Article - RareWine Academy

Pomerol Is Synonymous With The Best Of Bordeaux

In a short time, fame came to Pomerol, dominated by high quality, an extremely high base level and world-class producers. Learn more about Pomerol here.

An almost invisible plateau underlies Pomerol, which has gone from being unknown to famous over a period of half a century. Pomerol is one of the best appellations in Bordeaux and it is a quality stamp of dimensions. 800 hectares of vineyards produce coveted wine, and this is the story of the appellation, home to Petrus, Le Pin and Château Lafleur.

When Fame Came To Pomerol

Although Pomerol is geographically the area closest to the Roman Empire, the Romans first planted vines in Saint-Emilion, which today is also a wine-dominant area in Bordeaux. However, more and more farmers in Pomerol began to change their farming from crops and wheat to viticulture, and throughout the 18th century more and more fields were covered by vines, although still only a minimal area.

And although the tradition of winemaking in Pomerol is long, fame has come to the French wine mecca within the last 100 years - in the world of wine this is quite a short time, and in fact fame only really took off in 1983, due to a trio of events.

First of all, 1982 was a warm vintage, which provided good conditions for wine growing. Secondly, Michel Rolland had a decisive role in the fame. He was at that time a consultant at the vineyards of Pomerol, where he gave his professional opinion. Rolland also worked closely with Jean-Pierre Meueix, who owned some of the most famous chateaux in Pomerol: Lafleur, Petrus and Trotanoy. Rolland was an advocate of sorting grapes, creating better concentration, and harvesting ripe grapes, which created a new style.

A new style that Robert Parker would turn out to be a great supporter of.

Today, the Parker name resonates loudly and well in the world of wine as perhaps the most well-known wine critic of all, but in 1982 he had not yet been awarded star status. Here he was an independent wine critic from the US, but that was to change significantly with the 1882 vintage in Bordeaux. The vintage offered plenty of sunshine, resulting in tannins that were ripe in a way that until then had been unheard of in Bordeaux. Robert Parker could recognise this, as he also had considerable experience of tasting the wines of California. Maturity and balance, along with this concentration, led him to proclaim 1982 an outstanding vintage in Bordeaux. At first, he was alone in this opinion, as the classic European wine tasters still preferred the old style. But that changed.

1982 Was A Milestone In Bordeaux

The 1982 vintage was not only a milestone for Pomerol, but for the whole of Bordeaux. The maturity of the grapes on the vines reached a whole new level, heralding a new era in Bordeaux.

To understand the importance of the ripeness of the grapes, it is worth looking at the 1956 vintage. In 1956, there were very hard frosts throughout Bordeaux, which destroyed many vineyards and resulted in having to plant all over again. The severe winter frosts that hit in 1956 forced temperatures down so low that the vines died.

As a result of the frosts of 1956, most vineyards were replanted, which meant that many of the wines produced in 1982 were at near optimum maturity. Normally, a vine is expected to perform optimally from the age of 25-30 years, and that window was precisely hit with this vintage. The vintage also came on top of a decade in which there were few good vintages to speak of in Bordeaux. Today, 1982 is considered one of the greatest vintages of the last century.

Michel Rolland, Robert Parker, and the weather conditions of the vintage brought fame to Pomerol. Demand increased and prices followed suit.

Petrus Petrus

Pomerol For A Hundred Years

A hundred years ago, Pomerol produced white wine and relatively anonymous red wine in the style of the rest of Bordeaux, and it was only here that the ambitions began to show. After the devastation of phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, it was not until 1900 that the first association of producers was established in Pomerol. This led to the establishment of partially official boundaries in 1928, which were confirmed by AOC legislation in 1936. Thereafter, only Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon were permitted to be planted within the boundaries of Pomerol.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were exports to markets in Belgium and Holland, but most wine was sold on the domestic market. Pomerol was still not hugely famous, though increasing in quality. From 1945 came the first big boom for Pomerol. A series of superb vintages of high quality paved the way and opened the doors to the important markets of England and the rest of Europe. At this time, châteaux such as Petrus and Lafleur had not even begun to produce wines that attracted much attention. This changed, however, with the 1945 vintage, when Petrus in particular raised the bar, attracting outside attention as well.

The period leading up to the major turning point in 1982 was characterised by prosperity, despite the frost disaster of 1956. After replantings with the perfect varieties and clones came the uprising with large vintages in 1959 and 1961. Now things were looking much better and prices for the best wines were approaching those of competitors on the left bank of the Gironde estuary.

Pomerol Today: Château Designations And Merlot

Pomerol is located west of Saint-Emilion - just after the appellation border, where Château Figeac and Château Cheval-Blanc are located. Pomerol is an area measuring 813 hectares, which is less than 0.7 % of the total area of Bordeaux.

Today, there are about 130 producers in Pomerol, some of whom adorn themselves with a chateau designation. The vast majority of producers live in small buildings that cannot really be called châteaux. There is no real town in Pomerol, just scattered buildings and a single church.

The eastern part of the area is called the Pomerol Plateau, and here are the best châteaux. As a visitor it is difficult to see hills and ridges, but the range goes from 7 - 39 metres above sea level. So that little difference is present, and it matters a lot. At the top, Petrus is enthroned on its own tiny hill.

Today, about 800 hectares are planted in Pomerol made up of 70 % Merlot, 25 % Cabernet Franc, and the remainder with Cabernet Sauvignon and small plantings of Malbec. There is a broad consensus that the commune has optimal conditions for maturing Merlot. Pomerol's advantage is to be found in the soil, which is part of the important terroir that defines the wine's final character. Terroir covers the soil, the climate, the weather and of course the winemaker's skills. Terroir is everything that can influence the wine.

Soil And Classification In Pomerol

The soil of Pomerol is composed of clay, small parts of gravel, as well as a high iron level. The clay and the location mean that Merlot flowers early in the season and has a longer ripening period here than in neighbouring communes in Bordeaux. Long ripening results in a higher level of sugar, which gives the wines the softness and richness that are so characteristic of the area. This is what separates good Pomerol from good Saint-Emilion.

The soil is, as mentioned, clay at depth, but on top there is a layer of limestone, which helps to provide optimal drainage for the vines. It is important that the soil at both top and bottom has the right composition of small and large stones so that water is retained sufficiently in dry periods but can be channelled away in wet periods.

However, the key to success lies in the depth, where the clay, which comes in several shades, helps to create the right temperature in the soil, which allows optimal ripening of the grapes. The heat ensures an early start to the season, which often allows producers in Pomerol to harvest before the others in Bordeaux. Often before the problematic rains arrive in the autumn.

Le Pin Le Pin

The Leading Producers In Pomerol

In Pomerol the bottom level is high. This means that every producer has a wine that lives up to the area's fame. However, there are three producers who stand out a little more than the others, which is why they are also worth highlighting when Pomerol is unfolded.

Petrus - The Flagship Of Pomerol

Petrus is definitely one of the greatest producers in Pomerol - and indeed in all of Bordeaux. The history goes back a long way for Petrus, although the big commercial breakthrough first came with the 1945 vintage.

Petrus has been owned by the Moueix family for many years, but in 2016 20 % was secretly sold to Colombian investor Alejandro Santo Domingo for € 200 million. That makes the château worth a whopping € 1 billion, which works out at € 87 million for one hectare.

The name Petrus comes from the hill where the “château” is located, which is named after the Roman Petrus who lived there when the Romans ruled the area. The name is also said to have originated from the Greek Saint Peter, Petros.

Petrus is first mentioned in the 1750s when Château Gazin sells vineyards to the château. Shortly after, Petrus is traded to the Arnaud family in 1770, and ownership remains with them for 100 years from then on. In the mid-1800s, Petrus, along with Vieux Château Certan and Trotanoy, was considered one of the better châteaux in Pomerol that had yet to attract attention. In 1917 Petrus changed hands to the former employee M. Sabin-Douarre, who transformed the ownership into a company - which makes sense in terms of French inheritance law.

In 1929, Madame Loubat becomes the single owner of Petrus, adding it to an impressive collection that also includes the best restaurant in Libourne and two smaller properties in Pomerol. Around World War II, Loubat enters into an agreement with Jean-Pierre Moueix to help produce and sell the wines of Petrus. Jean-Pierre Moueix also ran a negociant business, as well as several other chateaux in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.

From 1964 Moueix took over ownership of Petrus, and in the late 1970s his son Christian Moueix took control for a period before being drawn to Napa Valley and the establishment of Dominus Vineyards. By this time, Petrus was already trading at the same prices as the best chateaux of the Medoc.

Petrus consists of an almost discreet building, with 11.5 hectares of vineyards planted only with Merlot, although in the past there has been up to 20 % Cabernet Franc in both vineyard and wine.

The soil is unique on the Petrus Hill, which rises to 40 metres above sea level. It is composed of 40-million-year-old blue clay, which is quite special as clay would normally erode down to low-lying areas. This clay soil holds water and helps create a unique tannic structure in the wines of Petrus.

In both vineyard and cellar everything is done to optimise the quality of Petrus. Since the 1970s, harvest yields have been reduced from 70 hl/ha to 40 hl/ha today. This gives around 2,500 cases of wine per year. Petrus delivers a small and highly demanded production.

Le Pin - The Lone Pine

Le Pin has established its name in record time and is today sold as one of the most expensive wines from Pomerol. In fact, Le Pin's history in the wine world is relatively short, and they presented their first vintage in 1979.

Georges Thienpont acquired Vieux Château Certan in Pomerol in 1924, and in fact he intended to add Le Pin to his portfolio, but for economic reasons, the outcome was different. Instead, Georges' grandson, Jacques Thienpont, acquired the Le Pin vineyard and associated property in 1979. The name, incidentally, comes from the lone pine tree that stands near the house. The wine cellars were in poor condition and the house was nothing more than a shed used for garden tools. The road to success was paved with obstacles.

The vineyard also had to be partially replanted, so the first vintage was made from grapes from half of the 2-hectare vineyard. The first vintage was sold for 100 francs a bottle, and despite the low price, it was not easy to sell. Fortune, though, was to come relatively quickly to Le Pin. 

As with Pomerol in general, the turning point for Le Pin came in 1982. Robert Parker awarded 100 points and praised the atypical Le Pin wine from the area. This attracted attention and demand for Le Pin increased, which also resulted in the price level quickly surpassing the Grand Cru Classé wines from the left bank in Bordeaux.

Over the years, Thienpont has acquired several hectares, and today the property is 2.7 hectares planted with Merlot. At present, the vines are around 35 years old on average, producing between 400 and 600 cases of wine each year.

The Thienpont family still owns and runs the château. The wine is today produced in the new winery built in 2012 and since 2021 Diana Berrouet-Garcia has been in charge of production. The world's wine lovers demand Le Pin, and the lone pine tree is not so lone anymore.

Château Lafleur

With 4.58 hectares, Château Lafleur is quite small in size, but huge in reputation. Recent years have seen a series of top-rated vintages that once again confirm the greatness of this estate. Opposite Château Lafleur is Petrus, and whether this neighbourship intensifies the competition and the quality remains to be proven, although it is a fact that both wines receive towering ratings from the world's leading wine critics. Today, Château Lafleur is still owned by the same family that acquired the property in 1872 - Jacques and Sylvie Guinaudeau took over in 1985 and are carrying on the family legacy with expert skill.

The wine is made in a renovated winery from 2018, and everything is exactly as the family wants it. One of the unique things about Château Lafleur is the grape composition, which is evenly split between Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This combination is more normal in Saint-Emilion than in Pomerol. The planting dates back to the 1920s and has been maintained since the 1980s by selecting the best clones replanted in the vineyards.

“one of the most distinctive, most exotic, and greatest wines – not only in Pomerol, but in the world",

- Robert Parker

At Château Lafleur Robert Parker has also had an impact. In 1975, he visited the estate and was blown away by the wine. And since then, Lafleur and Parker have followed each other up the ladder of world fame. With nine vintages awarded >98 points by The Wine Advocate since 2000, Château Lafleur stands as one of the best châteaux of these years, which is why the price is also high.

The château also produces the wine Pensées (de Lafleur), which since the 1990s is no longer a 2nd wine, but a wine made from grapes from an extra humid belt that stretches through the estate's very square vineyard. These 0.8 hectares have significantly more humidity than the rest of the vineyard and, according to the family, produce a wine that is more typical of Pomerol than Château Lafleur.

Pomerol Oozes Quality

Pomerol has established itself as one of the best appellations in Bordeaux. Likewise, Pomerol is a static appellation and there is broad agreement that there will be no classifications here.

Pomerol also differs by being close to monoculture - understood in the sense that there is practically no room to plant more vines. There are no empty land plots or land plots used today for anything other than wine. The very fact that the aforementioned Château Lafleur had to pay dearly for a neighbors’ kitchen garden to expand tells the story of all the good land being incorporated into the appellation.

A flat appellation without big châteaux that steal the attention. An appellation where small paths connect the properties. An appellation bubbling with quality, high prices and great fame. Pomerol may not look like much, but the taste is magnificent - and so is the greatness.

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