Pomerol, a quiet revolution.
Pomerol is an intriguing appellation. To the north-west of Saint Emilion, it is small, 800 ha but, despite a lack of a classification, it remains one of the most prestigious appellations of Bordeaux.
There are the obvious big names, Petrus, le Pin, La Fleur, Evangile, Conseillante and so on, but with a total of 130 chateaux, there many small, lesser known family owned properties scattered across the appellation.
The soils of Pomerol are complex. The famous blue clay dominates the centre of the plateau with a mix of sandier and gravel soils around it. The underlying iron oxide pan is said to give the characteristic truffle notes to the wines as they age.
For a detailed blow-by-blow analysis of each of the estates I highly recommend Neal Martin’s seminal book ‘Pomerol’. Despite their small size many properties have plots throughout the appellation profiting from the diversity of soils, which all adds to the complexity of their wines.
Pomerol is known for its opulent signature of Merlot (80% of the appellation), complimented by the Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) grape varieties all thriving on the Gunzian gravel interspersed amongst the more famous clay. In some plots the gravel is so dense it could be mistaken for the left bank– all part of the wonderful Bordeaux mosaic.
Things may move slowly in Pomerol, but they do move. A perfect example is Chateau Clinet. Clinet takes its name from an area of ‘incline’ on the edge of the famous Plateau. It was purchased by the Laborde family in 1998 and since 2003 has been managed by Ronan Laborde. A business and marketing graduate with a love of wine, he took over the reins of family property at the grand age of 23.
The property had a prestigious legacy, obtaining 100 Parker points with the 1989 vintage under the previous owners. Ronan managed to recreate this performance in 2009.
The changes introduced by Ronan at Chateau Clinet have been both respectful of tradition in wine making and agricultural practices but very innovative in marketing – quite a combination.
Vineyard investments came first, increasing the trellising height by 10-15 cm improving the leaf surface area for greater photosynthesis and riper grapes. The agricultural practices at the property are inspired by sustainable agriculture; a method Ronan calls ‘gentle farming,’ cherry-picking ideas from both organic and bio-dynamic methods. These include the use of horses to reduce soil compacting and bending over vines during the growing season rather then strimming to control vigour.
Technical investments parallel those in the fields; a new gravity fed cellar in 2004 and last year replacing the oak fermentation vats with stainless steel for a better fruit expression. Ageing in a mix of new and one year old barrels with limited racking in an oxoline storage system facilitates the cellar work. Ronan has a young and international team at the property including the Italian technical director, Leonardo Izzo, also in his 20s.
Clinet produces about 5 000 cases a year, but growing a brand and increasing production in Pomerol is not easy; vines for sale are few and far between, reaching astronomical prices of several million euros per ha on the plateau.
Up until recently Clinet produced a second wine, La Fleur Clinet, from the younger vines. As the replanting has now matured and there are no longer enough young vines to merit a second wine. The average age of the vines is now over 50 years, with the oldest plot reaching 75 years. In 2005 all the grapes from the property went into the Grand Vin. Since 2006 La Fleur Clinet is a branded Pomerol, vinified by the same team as Chateau Clinet from some plots of the vineyard but mainly from other plots selected throughout the Pomerol appellation.
In 2009 Ronan took another step creating a new brand: Ronan By Clinet. Playing on the success and reputation of the ‘Grand vin’ and using the same wine making team he has produced a more accessible, Merlot driven wine, from grapes purchased from other vineyards on the right bank appellations; Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, Bourg Cotes de Bordeaux and Bordeaux. The result is a Bordeaux AOC with a Pomerol feel and excellent value for money.
In 2012 he added a Bordeaux dry white to the brand. Bottled with a screw cap, the grapes are hand selected from vineyards on the heights of the Entre Deux Mers and are cold, stainless-steel fermented from 80% Sauvignon, 20% Semilion giving a remarkably fruity expression of this Entre Deux Mers terroir.
These brands have now become so successful they have outgrown the original wine cellar at the Château, so Ronan and his team are just putting the finishing touches to a brand new wine cellar for the 2015 vintage. This cellar will be dedicated to the production of Ronan by Clinet and Fleur de Clinet, leaving the Chateau cellars for the Grand Vin Chateau Clinet.
With a 450 000 bottle potential there is plenty of room to fulfil future demand. The mix of old and new, plant, wood and limestone have created a elegant and highly efficient space for wine making, storage, logistics and also the offices of the company.
Once the content is redesigned so must be the container. Many properties are redesigning labels making them clearer and easier to understand and identify and Clinet is no exception – using a bright red signature throughout out. They have gone a step further also redesigning their case, using the same signature to make their wines stand out from the crowd.
If you want to get a feeling for this modern approach check out the you-tube video for Ronan de Clinet, sensuous wines indeed.
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