The story of Domaine Ponsot began with William Ponsot, who came from St. Roman, yet after returning from the Franco-Russian war, settled in Morey St. Denis in 1872. William’s father thereon bought him a number of plots. Under William, the Domain boasted Clos des Monts Luisants, followed shortly after by Clos de La Roche, which is their largest and finest holding. They then began to cultivate fruit in Les Charmes, Les Combottes and in Gevrey Chambertin. At the time a small amount was bottled by them, for use by the family and friends and in their restaurants; at the time the family owned a franchise for the station buffet in Northern Italy. William died childless in 1926 the Estate past to his cousin and godson, Hippolyte Ponsot, who in 1934 began the process of bottling their entire production: they were one of the first to implement this. They also started to sell in in the US, which goes someway to explain its huge popularity there. It is a romantic notion that the first labels were all hand-stamped by Hippolyte, again testament to the immense passion found in every stage of the Domain’s winemaking. During the 1930s, Hippolyte was largely involved in creating the Appellation d’Origine Controlee system in Burgundy.
In 1942, Hippolyte was joined by his son Jean-Marie, who as long-term mayor of Morey, ran the business through 1958 to 1980 when his son Laurent took charge. During the aforementioned period, the Estate began the acquisition and charge of working in Chambertin, Latricieres Chambertin, then in 1972 Jean-Marie’s wife inherited vines in Gevrey. There is history of innovation here with it being one of the first Domaines to practise estate bottling in the 1930s, and perhaps more significantly the Ponsot’s were among the first growers to understand the importance of clones and clonal selection – many of the most important Pinot Noir clones originate from their vineyards. In 1975 Domaine Ponsot was incorporated into a property company and in 1981 under the direction of Laurent Ponsot, they expanded adding Griotte Chambertin, Clos St. Denis, securing Chambertin and Chambolle Les Charmes. Last year Laurent stepped down and has begun his own venture, as such, the wines today offer a bridge to Laurent, at the height of his power in charge of this great Domain.
The Domain’s rich history explains why is it weaved into the tapestry of Burgundian wine. The innovation seen with the business is even more apparent in the winemaking. The Estate, while it does not call itself organic, makes use of no insecticide or pesticide. Laurent now uses the position of the stars and cycles of the moon to help the rhythm of the vines and surrounding plants. They use no sorting table; all defective bunches are removed long before even picking. The grapes are destalked, then allowed to ferment at their own leisure, for as long as they want, reflecting Laurent’s view that punching down and pumping over are overused. Aside from monitoring temperature, the grapes get on with the business of fermenting, then put in barrels which are 10 years old. Aside from a possible faint use when picked, the grapes see no sulphur, unless there is a problem. It is all rather like Roger Federer’s serve, all simple and minimalistic, but you try doing it. The winemaking means that the wine is often difficult when young, there is no extraction to be found, so colour can fade and obvious richness is reserved for later, for when a bottle of Ponsot has age, which is an ethereal experience.
The average vine age at the Estate is over 50 years, giving intense, yet subtle depth and richness. Ponsot’s wines are renowned and loved for their power, focus, mysterious depth and intense concentration of flavour and sweet spice. The grand cru, once ten years in, are among the most beautiful and harmonious of any wine and one of wine’s great treats. They are also capable of ageing for decades, gracefully yet encouraging intense tertiary flavours.