Bordeaux Wine Visit

30 June 2017

Chateau Pontet Canet – the most exciting Bordeaux wine?

Staying in Bordeaux recently, we were hosting some old friends from South Africa with whom we have spent much time touring vineyards in SA. Wanting therefore to show them not only Bordeaux Wine but something a bit special, I contacted Chris Piper from Christopher Piper Wines to see if he could organize a visit for us to a Bordeaux wine producer which would be something out of the ordinary.

Chris came up trumps with a rendez vous at Chateau Pontet Canet as it is an inspirational and unusual vineyard. What makes it unusual is that Pontet Canet is a fully certified bio-dynamic vineyard and has been since 2010. A few other producers are following in their footsteps but Alfred Tesseron the owner was brave enough to commmit to bio-dynamic production back in 2004 and has therefore been at the forefront of bio production in Bordeaux and Bordeaux Wine.

To recap, the principles of bio-dynamic production were laid out by Rudolf Steiner in 1924. It takes organics (have a look at a previous blog on organic wines) several steps further by following the phases of the moon as well as using a series of preparations to enhance soil and composts to create a much healthier environment in which plants can grow without the use of any harmful additives such as fertilisers or weed killers etc. Think in terms of a holistic approach to the vineyard and a homeopathic philosophy. We have started a kitchen garden at home using similar principles and it takes a bit of a leap of faith as well as a lot of effort, but we believe that we are creating a natural environment and will be eating much healthier vegetables. Have a look at Wikipedia for more information.

How does Pontet Canet apply such techniques?

They plant 700 cow horns each year filled with cow manure (preparation 500) which they then dig up in the spring and mix with water until imbued to make a preparation 500. This is then flung liberally over all areas of the vineyard. A similar preparation (501) is sprayed over the grapes. They do this by walking shire horses up and down the rows of grapes so as not to compress the soil which tractors would do! They also have their own cattle to produce the initial manure and hence ensure everything is “homegrown”and holistic. Interestingly it had rained the morning of our visit and they were spraying as a result to help protect against any fungal diseases, and it was humbling to see the horses out doing their bit.

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Horses through the Vines

Also interesting is that the vines look natural, almost unkempt as they do not carry out any green harvesting or pruning, preferring to let nature take its course. The amazing thing is the confidence that they seem to have, presumably as a result of believing that the vines are so healthy that they do not need to intervene which is incredibly brave. I mentioned above that they had gone bio-dynamic in 2004 but in 2007 there was a danger that they would loose most of their crop due to weather and therefore had to spray. Since which, they have learnt to use the bio preps sufficiently well to cope even in difficult years and this in my mind must also mean that the vineyard must be in incredibly good health and vitality. It also seems to silence any cynical criticism.

Yields are relatively low at about 35 hectolitres per hectare but what concentration! All picking is by hand and most of the pickers come from the same Portugese family who have travelled to Pauillac and specifically to Pontet Canet for years. This ensures that they have maximum control over the harvest and indeed M Tesseron is converting a building for their accommodation, again keeping things in house as much as possible. There is as little intervention as possible during pressing, fermentation etc. Natural yeasts are left to start fermentation in concrete vats and the shape of the vats means that there is only a daily need to submerge the grapes (cap) until both fermentations have taken place. Rows of new oak barrels are laid out in the cave and used only the once – an expensive luxury!

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Oak Barriques

They are trying to slightly reduce the oak influence to better allow the freshness and concentration of the fruit to shine through. In order to help with this, Jean – Michel Comme who is the winemaker, has specifically designed concrete amphora which he considers give the maximum benefit.

The specially designed Amphora

Finally the wine is bottled – we tried the recently bottled 2016 – nectar – concentrated, strong crunchy tannins which will soften with age and lots of fruit – the South Africans were duly impressed! A very special visit to a very special Bordeaux wine producer.

Chateau Pontet Canet did obviously start with a good pedigree. Although classified as a 5th growth in the 1855 Bordeaux classification, it punches much above this which its current prices reflect. In front of the Chateau itself is a 50 hectare plot which fields the cabernet sauvignon 62%, cabernet franc 4% and petit verdot 2% – it is a beautiful sight. Towards the river and out of site from the chateau is the 30 acres of merlot benefiting from the different soil. Pontet Canet is large and also has a “second wine” called Hauts de Pontet Canet which is more affordable and can be drunk earlier.

Chris Piper has the main wine available on his website, currently the 2010. Not cheap, but you can think of it as an investment. I prefer to think of it as a way to imbibe God’s nature in a glass – what a privilege!