Tasted in Pommard with Emmanuel Sala, April 2014.
Château de Pommard
15, rue Marey Monge
BP 30018 – 21630 POMMARD
Tel + 33 3 80 22 12 59+ 33 3 80 22 12 59
The Château de Pommard (CdP) is virtually unique in Burgundy, it is set up entirely as a tourist destination, including multiple art (Dali, for instance) exhibitions. The domaine’s wines are sold only at the château and shipped directly to customers all over the world. Because of this, it has none of the ‘free’ marketing machinery enjoyed by other domaines i.e. merchant and distributor newsletters, trade tastings etcetera – this results in a ‘peripheral’ knowledge of the domaine, even amongst enthusiasts. It is fair to say that most enthusiasts would expect the wines to be A) expensive and B) no better that a whole horde of Côte d’Or ‘tourist traps’.
But they would be wrong – well, wrong about part B anyway!
There is, however, a more subtle version of marketing doing the rounds, and it is very effective – it’s called word-of-mouth. But first, a little history:
The construction of the Château was begun in 1726 for Vivant de Micault (Micault still the name of an adjacent vineyard in Pommard) – an ‘Equerry’ to King Louis XVI – from the start, vines were an important part of life here. It is this ‘Château Vivant Micault’ that is the main reception for visitors to the CdP today. But, partially masked by trees, there is also another Château, the Château Marey-Monge. The first Château became the property of Claude Marey in 1763, passing to his son Nicolas-Joseph Marey. Nicolas-Joseph married the daughter of celebrated mathematician, Gaspard Monge from that time name Marey-Monge became synonymous with the wines of Burgundy. When life became difficult at the time of the Revolution, Nicolas-Joseph sold the Château Vivant Micault before moving to Norway for a time – but he retained ownership of the land and vines – not just vines in Pommard, important vines in the Côte de Nuits were also a part of over 160 separate parcels of vines owned by the family.
As life in France normalised and Nicolas-Joseph no-longer feared for his safety, he chose to return to Pommard. Although he still owned the vines, the new owner of the Château Vivant Micault didn’t want to sell the house back to him, so, owning all the surrounding land, in 1802 Marey chose to build himself a new Château within the 20 hectare Clos of Pommard vines – only 100 metres from the first Château! This house, built of stone from the quarries of Chassagne-Montrachet is still known as the Château Marey-Monge.
Eventually, all dynasties end. The family Blic who had inherited the Pommard estate of Marey-Monge, now including both Châteaux, sold the estate to the family Laplanche in 1932. The last Laplanche owner chose to sell the estate to current owner Maurice Giraud in 2003. Giraud spent the next 4 years restoring the Château Vivant Micault.
And what of the domaine?
First-off, it’s actually quite hard to get a tasting at the Château; send an email and you’ll be greeted by the following response:
We welcome you each morning from 10. am to 6.30 pm for a guided visit with a wine-tasting by our wine consultants, which lasts about one hour (in English or French). The visit is at 21 € per person (offer for children under 16 years old). It’s not necessary to book for less than six people.
Actually, they have 12 tasting ‘cellars’ and 12 guides – the range of languages on offer is much wider. Persevere, and say you are a professional who would be interested to meet the winemaker, and you are unlikely to get another response – or, at least, I didn’t!
In the end, it seems to be ‘who you know’. I’d heard from some very respected winemakers that they’d managed to taste and thought the wines ‘brilliant’ – this is the word-of-mouth marketing that I mentioned, and it seems that more and more great makers have these words on their lips.
It was a brilliant vigneron from Volnay gave me the contact of Emmanuel Sala, winemaker at the CdP and all was set.
Burgundian Emmanuel, joined CdP on the 2nd April 2007. “It was a big challenge. Philippe Charlopin was consulting for the CdP when I joined. I’d been working in Bandol but quit the ‘Grand Bleu’ for Pommard. Before that I’d also been working for Josmeyer in Alsace. Actually I was much happier to be with Josmeyer during that 1990s period, avoiding the thermovinifications and extractions that were en-vogue in the Côte d’Or.”
“To start with, I worked in the vines a lot, I concentrated on that so that I could, as best as possible, understand the various parcels. In the end, the work should be in the vines, not the cellar. We are ‘lutte-integrée’ if I must call it something – so not quite Bio.
The walled 20 hectare Clos of the CdP sits on the opposite side of the road to Pommard’s Premier Crus. It is often described as the largest monopole clos in Burgundy – I guess that depends on your perspective, can villages Pommard be a monopole? – but it’s certainly the largest Clos that I know of in Burgundy!
Although on the flat of the land, surrounded by a lot of Bourgogne Rouge vines, the actual Clos (Emmanuel likes to point out) is in something of a dejection cone of material, not unlike those 1er crus below the Combe de Lavaux in Gevrey-Chambertin. Although it has a villages designation today, if you look in Lavalle’s book, you might note that it was one of the finest rated vineyards in Pommard. You didn’t find it in Lavalle? Ah well, that’s because in those days it was called the Clos Marey-Monge!
The team under the new owner, Maurice Giraud, have done a lot of work with Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, characterising the different soil parcels and in-particular, looking at the effective surface area of the different clays in those parcels. It was thought that Ri chebourg and Musigny had the highest surface areas in Burgundy, but there are parcels here that surpass even that. Some parcels are the same as for Pommard Rugiens, some higher than in Le Montrachet and others such as CdP’s ‘Simone’ are higher-still than Richebourg – the highest that Claude Bourguignon has ever seen. Of-course the vineyard’s clay is one thing, the depth of that soil and the rock below are others, but it is an interesting observation none-the-less – particularly when you taste the separate parcels!
Making the ‘Grand Vin’ of Château Pommard
Each of the CdP’s parcels is harvested and vinified separately – taking 35 harvesters 10 days for the whole 20 hectares. (N.B. CdP has other labels too, some domaine, some négoce.) And not just the different vineyard plots are vinified separately, also the different vine-age plots are vinified separately too – the youngest vines date from 2004, the oldest from 1910. The average for the domaine’s ‘Grand Vin’ is 45 years.
Emmanuel has an interesting approach in the cuverie though: “We have long macerations here. The destemmed grapes macerate for 5-7 weeks, but with very little pigeage or remontage – pigeage is only done by foot as this is the most gentle approach. There is no regular cold maceration, but if the weather/grapes are hot, then we will cool to 6°C. The wines start full of fruit but then tighten for 4-5 years. The elevage is then in 30-40% new oak – parcel dependent – and maybe up to 30 months of elevage too. The result is about 70-80k bottles per year plus 10-15k bottles of our second wine. We sell everything from the Château – of-course it helps that we have over 40,000 visitors per year! Still, we have lost one vintage in the last two if we look at our yields…”
I tasted through the various plots of the domaine, and I have to say that they ranged from good to brilliant. I have never tasted a better Pommard from cask – ever – than the domaines 2012 old-vine Simone plot, and it had an almost Vosne aromatic. Maybe this was auto-suggestion given our discussion over the clay having a bigger surface area than Richebourg, but brilliant wine. Of-course the Grand Vin is a blend of the plots, to which Emmanuel comments “The blend is always ’rounder’ than any of the parts. This is the art of assemblage, and certainly the final blend is more ‘Pommard’ than any of the parts.”
In a world that is always looking for the best of the best, it’s almost a shame that it’s not possible to buy a bottle or two of the best – I wouldn’t blink if it had a €100 price-tag – but we are left to taste the Grand Vin of Château Pommard as it is, in it’s specially shaped bottle:
2011 Château de Pommard
The nose is faintly shy though builds more expression in the glass. In the mouth it starts soft and round. There’s a growing power and a fresh line of flavour that flows directly into the finish. This is a very good 2011!
2010 Château de Pommard
The nose has a really lovely width and quite some aromatic power too. Full and round in the mouth, but lithe and energetic too. There’s a nice reprise of flavour here that gives a faintly whole-cluster impression. This is really super and with modest fine tannin too.
Here is a wonderful aromatic, a little baked fruit and a lot of love. Beautiful in the mouth and really expressive flavours too, coupled to super energy and perfect red berries. The last drops in the glass hold a perfect red-currant note. I find really super attack and precision. Brilliant wine.
To finish, we sampled a little of the CdP’s whites:
The 2010 Auxey-Duresses Blanc had hard aromatic depth and a faint warmth but still held onto its freshness. A contemplative but tasty wine. By comparison the nose of the 2009 Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc was a real beauty and offered a lovely line of faintly mineral but sweet fruit flavour. We finished with a 2008 Ladoix Blanc. Emmanuel noted that for the whites he prefers two winters in barrel, without batonnage – he uses quite a hard press-program to start with too. The palate was direct, fresh and held a lovely length. This is a fresh and sleek wine!