Last week, I had an engaging lunch with Michael Baum, CEO and propriétaire of Chateau de Pommard in Burgundy. Château de Pommard was founded in 1726 and the property comprises of two châteaux (Château Marey-Monge and Château Micault) and their famous UNESCO-protected walled vineyard, Clos Marey-Monge. These 20 hectares of vines have produced some of the greatest Pinot Noir for over two millennia. The Carabello-Baum family from San Francisco bought the estate in 2014 and have become the first Americans to own a wine-producing Château in Burgundy.
Silicon Valley in the Côte-d’Or. It might sound jarring and perhaps a little scary – but much less so when you hear about how Michael is transforming the way the entire vineyard operates to become 100% sustainable for the future. Having the Carabello-Baum’s behind Château de Pommard means ‘having the resources to really think about things,’ says Michael. ‘At least half of my time is spent thinking about being holistic and sustainable.’
‘We’ve restructured the team for thinking about the future. Emmanuel (the winemaker) and I are thinking about everything we do in a hundred years from now; ‘Would this be a good decision in a hundred years?’’
Michael and Emmanuel work very closely together: they both overwhelmingly share a passion for terroir, which makes Clos Marey-Monge no doubt their dream place to work. Described as a geological marvel, Clos Marey-Monge is home to seven distinct clay and limestone-rich plots – Simone, Chantrerie, Les Paules, Grand Champs, 75 Rangs, Micault, and Émilie – which feature different soils and microclimates. The recent conversion to biodynamic viticulture means that each plot truly represents its own expression of the Pinot Noir. Minimal intervention winemaking ensures that the expression stays as pure as it can be; Emmanuel and Michael believe that ‘every time you touch the wine, you lose a part of its soul.’
Château de Pommard produces more than 25 cuvées across the Côte-d’Or, beyond Marey-Monge; silky Côte de Beaune Chardonnays and rich Côte de Nuits Pinot Noirs. Ladoix is the northernmost vineyard in the Côte de Beaune and “Les Gréchons” is one of the highest plots positioned on the steep sides of the Hill of Corton. The 2017 Ladoix, 1er Cru, “Les Gréchons” is a prime example of a crafted Chardonnay that can be enjoyed now or aged for many years. Delicate and floral on the nose, with round, ripe fruit on the palate and some spice from the new oak, it lingers on in the mouth with a classy minerality. Emmanuel describes his input as ‘very hands off’ so that he can let the grapes do their thing: ‘Fermentation can last a month’. He has the luxury of pursuing small production wines and the style is always based on personal taste rather than consumer demand; ‘You can’t please all,’ smiles Emmanuel.
‘We are on the path to sustainable winemaking,’ says Michael. ‘For the ‘19 vintage we have received organic certification and we’ll receive biodynamic certification by 2021.’ They talk about using horses in the vineyards instead of tractors. ‘There is an energy when the horses are around,’ says Michael. ‘People behave better when there are animals present.’
‘Horses are better than tractors,’ affirms Emmanuel. ‘They are cheaper than tractors,’ adds Michael, ‘although they eat a lot.’
Transferring to organic is always going to be an expensive process, but it is becoming the wider view amongst winemakers that it is worth the investment for the long-term. ‘It is cheaper in the long run; there is a stronger argument for it,’ says Michael. ‘There’s an economic case for looking forwards, forty to fifty years into the future. The vines look healthier – they are stronger and there is a deeper colour in the leaves. My wife says to me, ‘You’re a farmer now’ – she’s right!’
Château de Pommard’s rarest cuvée is Simone. The Simone plot in Clos Marey-Monge is the smallest of the seven at 0.53 hectares, producing just 1,800 bottles in a generous year, which are only available through allocation. The remarkably high density of clay in the plot (close to the world record) gives the Pinot Noir its rich and intense character – and a depth that belies its age. ‘The 2017 is young but it has a deep complexity,’ describes Emmanuel. ‘You can drink it now but it will be even better in five to six years – we are now drinking 2010.’ Concentrated red and black fruits, deep cherry, spice, cloves, dry and fresh roses, Simone is pronounced and perfumed on the nose, full-bodied and beautifully expressive on the palate.
Where the individuality of the plots are celebrated, so is their togetherness – especially when they sing in pitch-perfect harmony. The 2017 Clos Marey-Monge Monopole is a blend of grapes from each terroir: hand-picked grapes are fermented and barrel-aged separately, and when the final blend is made, each of the seven elements are assembled in precise proportions. The result is a vibrant, fresh Pinot Noir that has high notes of red fruits and roses and low notes of smoke and spices, with fine, velvety tannins.
The award-winning Clos Marey-Monge wines demonstrate why biodynamic winemaking is so important for the terroirs of this special vineyard. ‘It’s a very unique place for the biodynamic experience,’ says Michael. Understanding the soils has been quite the obsession for him and he has even employed radar imaging technology in order to gain a clearer idea of the soil structures – this is the first time ever where it has been used in the vineyard. A reminder that we have Silicon Valley in the Côte d’Or – and things are getting exciting.
Michael might be considered a ‘disruptor’ and he will take on that badge, but he disrupts with authenticity, in a way that ‘respects the past’. He’s a self-described ‘entrepreneur/creative-type’ and questions why things have to be done in the way they have always been done, even down to the bottle shape and the fermentation vats (he has redesigned both – you’ll notice that his bottle has higher shoulders than the traditional Burgundy bottle, the neck spreads out at the top and there is no lip around the ring). Innovation is required to move forwards, which can’t be easy to insist upon in one of the oldest industries in the world, steeped in tradition and regulation. A like-minded team who respect Burgundian values but aren’t afraid to call out the things that don’t work anymore is inspiring for Michael: ‘We hang out with people who are future-thinking. Remember,’ he says, citing disease and chemically-withered vines, ‘the old days weren’t all that good!’ I, for one, am raising my glass to the future.
Read more about Chateau de Pommard here.
Find out about how you can open a bottle of Simone on Valentines Day here.