Château Pontet Canet’s technical director Jean-Michel Comme has explained how the pioneering introduction of amphora-matured wine in the estate’s 2012 blend heralds an important step forward in quality.
Jean-Michel Comme shows off Pontet-Canet’s amphorae
Speaking to the drinks business, Comme, who has been the driving force behind this Pauillac property’s conversion to biodynamic viticulture, observed of this latest development: “The idea is always to keep the purity of the place, to have no influence from fashion.”
Having initially experimented with the increasingly popular concrete “eggs”, Comme found that “the egg shape makes a wide surface of contact with the lees so the wine becomes fat. It’s funny to have fat wines, but it’s not the direction of greatness.”
In order to address this issue, Pontet Canet commissioned its own amphora design with a narrower base, although Comme emphasised the importance of making sure the balance of lees contact was not too restricted. “With these vats we wanted wines that were not too fat and not too straight,” he summed up.
Working with a local manufacturer, the estate has now built up a collection of 80 amphorae, half of which feature a limestone component for the Merlot, while the rest incorporate gravel for the Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan is to increase this number to 100, whose contents will account for around one third of the blend in an average vintage.
Despite his satisfaction with the results from these amphorae, Comme pointed to a “disturbing” wider implications in terms of vineyard management.
“I now have to understand more about the plots in order to know the influence I want to give with the vats,” he remarked. “I have a new interpretation of each terroir to make now.”
Above all, he explained that the end goal of these amphorae was to support Pontet Canet’s wider biodynamic approach in order to add an “emotion” to the wine that would elevate it to a higher quality level.
“Many great wines are just made to be aerated and spat – there is no emotion”, remarked Comme. Pointing to a very “technical” approach to viticulture in evidence today, he maintained: “If we want to go back to something that gives emotion, we have to change our relationship with our wines, vines and terroir. Machinery does not give itself to greatness.”
So far this approach appears to be paying off. Since it first began adopting biodynamic practices in 2005, achieving certification in 2010, Pontet Canet has seen a significant uplift in both critical acclaim and, correspondingly, market prices.