Cork talk: is it an instruction? The strikingly branded corks used for all Château de Pommard and Carabello-Baum Burgundies
However small, and the vineyards are tiny compared to the great châteaux and estates of Bordeaux, no parcel or domaine in Burgundy ever changes hands unnoticed. So, the sale of Château de Pommard and its 20-ha walled vineyard (clos) in 2014 was big news. Only four families had owned the domaine in nearly 300 years and Marey-Monge is the largest clos and monopole (climat or cru in single ownership) in Burgundy.
But the news was bigger than that. It had been sold to an American, Michael Baum, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire who was not just an outsider but a foreigner. Nothing like it had happened before because local French growers effectively get first option on vineyard/agricultural land sales. They didn’t in this case because Château de Pommard’s previous owner, Maurice Giraud, had based the holding company in Luxembourg. To say that the reaction to the news of the sale was mixed is an understatement: there was wonder, welcome and unalloyed outrage.
Whatever they felt at the time, six years on no one could doubt the Carabello-Baum family’s commitment to the estate, its wines and the (UNESCO classified) region and it would be a determined naysayer who didn’t recognise the quality of the 2017 and 2018 vintages of the flagship wine, Château de Pommard Clos Marey-Monge Monopole, and the quality of other wines from the clos and under the Famille Carabello-Baum label in these vintages.
I have tasted seven (scroll down for tasting notes), so I’m certainly not vouching for the whole portfolio – 30 wines from generic Bourgogne to village, Premier and Grand Cru. But I was highly impressed by what I tasted and am not convinced that, “despite all the efforts, one senses a glass quality ceiling above which this wine will never go, a limit set by the terroir that even the most lavish attention to detail cannot exceed,” as the respected writer on Burgundy Raymond Blake wrote in his 2017 book Côte d’Or: The Wines and Winemakers of the Heart of Burgundy. While there is almost certainly a glass ceiling – Marey-Monge is not a Premier Cru let alone a Grand Cru – I place the ceiling high, and don’t find “a wine that is hard” (although I'm possibly misinterpreting Blake's use of the word "hard", in that he says "a wine that is hard rather than coarse").
On a positive note, Blake acknowledges that Michael Baum has continued and accelerated improvements initiated by his predecessor. He also describes the domaine as “probably the most visitor-friendly in the entire côte”.
There is no note, positive or negative, in the compendious and authoritative Inside Burgundy by Jasper Morris MW, published in 2010 during Maurice Giraud’s 11-year rein. Château de Pommard, Clos Marey-Monge and owner Giraud are conspicuously and mystifyingly absent.
In contrast, Château de Pommard had fared well in the 1995 edition of Anthony Hanson MW’s seminal book Burgundy. Hanson describes a visit he made to the domaine after the owner at the time, Jean Laplanche, was “stung by the derogatory piece” Hanson had written about the vineyard in the original 1982 edition. Hanson concludes by saying: “[the wine] is very impressive, and I bought some”, adding that he is sure the 15,000 visitors to the estate each year “go away delighted, as did I.”
"The results of the transition to biodynamics are said to have produced incredible results"
Coming back to the present, one of the improvements to which Blake referred has been the redefining of the the different terroirs in Marey-Monge, including two plots, Simone and Chantrerie, that renowned soil scientists Claude and Lydia Bourguignon confirmed as having the highest clay-density levels recorded in Burgundy, on a par with those in the Grands Crus of Richebourg and Musigny.
A second has been the move to biodynamic growing begun by Emmanuel Sala, the winemaker since 2007. Sala’s first major position in winemaking was at Josmeyer in Alsace in the early 1990s and it was there that he says he began his “lifelong love affair with biodynamic winemaking”. The results of the transition to biodynamics are said to have been “incredible”, including soils that are alive, 100-year-old vines giving good yields after producing very little, wines showing more intensity and energy, and wild life flourishing among the vines.
A third development has been the replanting, with a massal selection of three clones in 2017, of a 4.7ha plot called Émilie. The first vintage to appear will be 2020. Another very significant innovation has been the vinification and bottling of small quantities of the seven individual plots within Marey-Monge since 2017 (tasting notes on two of the 2018s below). And finally there is the – unparalleled in Burgundy – tourism side: tastings, classes and WSET courses; gourmet and harvest experiences; corporate events; dinners, wedding receptions etcetera (chateaudepommard.com).
I have given drinking windows but erred on the conservative, not to say cautious, side. If impeccably stored, I would expect the wines to age considerably longer.
Famille Carabello-Baum Meursault 2018
Picked 4 and 7 September. Indigenous yeast fermentation and ageing in the same barrels, 20% new, for 18 months on fine lees. Fining and light filtration.
Beautifully aromatic, with candied lemon, white flowers, oak spiciness, cream and almond on the nose. Stylishly integrated oak on the palate, emphasising the crystallised lemon-lime sweetness and concentration, adding an intriguing, delicate spicy bay-leaf/pine-resin note and giving a silky, wax-smooth texture. Richness anchored by tingling bright acidity. Long and balanced. Already delicious, but will be more complex in 2024. 13.6%
Famille Carabello-Baum Ladoix Premier Cru Les Gréchons 2018
Ladoix is the northernmost vineyard of the Côte de Beaune and Les Gréchons, at 360 metres, is one of the highest plots on the hill of Corton, with steep, sedimentary, fossil-rich soils. Picked on 4 September, fermented with Indigenous yeasts and aged in the same barrels, 20% new, for 18 months on fine lees; fining and light filtration. 13.6%
I'm delighted to be able to add my note on this wine (Sep 15, 2020). Medium-pale straw, it has intense aromas of crystallised lemon peel and oyster-shell and a rich, creamy texture. There's a delicate hazelnut note emerging through the finely etched and concentrated citrus fruit, and the oak, still youthfully spicy, is polished and seamless. Wonderful to drink now, but has years in it.
Famille Carabello-Baum Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017
From the the estate’s Les Lormes plot in the plain facing Clos Marey-Monge. Hand harvested and sorted on a vibrating table on 11 September. 100% destemmed (whereas 2018 is 35% whole cluster). Stainless steel fermentation. Long maceration with minimal pumping over and punching down. Ageing in French oak barrels, 10% new, for 16 months on fine lees. No filtration.
Very impressive. Vibrant, medium ruby. Perfumed cherry nose with black-cherry fruit of notable purity, intensity and concentration on the palate, enhanced by refined oak with a hint of coffee and a silky texture. Drink any time over the next five years. 13%
Château de Pommard, Pommard Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2017
A blend of the seven cuvées from the plots that make up the 20-ha Marey-Monge at the base of the hill of Pommard. Alluvial, sand and gravel soils from limestone and clay-rich terroirs. Vines aged 20–120 years. Vinification and ageing as for the Bourgogne Pinot Noir (above), except that 40% of the oak was new. No filtration.
Expressive nose – cherries, cranberries, hints of juniper and pomegranate – and a palate of density and intensity, yet a lightness of touch, effortless flow and persistence. Appetising savoury notes of earth, iron filings and orange zest, and understated tannins providing a keen frame for ageing. Lifted, precise and refined, but rounded. Drink any time over the next 12–15 years. 13.5%
Château de Pommard, Pommard Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2018
Picking started on 30 August five days earlier than in 2017, and finished four days earlier on 7 September. Hand harvest, sorting and vinification as for 2017, but the 2018 was aged for 20 months in French oak barrels, 20% of which were new. No filtration.
Like the 2017, very expressive and concentrated, but a little more turned towards black cherry, roses and spice. A similar note of iron filings (a Marey-Monge Monopole signature?) and, again, the elegant grip of fine tannins, beautiful definition, lightness, lift and freshness, but just a shade riper, richer and fleshier. Drinkable already, but any time over then next 15 years. 13.6%
Château de Pommard, Pommard Clos Marey-Monge ‘Micault’ 2018
Vines aged around 30 years on a 1.29-ha plot of fine alluvial soils in the west of the clos (originally planted as an English garden for the 1726 Château Micault). Harvested August 30 and vinified and aged as for the Marey-Monge Monopole blend 2018, but finished with a light filtration.
Ripe, bright, black fruit (of the vintage) with a floral whiff; polished oak and a touch of chocolate. Fruit forward, fresh, generous, nicely shaped with easy, fine tannins, but simpler, more primary and less complex than the Monopole blend. Drink over the next five years. 13.6%
Château de Pommard, Pommard Clos Marey-Monge ’75 Rangs’ 2018
75 Rangs is a 0.84ha plot on shallow, limestone-rich soils in the far east and lowest part of the clos, planted in 1962 and 1964. Harvested 31 August and vinified and aged as for the 2018 Marey-Monge Monopole blend, except that, as for Micault, it was finished with a light filtration. 13.6%
Very pretty, expressive nose: floral with a touch of vanilla reminiscent of some old-fashioned English roses, pristine raspberry and red cherry fruit, nutmeg and other sweet, earthy spices. Fine-boned structure with silky texture and super-fine sandy tannins; a twist of bitter-orange freshness and an iron saltiness woven through the clarion red and darker fruits. Not as rich or quite as complex as the Marey-Monge Monopole blends, but lovely clarity, balance and length. Will age 15 years.
All the wines can be bought from chateaudepommard.com
Photographs by Joanna Simon