Domaine Michel Rebourgeon Pommard 'La Vache 1902' 2018
Exceptional and rare. This one you have to taste to believe. This is a Pommard village appellation from a single vineyard called La Vache, but from a part of the vineyard planted in 1902, just after they figured out how to deal with phylloxera. So these are among the oldest vines in Burgundy. This is rarity. This is history. This is respect for what came before. For all the verve of the young William Whitehead, somewhere back in the mists of time his ancestors were also looking to the future.
Powerful, dense and concentrated. Length that even approaches Grand Cru wines. Haunting Intensity. Incredible spice and minerality with deep dark fruit. Massive levels of explosive fruit.
Is there a more unusual story today in Burgundy?
At first sight, perhaps not. The Domaine Michel Rebougeon, in the heart of Pommard, has origins dating back to the 16th century. It has gone by its present moniker since 1964, and in 1996, Michel’s daughter, Delphine, and her English husband Steve Whitehead took over.
This small domain is made up of prime appellations in Pommand, Volnay and Beaune, 4.25 ha (10+ acres) in all.
Steve had a wine business in the UK in the 1980s, and it was during that time and via that business that he met his future wife, Delphine. When Delphine’s father, Michel, neared retirement age, Steve left his UK business and joined the Rebourgeon family domain.
He and Delphine worked the vineyards themselves. The small production was sold mostly out the door at their ‘caveau’ on the main square in Pommard. So while the domain had classy wines in some of the bell-ringing appellations in the zone, it remained small, discreet and undiscovered.
Now that Steve and Delphine are getting closer to retirement, their son William has taken charge. And the profile of the domain has changed overnight. When these notes were written in 2021, William was 21 years old. His father tells me that he was avidly in the vines every day after school from the age of 8. And his enthusiasm shows. William Whitehead, at a very tender age, shows the maturity and touch of a winemaker with decades of experience, and innate ability.
As always in the Press, there is a lot of hyperbole. But a) before William, there wasn’t much Press about the domain; and b) it’s just true, the kid has talent. The vineyard work, the expression of ‘terroir’ and the generosity of the wines, from the simple regional Bourgognes through to the quasi-grand-cru ‘Rugiens’, is astounding.
Out of the discretion and potential of the Domaine Michel Rebourgeon past, a star is born.
BURGUNDY 2018 VINTAGE
There has been talk over the past year of the 2018 vintage in Burgundy being one of the greatest of all time. Comparisons with the mythical 1947, and all that. But let’s be careful and take a closer look.
We’ve tasted some marvelous wines, both white and red, and from all of the appellation levels. Purity and concentration would be the key words across the board.
But lest we forget, 2018 was the hottest vintage in Burgundy since 2003. And frankly, we were expecting wines like we got in 2003: flabby whites and Cote du Rhone-like reds. But that did not happen. And the secret to understanding 2018 Burgundy lies in understanding the difference between these two very hot years.
If you look at 2018 from start to finish, not only was it hot, it was dry: 50% less precipitation than the annual average over the past 30 years. However, if you were here in the early part of the year, you’ll certainly remember the rain.
After a very dry summer in 2017, winter 2017-18 was wet. It rained nearly every day through March and into April. And the vine was slow to bud.
That all changed in the middle of April. Wet soil and higher temperatures brought on explosive growth in the vineyards that the vignerons had a tough time keeping up with. In a week we went from bud burst to unfurled leaves.
The first flowers burst in mid-May. The crop set regularly with very little disruption, and summer settled in. The early wet conditions followed by April’s warmth saw the onset of mildew, but the fungus never stood a chance.
It was a hot and sunny summer. Some would say it was a heat wave and a drought. And we started to see signs of stress in vineyards in certain sectors. Things were better where there was a little rain. But August was bone dry. In fact, there was no rain from June 15th to the end of October.
It was about this time that comparisons to 2015 cropped up. You could see ripeness rapidly approaching, and there was talk of harvest starting at the end of August.
The vines were incredibly healthy; no moisture means no threat from mildew or odium. No rot. Good ripeness.
And, for the first time since 2009….a normal yield! So, let the harvest begin!
And it did, in the last days of August. What was most astonishing right from the start was that the perceived acidity levels seem OK. Granted, there’s no malic acid, but the levels of tartaric acid seem to be compensating, and there is an over-all impression of balance.
Also amazing was the amount of juice the crop produced. Not only was the yield bigger than the past 10 years’ average, but the amount of juice set a record for Burgundy. So there will be a lot of 2018 around.
And all this in a year that felt more like the south of Spain than Burgundy as we know it. The only thing we can attribute the quality of 2018 to is the abundant winter rains, and the vine’s ability to go searching for water when it needs it.
COTE DE BEAUNE
Pommard lies between Beaune and Volnay where the Côte de Beaune makes a slight turn towards the Morvan. After Beaune, it is one of the larger vineyards. There are no grands crus, though there is a perennial debate about which of the best vineyards should be promoted. As in many of the best wine villages, the appellation is split by a combe with the village lying in the mouth of the valley. So here in Pommard, we speak of the north (Beaune) side vineyards and the south (Volnay) side vineyards. And that goes someway to explaining Pommard styles. But Pommard has a quirk: its best vineyards are not necessarily all situated on slopes. In fact many are in the flatland north of the village.
Produced only in the commune of Pommard, appellation Pommard includes 28 premiers crus.
Pommard has a reputation, forged in the 19th century, of being a massive beast of a wine. But look where it sits, between the south of Beaune and Volnay. Time, terroir and oenology have combined to show us a much more subtle Pommard, a wine that is richer and at the same time more elegant than its caricature. It can be deeply colored, and its berry fruit can be supported by cherry pit and plum. And yes it can develop wild aromas and chocolaty textures, but it will never be a tannic giant, but rather a full and gutsy, mouthwateringly rich, fruit-filled nugget.
On the lower slopes and flat ground, the soil is ancient alluvium. Mid-slope, the clay-limestone soils are well drained thanks to the inclusion of rock debris. Higher still are jurassic oxfordian marls, brown calcic soils, and brown limestone soils. In places, the soil is red with iron. Exposures are south or east, and altitudes range between 250 to 330 meters.
Red wines only - Pinot Noir
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
321.69 ha (including 122.31 ha Premier Cru)
Pommard's density is perhaps its most important feature when combining with food. Most will tell you that because it is so massive, it should be served with game. And is some cases this is correct. But you will find that braised and stewed meat and poultry work well, and the finesse of the wine can accent the rusticity of a simple stew. It is a natural partner for flavorful cheeses Époisses, Langres and Soumaintrain, but also Comté.
On the label, the appellations 'Pommard' and 'Pommard 1er Cru' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Clos de la Commaraine
Clos de Verger
Clos des Epeneaux
Le Clos Micot
Les Combes Dessus
Les Croix Noires
Les Grands Epenots
Les Petits Epenots
Les Rugiens Bas
Les Rugiens Hauts
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, know as a lieu-dit:
La Croix Blanche
La Croix PlanetLa Levrière
La Plante aux Chèvres
Le Bas des Saussilles
Les Combes Dessous
Les Petits Noizons
Rue au Porc