Château Margaux’s Paul Pontallier dies

28th March, 2016 by Rupert Millar

Paul Pontallier, technical and managing director of Château Margaux, has died.

PontallierThe long-standing face of Bordeaux first growth Château Margaux, Pontallier succumbed to cancer on Easter Monday aged just 59.

An alumni of the oneology department of the University of Bordeaux, Pontallier arrived at Margaux in 1983 in time for what the estate considers one of its finest vintages of the 20th century.

Initially working closely with advisor Emile Peynaud, in 1990 Pontallier became sole managing and technical director of the estate.

His working relationship with Margaux’s owner, Corinne Mentzelopoulos, was, as Jancis Robinson MW has noted, “a pleasure to behold” and key to the on-going if somewhat under-sung success of the first growth.

Although representing the very best of the urbane, sophisticated Bordelais (his sense of style and impeccable English were legendary and verged on belonging to another age), during his time at Margaux he oversaw some surprisingly radical innovations.

In 2011 the estate began outfitting its bottles with the latest anti-counterfeiting measures, he turned over the farming of vineyard parcels destined for the grand vin to organic viticulture and dabbled in what he jokingly referred to as the “voodoo” of biodynamics as well.

Meanwhile, his own son, Thibault, went to live in Hong Kong in 2010 to act as a brand ambassador in Asia as that market really began to take off. Pontallier recognised, as he told db in 2011, that the success of Margaux (and other wines) in Asia would be based on education and creating long-standing relationships.

Having looked closely at the impact of wood in his earlier years he also turned his attention to closures; laying down wines under cork, synthetic and screwcap closures to be used in a number of tastings over the years to see if one, if any, really does have the edge over the rest.

The rising quality of the estate’s dry white wines led him to announce, last year, that he hoped a white grand vin would one day be added to the estate’s range.

As always, a particularly touching and heartfelt tribute to the man can be read on Robsinson’s website, here.

One little detail relates how Robinson and fellow critic Steven Spurrier would measure the quality of any given vintage by seeing how high Pontallier would rise on tiptoe when talking about it.

Sadly, en primeur veterans will no doubt be feeling his absence as the tastings of the 2015 vintage begin next week.

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5 Responses to “Château Margaux’s Paul Pontallier dies”

  1. I was fortunate to visit Chateau Margaux led by Paul Pontallier and on another occasion I attended a masterfully tasting directed by him. He was a very kind person a great lover of wine and spoke very good Spanish. My deepest condolences to his family.

  2. Not just Margaux, not just France, but the whole world of wine has lost one of its most distinguished sons. Here in New Zealand, as well as South Africa where I spent some time with him, Paul was more than a friend and congenial companion; he was always willing to share his vast knowledge of all technical aspects of grape growing and wine making, as well as his deep love and appreciation of the joys that good wine can impart. Sincere condolences to those he has much too early left behind.

    Terry Dunleavy, MBE, New Zeakand

  3. Not just Margaux, not just France, but the whole world of wine has lost one of its most distinguished sons. Here in New Zealand, as well as South Africa where I spent some time with him, Paul was more than a friend and congenial companion; he was always willing to share his vast knowledge of all technical aspects of grape growing and wine making, as well as his deep love and appreciation of the joys that good wine can impart. Sincere condolences to those he has much too early left behind.

    Terry Dunleavy, MBE, New Zealand

  4. Keith Grainger says:

    What a sad loss. Paul was a true gentleman, a wonderful ambassador, and simply brilliant technical director. I first met Paul in 1987 – I was a new WSET diploma graduate, and having won a scholarship, I thought I knew something about wine. After 30 minutes I was feeling both exhilarated and empty. Exhilarated at the knowledge and passion he had exuded, and empty because I realised that my knowledge was embryonic. I consider myself so fortunate to have tasted with him one to one, and with professional groups. Every question was always given a considered and detailed answer. There will be a huge hole in en primeurs this year and every year.

    I am sure that the forthcoming white ‘grand vin’ will be his everlasting memorial. Condolences to all his close and greater family

  5. David S. Eley says:

    Paul was priceless : the vacuum he leaves at Margaux immense and the affection and respect he garnered from around the world, totally deserved. He leaves behind a legacy of more than 3 decades, for which we are all profoundly grateful. It was a true privilege to know Paul and we are all deeply saddened by this news.

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