Gordon Pirie, Château de Varennes  (1850s)

Obscured by trees and separated from the main road as you leave Savennières to the east by an arm of the Loire, the Château de Varennes is an impressive looking property; its origins date back to the middle ages when it was a convent. It subsequently became a seigneurie, belonging to the Tillons, Tullayes, Rousseau de la Brosse and more recently, the Piries of Scotland. Gordon Pirie, son of an Aberdeen paper merchant, married Valentine, the daughter of the Compte J. Rousseau de la Brosse, in the 1850s, so bringing a strong Scottish association to the region that was to last for over one hundred years. The Piries resided in Scotland but used Varennes as their summer house, arriving with their entourage by train, direct to Savennières station, to great local excitement. The chateau came with its own vineyard, Le Clos de Varennes, and it was here in 1880 that Pirie tried to treat is phylloxera affected vines with sulphur, before eventually pulling them out and replanting on grafted rootstock in 1893. Gordon Pirie died in 1901 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Duncan, who restored the chateau following a fire in 1905. Duncan Pirie OBE was a veteran of both the Boer and First World War. He became a liberal politician and served in the Commons between 1896 and 1918. Stories of the late Colonel abound in the region. One, recounted at second hand, was of François Roussier visiting the great man, just after the end of the Second World War, to find him reading the poems of Baudelaire to his dog. Another has him playing the bagpipes from the Château roof.

Whilst the legend of the Piries lives on, there is actually little known now about the wines produced here during the Pirie era, except that the last vintage here would have been in the mid 1960s. The 1963 vintage, we know, was declassified to a simple Anjou Blanc. Jean Baumard bought land in the Clos du Papillon from the family in 1968 and around the same time, Yves Soulez took ownership of the Clos de Varennes. In the early 1990s, Soulez offered his vines to Gaston Lenôtre, although after he went bankrupt five years later, the bank reclaimed ownership. The Château itself was sold by the Piries and after a period of neglect was redeveloped into a number of apartments.

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