In Pomerol, Wines of Grandeur From Modest Estates

Posted on Posted in Articles, Clos Saint-Andre, Wine Press

excerpt from: THE POUR
By Eric Asimov

Jean-Claude Desmarty, shown here with his daughter Charlotte, farms the 1.5-acre Clos St.-André by himself. CreditAlex Cretey-Systermans for The New York Times

POMEROL, France — The word Bordeaux connotes magnificent chateaus, aristocratic (or at least wealthy or corporate) landowners and wines that occasionally live up to their pretensions.

But in the vine-covered countryside surrounding this sleepy village, where the tiniest undulation of the land constitutes a hill, another side of Bordeaux is on display.

Here, the sort of corporate ownership, grandiose architecture and Hermès-wearing executives you might find in the Médoc — home to many of the most famous Bordeaux estates — is practically nonexistent.

Contrary to the common perception of Bordeaux, Pomerol is a land of small family estates run by vignerons, people who grow the grapes and make the wines. Even as the wines of Pomerol are celebrated in much of the world, and the best are among the most expensive on the planet, the region operates on an approachable, direct human scale that is rare in Bordeaux’s exalted precincts.

Back in the 20th century, Bordeaux was the gateway to the world of fine wine, a kind of academy for those who wanted to understand wine in all its manifestations. But over the last 25 years, Burgundy has replaced Bordeaux as a paradigm for how to think about wine, with its dirt-encrusted emphasis on small farmers and terroir. In contrast to Bordeaux’s current image as a luxury brand, Burgundy has become a symbol of authenticity, even as its prices have skyrocketed.

Yet here is Pomerol, the smallest of Bordeaux’s most prestigious appellations, which some may insensitively describe as Burgundian.

...Clos St.-André, is tiny even by Pomerol standards. The proprietor, Jean-Claude Desmarty, farms the 1.5-acre estate entirely by himself. His remarkably precise wines are around $80 a bottle. He makes roughly 2,400 a year.

“I wanted to know if I could manage it from A to Z and do everything all by myself,” said Mr. Desmarty, who attributed this desire to “a lack of humility,” though he said it in the most self-effacing way.

AT TINY CLOS ST.-ANDRÉ, Mr. Desmarty lives with his wife and daughter in a house surrounded by his vines. He makes the wine in an adjacent building about the size of a large closet.

“There is no distinction between the place I work and the place I live,” he said.

His great-grandmother, a World War I widow, planted the vineyard as part of a mixed subsistence farm, and over the years the vines were rented out to others, until Mr. Desmarty decided he wanted to farm it himself. His first vintage was 2004.

“Her goal was to survive,” he said. “Mine was to make wine for me and my friends.”

The vineyard is 70 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet franc and, unusually, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, which Mr. Desmarty said helps with freshness and acidity in dry vintages.

I love the Clos St.-André wines, which are focused and linear, with flavors and nuances emerging one after the other. I am especially smitten with the beautifully balanced, exquisite 2014. The 2013, an extremely difficult vintage in Bordeaux, is lean but ready to drink now, as the surrounding vintages age.

“It’s not my best, it’s not my worst,” Mr. Desmarty said, though he is proud of the wines he makes in difficult years. “I don’t care about vintages like 2009 and 2015,” he said. “Even the worst winemaker could make good wine in those vintages. My work is more important in years like 2013.”

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