A visit to Château Pontet-Canet, Bordeaux

My visit to Château Pontet-Canet, in the Pauillac (“Poyac”) region was certainly one of my most unique and memorable visits in Bordeaux.  This is a 100% biodynamic and 100% organic certified winery that makes wines that even Robert Parker can’t fault. Both the 2009 and 2010 vintages received perfect 100-pt scores.

Pulling into the driveway I couldn’t help but notice their famous neighbor across the road, Château Mouton Rothschild.  It is iconic names like this that acted as constant reminders that I really was in the heart of some of the most sacred terroir. Even in the depths of winter, when the vines are barren and the landscape is brown, a constant stream of signs to leading to world-class appellations and chateaux were enough for me to get me excited.

I joined another couple for a private tour around the estate with guide Violaine Figon.  You’ll hear in great detail about the biodynamic and organic practices when you visit Pontet-Canet (“Pontey Caney”).  This is really a labor of love, and with the complicated practices, terroir and commitment it is easy to see why these wines a priced upwards of $70 a bottle in the US.

So what does it take to be biodynamic and organic in France?  Only wineries that have used these specific practices for at least three years can become certified “Bio” – and to be able to state this on the label.  I was surprised that it is not necessarily a marketing choice, and Pontet Canet chooses not to push their certified in selling the wines.  Mainly because the wines sell themselves and they want to make good wines based on merit, rather than using their certification as a marketing push.  I learned in Bordeaux that Parker reviews do the trick.

At Pontet-Canet they grow plants to spray in small doses on the vines.  They have a horse stables here because all of their 120 hectares (300 acres) are hand harvested and plowed by horses with buggies.  Absolutely no machinery at all is used in the maintenance of their vines or harvesting.  Unlike many of the other wineries I’ve visited that use computers to monitor and control the winemaking process, Pontet-Canet does not.  Like many of the top producers, Pontet-Canet uses a gravity driven approach to winemaking as it is a gentler process for the grapes.  They have both large oak vats and special concrete vats for fermentation – it all depends on the temperature during the winemaking process.  Concrete has less variation in temperature, which is a choice of the winemaker.

Another interesting fact is that Pontet-Canet has not filtered or fined their wines since 2004 (most wineries do this with collage, or egg whites).  Purposely not fining the wines keeps flavors intact, as fining can reduce the flavors.  This is why you may see sediment in these wines, which is not a fault.  They recommend decanting their wines.

I was interested to see that in addition to barrels, Pontet-Canet also uses Dolias.  These are egg-shaped barrels that are specially made for Merlot (with the addition of limestone to the concrete) and Cabernet (with the addition of gravel) designed to give the wines a more natural process.  One Dolia can hold up to four barrels of wine so there is also a space saving benefit to using them.

The big question with all of this, is does the wine taste any different if it is made from biodynamic and/or organic grapes?  The answer is really no.  It is really a choice by the winery, but there is no significant difference in the taste after using these practices.  So why do it?  Obviously these wines are also healthier due to lack of chemicals, but it generally boils down to the philosophy of the winery.

Once again it is the people that really make for a great experience.  Violaine gave great insights into the unique processes used at the chateau and led us through the entire process.  Seeing the process for myself gave me a completely new appreciation and understanding of these wines.  During your visit you will also see the actual chateau, winery, 200 year old cellar and stables, and the impressive “sea of vines” from the top floor of the winery.  It was an impressive visit.

WineryCritic Ratings

9/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

9/10 Location

8/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

8/10 Other experiences: Only the tour and tasting

N/A Knowledge of tasting room staff (There is no tasting room)

9/10 Friendliness of staff

9/10 Signage & ease of access

10/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required:  Yes

Address:

Château Pontet-Canet

33 250 Pauillac

France

Tel: + 33 (0) 5.56.59.04.04

Email: visites@pontet-canet.com

Visits are by appointment only and can be arranged in French, English and Spanish.

Date of visit: February 13, 2013