tidal bore on the estuary, he spends his time looking after the château and feeding the cows. “I’ve wanted to live here for a long time, to have my own house in this incredible setting.” Last year, during the harvest, he made a small batch of Cabernet on his own using a demijohn as an experiment. Just to see, to feel, to test. The name of this first vintage: “La Cueillette.”

Pablo Esteban — Cellar Technician

Pablo, an eternal flame. As a teenager, he considered becoming a laboratory technician, enjoying the idea of a life carrying out tests in a white coat. In the end, his job as a cellar technician is not so far removed from his initial dream. Pablo, 34, keeps a close eye on the maceration of the grapes, monitoring the numbers (pH, alcohol content, malic acid) and carrying out the devatting. Aside from the science of fermentation, he also appreciates the action, the heat of the harvest, this essential, intense interlude in the life of the estate, during which “he doesn’t stop for breath for a whole month.”

As soon as the harvest draws to a close and the wine is left to rest, Pablo leaves the cellar to get some fresh air. He immediately starts working on the vineyard, particularly pruning, where he started before becoming team leader. He has always alternated between inside and outside, moving from vines to barrels, from the plant to the bottle. Pablo grew up in Saint-Estèphe, where his father, who worked for a vineyard, also made a name for himself thanks to his versatility.Both independent and attuned to the power of the collective, Pablo roams the plots, helping out his fellow winegrowers and making himself useful wherever he can. Before long, he’s back to the cellar, tending the tuns and watching over the vintage, admiring how far he’s come. This local boy has passed through every stage of the winemaking process: a diligent winegrower, a committed cellarman, the guardian of good times, the prince of pruning, the life and soul of the party, and a leader of the post-harvest celebrations, forever engraved in Château Palmer’s history.