The day after meeting Paz Espejo at Château Lanessan I just happened to find myself in Pauillac (what luck!). My first port of call was to see Jean-Michel Comme, biodynamic guru at Château Pontet-Canet. After tasting the 2013 together talk naturally moved onto the 2015 vintage. Jean-Michel always gives a fascinating and very detailed account of the vintage as it applies to Pontet-Canet, which of course is biodynamic. And there is, I find, always something new to discover during my visit.
Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?
J-M: Well, we are pressing the Merlot now. With everything harvested we can start to be confident in the quality. I do not want to say it is the vintage of the century as people don’t believe that anymore. But it will be a very good wine. An absolute statement of quality is difficult as some vats of Cabernet are still fermenting. But certainly this is the best since 2010. I don’t know if it is above the quality of 2010, I don’t want to say.
Me: What was the growing season like?
J-M: There was wet weather up to the flowering, May was wetter than average. The flowering was slow, as it was not sunny. In one week we had one flower here, then one flower there, but no quantity. Then the weather changed, in just a few days, and it was warmer and drier. Within just hours to days the flowering started and was completed.
Then the nice weather stayed for two months. We had some rain on June 11th, then it was dry until mid-August. There were a few millimetres of rain as the véraison kicked off, two spots if rain each just 5 millimetres, but overall there was not much rain. The drought was showing in the yellow grass, and so this little bit of rain was good as it helped the véraison, the vines were happy to have the rain, and they took advantage of it.
In later August we had a 100-millimetre downpour, that’s a lot of rain, but there was no damage to crop, no rot, quality remained high, because the soils soaked it up and the skins were very thick. Then in September we had sun again. There was some more rain when the moon changed in September, but skins remained strong and it all worked.
Me: How does 2015 compare to other recent vintages?
J-M: What is interesting about the weather conditions is that they were those of a great vintage. It was a bit like 2010. Now 2010 is the best wine in modern times for Pontet-Canet. In the vintages that followed 2010 we have more subtle, more complex wines, with higher quality tannins. The quality was not as good as it was in 2010 in 2011, 2012 or 2013 though. We made a good wine in 2014 but it was not a ‘great’ vintage. Maybe 2015 will be a great one. The combination of the work we do, plus the gift from nature, perhaps it will be great. The tasters will see in spring next year, in the primeurs, of course we will see it before.
Me: What was the harvest like at Pontet-Canet?
J-M: We started with the Merlots on September 18th, then after one week of picking we stopped and started again with the Cabernets on September 28th. We ended on October 3rd. With more than ten years of biodynamics now behind us, we find the fruit ripens earlier, especially the Cabernets. Usually we have no gap in picking between the Merlot and Cabernets, although this year we had to wait, but only two or three days.
The fruit was very healthy. There was no damage, no rot on the sorting tables, we harvested early simply because the fruit was ripe and there was nothing more to wait for. After we finished in early October then was another 50 millimetres of rain but it doesn’t seem as though those other estates still picking were affected. It seems things worked well until the end.
Me: What sort of yields do you have in 2015?
J-M: The yields are as yet uncertain, maybe a bit more than 2014 which was 30 hl/ha, maybe 10% more.
Me: What else is new at Pontet-Canet?
J-M: We have a three-year programme of construction ongoing, with several new buildings. A key part of the project is new stables – we could only house five horses until now. We have waited and the time was right to expand now, so soon we will be able to lodge up to 20 horses, although we will only have 15 or 16.
Out of respect for the original 18th century buildings, all the outside walls of the new buildings are made in true stone like 18th century, they are not built using modern materials and simply faced off to match. Nowhere is there a project this big in France. We have the same respect for the buildings that we have for the vineyard. The walls are 60 centimetres thick, and we have used only stone, sand, lime and water. Any sand or gravel used is taken from the grounds of the building. The walls will have the soil – and the soul – of the place.
Also, being the only cru classé estate that is both organic and biodynamic, we did not want to increase our electricity need. We decided to establish geothermy. We now have hoses that go 100 metres deep, bringing water out of the soil at a temperature of 15ºC. We will dig 60 or 70 wells to achieve this, simply because of the size of the estate.
Me: You mentioned horses – how much of the vineyard is worked using horses now?
J-M: We work 50% of the vineyard using eight horses. We are different to others who use the occasional horse for selected jobs – we do everything by horse, it is a global approach, we use them even for the difficult jobs such as spraying. We use all the old tools to achieve it.
Me: Thanks Jean-Michel.
These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.