Chateau Pontet Canet History, Overview
Today, Chateau Pontet Canet produces what many people call the most popular and in-demand Bordeaux wine of the appellation. Pontet Canet is a Bordeaux powerful wine. It’s concentrated, balanced, tannic and charming as well.The recent success of Pontet Canet is due to the current management of the estate by Alfred Tesseron who is helped by the director, Jean-Michel Comme. Prior to Alfred Tesseron taking control, Chateau Pontet Canet was respected, but it was known equally for its history as well as for its wines.
As was the custom of the day, Chateau Pontet Canet found the inspiration for its name from its lineage. The estate took the first part of its name from a former owner, who was also the royal governor of the Medoc, Jean-François de Pontet. Like many owners during the early 18th century, Pontet enlarged his Bordeaux vineyards with purchases of additional Pauillac vineyards.
Several years after Pontet’s death, his descendants continued to buy Pauillac vineyard land, including a famous section from the Canet area. Once the combination of his name and the land were put together, this was the birth of the name Chateau Pontet Canet. Once the vineyard was fully established, Pontet Canet became and remained one of the largest Bordeaux wine producing estates in the entire appellation.
Pontet Canet was granted Fifth Growth status in the 1855 classification. This did not go unnoticed by one of the most important Bordeaux negociants of the day, Herman Cruse, Cruse purchased the estate in 1865. The Cruse family owned Pontet-Canet for 110 years, until another negociant, Guy Tesseron, acquired it in 1975.
Chateau Pontet Canet The Modern Age
At the time of the purchase in 1975 by the Tesseron family, the vineyard was in poor condition, needing a lot of replanting. Guy Terrerson was more involved in Cognac, even though the Tesseron family was already experienced in Bordeaux, as they owned Chateau Lafon Rochet in St. Estephe. In fact, Chateau Pontet Canet has only belonged to three families in over two centuries. That is quite a rarity in Bordeaux!
Since Alfred Tesseron took over running the estate in 1994, the property has continued to improve year after year. Even though Pontet is only a Fifth Growth, they are producing wines at the level of the best Second Growths and in some vintages, as good as the Firsts. Based on the current prices for the wines of Pontet Canet, the market agrees. Situated next to Mouton Rothschild, Tesseron has inspired others on both banks to work more organically as well as consider biodynamic farming. To illustrate this point, in 2010, Chateau Pontet Canet became the first major Bordeaux wine producer to earn the official Agence Bio (AB) organic certification. While the label will not mention this achievement, according to Alfred Tesseron, it is a fact. Organic certification was awarded by Ecocert. The biodynamic certification comes from biodyvin.
Alfred Tesseron has an interesting, philosophical look at what they are doing at Chateau Pontet Canet today. In an interview we conducted, when asked how he saw himself, Tesseron responded, “I am not a winemaker. My team members are not winemakers either. As most of the work is done in the vineyards, we are growers. Our success and achievements at Pontet Cantet are due to our efforts in the vineyards, not the wine making. At the end of the day, our goal is to produce unique vintages of Pontet Canet that are for drinking, not just for wine tasting”. That is a very apt description for Alfred Tesseron who at one point, desired to be a farmer, even though he earned a degree in oenology. When you think about it, Alfred Tesseron accomplished his goal, as he is a grape farmer.
In January 2016, Alfred Tesseron and his niece Melanie Tesseron expanded their vineyard holdings with the purchase of the massive estate of the late comedian, Robin Williams in Napa Valley. Tesseron Family buys Napa Valley Vineyard The Tesseron officially renamed the property, Pym-Rae.
Once Alfred Tesseron began moving Chateau Pontet Canet to sustainable farming techniques, he also began to tend the vineyard and vinify the wines on a parcel by parcel basis. In 1999, they hired Michel Rolland as their consultant. The goal of Alfred Tesseron and Chateau Pontet Canet is for to do as little intervention as possible. With that in mind, at Chateau Pontet Canet, they eventually shifted to biodynamic farming, a process Tesseron began to institute at Pontet Canet in 2004. At first, they started with just the Merlot on a trial basis. The results were so good, they went fully biodynamic in 2005! 2007 was the last vintage where chemicals were used.
Alfred Tesseron and Jean-Michel Comme, who started with Pontet Canet in 1989, are in many ways keepers of the non interventionist flame. A walk through their vineyards show vines looking a bit on the wild side. Instead of traditional green harvesting, hedging and leaf thinning, they prefer to reduce the number of buds per vines by pruning. The thought process at Pontet Canet is, as the vineyard and soils are healthy, they can protect the vines against disease naturally. Yields are below average at Pontet Canet. Generally speaking the yields at Pontet Canet are less than 35 hectoliterrs per hectare in most vintages.
Alfred Tesseron uses horses in the vineyards of Pontet Canet. The horses simply walk in the vineyards and turn over the soil. The logic is, because the horses never step in the same place twice, they are always aerating the soils in different parts, which is the opposite of what takes place when using tractors, which only move in the same allotted spaces. This simple act adds additional much needed oxygen to the soil.
According to Alfred Tesseron, the horses are more gentle when they churn the soil, and because they are lighter than tractors, they also pose less problems for the vines as they are perforce, much gentler on the soil. Currently, the horses work 34 hectares of their vines. It is the goal of Pontet Canet to eventually work the entire vineyard with horses.
Part of the problem with going that route when they initially stated using horses was the lack of enough room for more stables. With new stables being constructed, you can expect to see up to 20 horses at Pontet Canet, with the new stables. The horses are Postier Breton’s. The horses are actually gentle giants that enjoy eating the grapes when they work the soils. The first five horses to work the vineyard at Pontet Canet were named; Reine, Surprise, Turbo, Ulysses and Universe. Pontet Canet continues to expand their use of horses, hoping to eventually farm the entire vineyard with horses. Not only do they have horses, but their are also 3 cows and donkeys that live on the estate and help create their unique micro environment and terroir.
Since Chateau Pontet Canet began using horses in parts of their vineyards, other estates began following suit, including Chateau Latour in Pauillac, Chateau Margaux in the Left Bank and across the river to the other side of Bordeaux at Chateau Clinet in Pomerol. There are of course more examples as well.
In keeping with this spirit, fertilizers are organic and only used on plots that require extra nutrition. Pruning is done in winter. Each individual vine is considered separately and treated accordingly. All these efforts result in grapes that are evenly distributed, with good ventilation, maximum sun exposure, and improved ripeness.
Starting with the 2017 vintage, all the grapes are now destemmed by hand. Doing this by hand meshes with Chateau Pontet Canet’s continued their efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. To this effect, they continue striving to eliminate the need for electrical usage in their cellars. Now, you find almost no wall sockets for electricity. This alters how the wine vinified as they no longer do pump overs, because there is no machinery.
Lighting is now powered by geothermal energy that emanates from geothermal boreholes that were recently dug into their vineyards. The process works by using a polyethylene pipe to circulate water from and to geothermal heat pumps, simultaneously reducing their ecological thumbprint and removing any effects that electromagnetism might have on the wine
Chateau Pontet Canet Vineyards, Terroir, Grapes, Winemaking
The 81 hectare vineyard of Pontet Canet is planted to 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. This represents a small shift in the vineyard to more Cabernet Sauvignon that took place in 2009. The vineyard has a terroir terroir of deep gravel with clay and limestone soils. The vineyard of Chateau Pontet Canet is almost one large block of vines that can be divided into two main parcels. Each of those parcels are quite different as you find more Cabernet Sauvignon planted closer to the chateau, not far from Mouton Rothschild. The other parcel features more Merlot and is located closer to the river.
Those 2 large vineyard parcels can be further subdivided into 92 separate blocks. Located just across the street and just slightly south from Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau dArmailhac, they have nice neighbors indeed! On average, the vines are close to 45 years of age. The vineyard is planted to a vine density of 9,500 vines per hectare.
While many chateaux welcome new technology, at Pontet Canet, Alfred Tesseron moves in the opposite direction. His mantra remains firmly in the “everything is done by hand” department. Pontet Canet utilizes no computers to make harvesting or fermentation decisions. Tesseron, along with the important help and advice of Jean-Michel Comme who has been a significant part of Chateau Pontet Canet since 1989. Jean Michel Comme knows every inch and vine in the vineyard.
It was Jean Michel Comme who helped bring Alfred Tesseron to see the value in biodynamic farming techniques at Pontet Canet. The first experiments with biodynamics at Chateau Pontet Canet began with 14 hectares of vines in 2004. Alfred Tesseron wanted to be more cautious and start with just 2 hectares, but Jean Michel Comme convinced Tesseron to take a huge chance. Two years later, they were up to 24 hectares being farmed using biodynamic farming techniques. Today, they are 100% biodynamic at Pontet Canet.
Jean Michel Comme along with Alfred Tesseron have discovered how to find the perfect moment to pick. A large part of that is due to how much time Jean Michel Comme spends walking in the vines. He looks for deeply colored skins, brown stems, and most importantly, no rot. Then if the fruit looks good, he tastes. When the grapes are ripe, he picks. In some vintages, Tesseron explains, he looks at different parcels on a daily basis. “With 2009 as perfect as it was, we only looked things over a few times a week”.
Picking dates are not the only decisions being made without technology. Jean Michel Comme and Alfred Tesseron take biodynamics and natural vineyard techniques seriously. In the vineyards, Alfred Tesseron continues to use horses instead of machinery for some of the blocks. The reason is that horses are good for the soil. Tesseron laughed when asked if there were drawbacks and slyly responded, “Yes, the horses eat the grapes”. It’s a good thing they do not drink the wine as well! Currently, Pontet Canet uses horses to plow 34 hectares out the vineyards 81 hectares of vines. It is the goal of the estate that at some point in the future, the majority of Pontet Canet will be plowed by horses.
Chateau Pontet Canet Winemaking
While the original vat house was constructed in the 1800’s, the facilities at Chateau Pontet Canet were completely renovated in 2005. The wine of Pontet Canet is vinified in a combination of 11, 80 hectoliter, conical shaped wood vats and 37, 80 hectoliter, concrete tanks. All the fermentation tanks are situated just beneath the first floor, sorting tables, allowing for the completely destemmed berries to drop into the tanks using gravity. Malolactic fermentation takes place in vat. The wine of Chateau Pontet Canet is aged in an average of 60% new, French oak barrels for between 16 to 20 months.
For the 2010 vintage, Tesseron added numerous rows of Nomblot, concrete eggs to his range of vats. These concrete eggs first became popular due to their usage in the Rhone Valley by Michel Chapoutier. In fact, the egg shaped vats are a creation between Michel Chapoutier and the Nomblot company.
According to Alfred, “Pontet Canet doesn’t perform any computer analysis until the wine is finished. That requires people to work at the cellars, watching the fermentation process, 24 hours a day”. Chateau Pontet experimented with the aging process. Instead of using a combination of new and one year old, French oak barrels, Alfred Tesseron and the technical director, Jean-Michel Comme are trying something different. They are planning on aging up to 25% of the harvest in 900 liter amphorae jars along with between 50% new French oak and 60% new, French oak. Amphorae jars were the most common vessel used to store wine for centuries.
Pontet Canet is now also using about 50 amphorae jars. The special jars were produced specifically for use by Chateau Pontet Canet. 25 amphorae jars will be used to age Merlot and the remainder is used for Cabernet Sauvignon. The jars used for the Merlot will be produced from a combination of limestone and cement.
25 additional jars will be used to age the Cabernet Sauvignon. Those amphorae jars will be produced from gravel and cement The gravel and limestone used to create the jars came from the soil of Pontet Canet. The effect on the aging process is not yet known. However, it is thought that the jars would add more minerality to the wines, along with additional soft textures. Plus, as the amphorae jars are porous, they allow for more, limited contact with air, similar to what might occur during micro oxygenation.
The best vintages of Chateau Pontet Canet are: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005 and 2003. I have tasted older vintages of Pontet Canet back to the 1920’s, and while they can be good, they are not at the same level of quality being produced at the estate today.
On average, the estate produces perhaps 25,000 cases of Pontet Canet per year. There is a second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet, which made its debut in 1982. According to Alfred Tesseron, a smaller percentage of his harvest goes into the second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet these days. He prefers to allow the vintage and vineyards to express themselves. According to Alfred Tesseron, his desire for consumers is to taste each vintage of Pontet Canet as nature intended it. “Because every vintage tells a different story, and we want the wines to taste like the vintage, we do not make a lot of our second wine.” Instead of making more of their second wine, today at Pontet Canet, yields are lower and more wine is simply declassified.
In shocking news, the 2012 Les Hauts de Pontet was refused its Pauillac classification and was forced to be labeled as a Vin de France. This ridiculous ruling came out of the yearly blind tasting that all wines sold as Pauillac submit to. While the wine Les Hauts de Pontet is an easy drinking, pleasant experience, and as you would expect, the wine lacks the depth of Pontet Canet, it is a fine example of a light, early drinking Pauillac.
When to Drink Chateau Pontet Canet, Anticipated Maturity, Decanting Time
Chateau Pontet Canet is not at its best in its youth, even with several hours of decanting. This is due to the high levels of tannins and intense concentration in the wine. The wine is usually better with 10-12-15 years of bottle age. Of course that can vary slightly, depending on the vintage character. In the best years, the wine will best between 15 and 45 years of age after the vintage. Young vintages can be decanted for 2-4 hours. This allows the wine to soften and open its perfume. Older vintages might need very little decanting, just enough to remove the sediment.
Serving Chateau Pontet Canet, with Wine and Food Pairings
Chateau Pontet Canet is best served at 15.5 degrees Celsius, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool, almost cellar temperature gives the wine more freshness and lift. Chateau Pontet Canet is best paired with all types of classic meat dishes, veal, pork, beef, lamb, duck, game, roast chicken, roasted, braised and grilled dishes. Chateau Pontet Canet is also good when matched with Asian dishes, rich fish courses like tuna, mushrooms and pasta.
The same technical team, that produces the wine for Chateau Pontet Canet, headed up by Jean-Michel Comme, is also involved in managing the vineyards and making the wine for an estate located in the Haut Medoc appellation that is managed by the Cordier family, Chateau Senejac. As you might guess, Chateau Senejac, which is a really fine, Bordeaux value wine is biodynamically farmed. Jean Michel Comme also owns his own biodynamically farmed vineyard, Champ des Treilles in the Sainte Foy appellation.