As many of you will already know, Laurent Ponsot has left the building, so to speak, in order to start his own eponymous Estate. Obviously, with this having only occurred earlier this year, this news has no bearing on today’s offer. Laurent oversaw the 2015 and 2016 vintages.
The short story is that Laurent had planned to retire from his role as régisseur of Domaine Ponsot in 2020. For private reasons, he agreed with the family to bring this date forward. Everything at the Domaine has, and will, remain as is – the vision, the team, the dedication etc. – with Laurent’s sister, Rose-Marie Ponsot (who has been co-managing the estate since 1997) stepping in as the new ‘face’ of the Domaine. Laurent remains a part owner and is assisting with the transition away from his leadership. The only immediate change I am aware of is the new appointment of an export manager to provide physical support to the Domaine’s overseas clients. For his part, Laurent has not retired. Instead, he has gone on to set up a new estate with his son, Clément. Based in Gilly-les-Cîteaux, close to Vougeot. The first wines from ‘Laurent Ponsot’, as the entity will be known, will be from the 2015 vintage, focusing on Côte de Nuits’ reds (some of which will come across from vineyards that were historically offered by Domaine Ponsot) and Meursault whites. Exciting times—surely two Ponsots are better than one! More details will be forthcoming with subsequent offers.
Discussions of 2015 from those that have also tried a solid range of 2016 inevitably lead to the discussion of whether the year is too warm, too bold, lacking the restraint of 2016. Firstly we have to call the wines in the glass, not, fall back on rhetoric regurgitated by those that haven’t tasted wines from the two vintages whether good or bad! Too often bad wines are produced in ‘great’ years and purchased ahead of superb wines produced in ‘lesser’ years.
In any given year we see individual wines of vignerons vary due to the myriad of environmental impacts during the year and decisions made by winemakers as the fruit reaches the winery and they apply their craft.
2015 has, in general, yielded wines of darker, more immediately opulent fruit, with robust tannins, and slightly lower acids. Compared with 2016 where fruit characters are more feminine, redder in nature, tannins fine, acids a smidge higher, alcohols a touch lower. Variability across Burgundy in 2016 was much higher with frost hitting many vineyards. The winemakers really earned their tucker in 2016!
Stylistically they both offer pleasure, it simply depends on whether you prefer restraint – 2016, or, opulence – 2015. A statement which must again be tempered by assessing what’s in the glass! As far as ageing, we will have to wait and see. It will, as usual, be a case of wine by wine assessment. Both vintages have potential to age well. Though the balance in 2016 suggests they will be more typical of years that go the distance.
Stephen Tanzer on 2015 Burgundies in General (not just Ponsot).
Some Burgundy purists are already claiming that the ‘15s are too ripe for their tastes, but I wonder if these drinkers are responding more to what they’ve heard about this very warm, very dry growing season than to the wines themselves. In any event, they will be missing a lot of great bottles if they avoid 2015. This is a very rich and rather tannic vintage from mostly thick-skinned grapes and consistently low yields, and it has produced many outstanding, mostly large-scaled wines and some that are downright massive. Although the summer was hot and dry and the harvest very early, relatively few wines made by top producers show signs of cooked fruit. Rain in August came mostly in the nick of time for vines that had begun to suffer from hydric stress. Still, as I say, owing to the dry conditions, the vintage’s tannins, although ripe, are sometimes tougher and less refined than those of the ‘16s.
For all its ripeness, fleshiness and solaire character, the 2015 vintage also yielded many surprisingly red wines, albeit occasionally with obviously elevated or even liqueur-like ripeness. Routinely, after tasting through a producer’s 2016s from barrel or tank, when I turned my attention to the bottled 2015s, the first wine struck me as much more ripe, sometimes exotic and occasionally a bit roasted. But by the next sip, or the next wine, I was able to acclimate to the earlier vintage and appreciate the density, intensity, sucrosité and structure of the ‘15s without having the feeling that I had left Burgundy for the New World.
Acidity levels range from lower than average to quite sound; malic acidity levels were generally very low but the tartaric component of total acidity was typically quite healthy in the 2015s. While only the best wines show the serious mineral/acid tension of vintages like 2014 or 2010 (many more producers compared their ‘16s to those earlier mineral-driven vintages), the ‘15s are richer, riper wines with terrific depth of fruit. They are less extreme than previous hot years like 2009 and especially 2003, and their tannins are generally sweeter than those of 2005, a vintage to which a number of Burgundy growers compare the young ‘15s. And they are generally deeper than the young ‘16s, which is why it’s entirely possible that the best ‘15s will outlast their 2016 counterparts. Many ‘15s appear to be shutting down already and are tough going today, with their savory soil tones and tannins often dominating their fruit at this early stage. Only a clairvoyant can possibly know for sure whether the ‘15s that are going into a shell today will stay that way for 3 years or 13 (or 23). But there are also many ‘15s that seduce now for their thickness, sweetness and mouthfilling fruit, and these wines can give great pleasure, particularly with a bit of aeration. The vintage’s less-successful examples, though, may not have enough acidity for long life in bottle or enough true ripeness to retain their fruit until their tannins begin to resolve.
A year ago, the majority of growers maintained that their 2015s would be drinkable early on and be unlikely ever to go through an extended dumb period. That’s no longer the case. Many ‘15s are already beginning to shut down in bottle, showing their tannic side. There’s simply too much phenolic material here for the wines to evolve along smooth, steady aging curves. Today, many growers say they’ll be happy to forget about drinking their ‘15s for at least seven or eight years, while enjoying their more aromatic and approachable ‘16s in the meantime. But the ‘16s have the balance and depth to age gracefully, and the better ‘15s have the tannic mass to be even longer-lived.
Changes Ahead at Domaine Ponsot
Rose-Marie Ponsot, has now taken over sole responsibility. Laurent has retained his former métayage contracts on several vineyards belonging to the Mercier family, owners of Domaine des Chézeaux (in Clos Saint-Denis, Chambertin, Griottes-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes), and he will purchase fruit from other vineyards, including several Chardonnay parcels on the Côte de Beaune. The rest of the Ponsot family (Laurent has three sisters and he still has a 25% share of the family estate) will keep all of the original domain vines, although the final shape of the split has yet to be negotiated.
Rose-Marie Ponsot hired Alexandre Abel as winemaker, and he made the ‘17s at the family estate. Abel took over the élevage of the 2016’s. They plan to maintain “the Ponsot style.” In fact, Abel examined the family archives going back to 1956 and discovered that even back then, Jean-Marie Ponsot (who died in 2017) harvested two or three weeks later than virtually all of his neighbours in Morey-Saint-Denis, in search of full maturity. (Laurent Ponsot only started harvesting in 2016 on October 4, and he waited until September 19 in 2017, a hot, early growing season in which most estates began picking during the first week of September.) “We don’t need more freshness in our wines,” noted Abel, “and we want to avoid getting any harshness or greenness.” Nor does the estate employ any new oak barrels; on the contrary, the youngest barrels they use are two years old and some of them date back to the late 1980s. Abel, who previously worked in Chile, South Africa and the Languedoc, will continue the practice of using very little SO2—only after the malolactic fermentations and just before the bottling.
As Laurent did, Abel generally avoids heavy extraction. He simply puts the berries in the tanks and does one or two quick pumpovers on the first day just to mix the tank. He then does one or two “small” pigeages during the first part of the fermentation, which can start quickly when ambient temperatures are warm. (He’ll warm the tanks when temperatures are cool, which is more likely given how late the estate harvests.) He then punches down the cap in the morning and afternoon for the next five days, then switches to a daily pumpover, racking the wines off their skins as soon as the fermentations have finished, and sometimes carrying out a délestage. Fermentation temperatures may mount as high as 31 or 32 degrees C. during the last couple days, and total maceration time is normally just 7 to 10 days but can go up to 15.
Abel finds 2016 to be a red fruit vintage, while 2015 is more black. Potential alcohol levels were in the lofty 13.5% to 14% range in ’16, but the pHs following the malos are a very moderate 3.3 to 3.4, vs. 3.4 to 3.6 for the ‘15s. “The ‘16s have great fruit and energy and very good balance,” he told me in January. “They’re very Pinot. The 2015s will probably need more time but they have bit more potential. But the ’16s also have significant potential. It’s not just a fresh, easy-drinking vintage.”
“Laurent has the easy smile of someone who is entirely comfortable with his approach and the wines that he makes – and he makes some of the best wines in Burgundy.” Bill Nanson, The Finest Wines of Burgundy (A Fine Wine Edition)
A little video with Rose-Marie and Abel for the French speakers.
The Ponsot Domaine
Domaine Ponsot, one of Burgundy’s most revered, innovative and iconoclastic domaines. There are so many important things to note about Domaine Ponsot it is impossible to know where to start and when to finish. Here are a few key points:
• This is a domaine very rich in history. This is perhaps the only historic Domaine in Burgundy to have always bottled it’s own wines (since the 1870s) and began selling the wines under the Ponsot label in the 30’s (around the same time as Gouges and Rousseau began Estate bottling). Clonal selection in Burgundy also began here and Jean-Marie Ponsot provided the “mother plants” from his ancient Clos de la Roche vines for the first approved Burgundy clones – all of the so called Dijon clones were taken from Ponsot cuttings in the Clos de la Roche.
• Ponsot has fabulous holdings including perfectly situated parcels of very old vines in Clos St Denis (100+ years) and Clos de la Roche (where Ponsot is the largest land owner with some 3/4 of the original vineyard). There are also small quantities of Chambertin, Griotte Chambertin, Chapelle Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, Charmes Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, Corton, Corton Bressandes, Corton Charlemagne, le Montrachet, Chambolle Musigny 1er cru Les Charmes, and Morey 1er cru Clos de la Monts Luisants (white & red). Then there is also some Bourgogne rouge and superb village wines from Morey, Gevrey and Chambolle.
• No new oak is used and Laurent Ponsot buys five year old barrels from other respected domaines to use on his own wines. Most barrels are 10-50 years of age.
• The wines are harvested late (Ponsot is regularly the last Domaine to harvest in the Côte de Nuits) and a strict sorting occurs so that only perfect fruit makes it to the press.
• Very low or no sulphur is used (including none at bottling if it can be avoided).
• The wines are aged slowly on lees, for up to 30 months with typically only one racking for the reds, after 12 months.
• These elements (amongst others!): late harvesting, long (reductive) lees ageing, no new oak and very low sulphur make for very different, yet exceptional wines that typically require long ageing to show their best and ALWAYS must be stored in a appropriate temperature controlled environment. They often benefit from a long decant when young. Wine buyers should be very cautious therefore about acquiring older wines in Australia when there was no official Australian importer.
They often benefit from a long decant when young. Wine buyers should be very cautious therefore about acquiring older wines in Australia when there was no official Australian importer.
Ponsot has a new state of the art winery with all the modern gismos, including temperature controlled fermentation vats (open topped wooden vats) that can be operated via remote control. And yet the wine is made very naturally with indigenous yeasts, low sulphur and minimal intervention.
As to the wines, they are some of the greatest we have tasted. They are some of the most powerful in Burgundy and also some of the most expressive of their terroir. They are obviously not inexpensive, but they are also profound.
All wines sealed under Ardea Seal. Details from Laurent can be reviewed on here.
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