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Laurent Ponsot: ‘I am an haute couture négociant’

Following his abrupt departure from his family estate Domaine Ponsot, Laurent Ponsot has redefined his role as an “haute couture négociant” as he launches the wines made from his new venture.

Laurent Ponsot at his local distributor Altaya Wines’ office in Hong Kong

Recalling his departure from Domaine Ponsot in February 2017, the winemaker – who was made famous for his well-crafted wines as well as his crusade against fraudster Rudy Kurniawan – told dbHK in an interview: “I wanted to work with my son, and for personal reasons I wanted to get away from Domaine Ponsot,” though without divulging further details.

“I like to challenge, to invent and try new things. Maybe there’s no real explanation,” he confessed. “I wanted to fly. I am a pilot,” alluding to his past life as a soaring pilot before turning to winemaking.

But Ponsot has not completely severed his ties with Domaine Ponsot. He still has a 25% stake in the family vineyards, namely the grand cru site Clos St Denis in Morey St Denis, which he claims “does not belong or has ever belonged to Domaine Ponsot” but himself.

The grapes from this grand cru, beginning with the 2016 vintage, have been used in Laurent Ponsot’s own wine, he revealed, leaving a big question over the future of Domaine Ponsot’s Clos Saint Denis.

Describing his new wine project with his son Clément in Gilly-les-Cîteaux, he says he now wears more than one hat. “My new job is to be not only a vine grower, a winemaker but to be a négociant as well. There are several phases, the phase of producing, the phase of harvesting, the phase of winemaking and the phase of ageing. But the main element is to get the raw material, be it grape, must or barrels. The role of the négociant is to find out where are the best sources, and then age it.”

Continuing, he concluded, “My new job is to be an haute couture négociant. In fashion it means every detail is important and for me every process is important.”

Using his Corton Charlemagne as an example, Ponsot said he sourced the grapes from five different growers from the appellation’s different locations to produce what he calls a “real” Corton Charlemagne, a universal expression extracted from different terroirs in this appellation, a contrast to today’s heavy emphasis on single vineyard production.

“Burgundy is the only place on earth that has 1,250 appellations on a small surface, 75km long, 1 km wide on average. If you try to produce a Pinot [from one single plot], it’s not the right way, you have to extract from each appellation, the essence of the terroir,” he argued.

Bearing his name, the wines look nothing like his neighbours’ in Burgundy or his old estate. In fact, its label design looks like a conscious purge of Burgundy’s trappings without any mention of Domaine or Maison. Instead, the bottles are fashioned with futuristic labelling in silver and neon green designed by Ponsot himself.

Laurent Ponsot presented six of his wines in Hong Kong from Bourgogne level to his grand cru Griotte Chambertin

Another main difference from Domaine Ponsot is his new winery’s embrace of village and Bourgogne level wines. “In my new winery I don’t want to make only grand cru wines. I have nine grand crus already and I will probably reach 12 again with time. I have premier, village and the regular Bourgogne. You have to know that in Burgundy 55% of the production of wine is under the label Bourgogne, while grand cru is 1.5%, so I produce also lower level wines, with normal prices.” he said.

Production for his inaugural 2016 vintage stands at 47,000 bottles, and for the ensuing vintage, volume expanded to 80,000 bottles. Ponsot said he is actively looking for more vines to purchase and at the moment he makes wines from 18 appellations. He is also constructing a new winery in the Côte de Nuits, which would bring up his production volume but still he says volume will be contained within 350,000 bottles a year.

“I don’t want to be too big because when you are too big, you ask other people to do the job. We want to do the job, we want to put our hands in everything,” he explained.

Asked about his wine making philosophy, the much respected vintner underplayed his role and emphasised nature and terroir, but swiped at wineries today whose practice is dictated by biodynamic or organic principles.

“I hate labels on human beings. We don’t need to invent new names for that. I don’t use chemicals but I don’t want to be labelled. We have farmed vines for more than 8,000 years on earth, why did we take chemicals to the vine because they died…Don’t burn what helped you in the past…I think I have a very healthy life, but if one day doctor tells me that if you don’t take the pill and you will die, I will take it. Same with vines. If there’s no problem I will never use chemicals, I try to keep the ecosystem perfect but if one day a new disease comes like phylloxera and there’s one chemical that can save it, I will use it,” he said.

Today with the new wines, Ponsot has secured distribution to dozens of countries across the globe, thanks to his loyal followers. One market in particular that he is embracing for the second time around is mainland China.

“In 1985 I sold my wine [Domaine Ponsot] to China. In 2005 I decided to stop because the new drinkers knew nothing. Nouveau riche people are willing to show off buying a label, a fame, a name whatever the price, and put ice cubes in it, blend it or whatever,” the quick-tongued winemaker said.

“I don’t produce wines for speculation and I don’t produce wines to be drunk like coca-cola, so I decided to stop knowing that I will go back to mainland China one day, and knowing that Chinese people are learning fast that they will understand that you have to respect wine as you respect art. This is the case now.”

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