Domaine Michel Rebourgeon Pommard 'La Vache 1902' 2019
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 2019 VINTAGE
There’s a popular saying here in Burgundy which points out that, since the start of the 20th century, vintages ending in ‘9’ have been exceptional. So when 2019 came around, we were secretly anticipating something special. Little did we know!
Every vintage comes with its own hyperbole: best of the decade; greatest of the century; another 1990. And it’s true, as the climate continues to warm, there has been some remarkable wine produced in recent years. But in Burgundy in 2019, it got hot.
Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly. Too much heat cooks the elegance out of them. So climate change is an existential issue for Burgundy wine as we know it.
But in 2019 something remarkable happened. I hesitate to call it a paradigm shift; it may well be a one-off. But in a year where, in some places, grapes turned to raisins on the vine, Burgundy has given us a vintage worthy of the hyperbole.
You won’t find many lacey, delicate wines this year. The vintage will be unapologetically bold and unbelievably concentrated. The whites are indulgent, often explosive, and pinned to a mind-bogglingly good acidic framework, given the summer heat. The reds are sophisticated and elegant, alive.
Perhaps most tellingly, despite the hot summer, this was not one of those late-August harvests that we’re getting accustomed to. The harvest got underway in the Cote de Beaune on 12 September. And some in the Cote de Nuits did not begin picking until the 23rd. The fruit was ripe earlier, but the fine conditions allowed the growers to wait for the holy grail: phenolic maturity.
You rarely get fruit maturity (the sugar part of the equation) plus phenolic maturity (the tannins in the pips and stems) coming together at the same time. Usually you sacrifice one for the other. You can’t force it to happen. Nature bestows it upon you. But when it does happen, that, almost by definition, is a great vintage.
2019 will be a great vintage. Think 2018 with more energy. The only downside is that, as opposed to the bumper crop we saw in 2018, 2019 was a small crop. Down by as much as 60% in the southern zones where it was hottest.
Let’s look quickly at how the season developed. The winter 2018/19 was mild, with higher than average temperatures in December and February. There was a lot of rain in December which many claim could ultimately have saved the vintage from the summer’s drought.
Spring was warm and the growth cycle started earlier than usual. There were precocious zones with bud burst in early April. But cold weather set in on 5 April with frost in many areas. Frost damage would have an effect on yields, particularly in the Maconnais. The cold weather held on through mid-April with several consequential frost risks.
Warm weather returned in May and remained until early June when temperatures dropped again, slowing growth again and hindering flowering. There was a good bit of flower abortion (millerandage), which, again, took its part of the yield at harvest.
Then mid-summer was hot-hot And dry-dry. The vines, for the most part, were in good shape going into the heat wave, but the stress was excessive. Vines handled the conditions differently from one plot to the next. Consensus is that old vines, with their deep roots, were able to find water in the subsoil. And that younger, well-tended vines, had a similar advantage. Vines with roots that went looking for water near the surface, however, suffered towards the end of the season, as they scorched and shriveled.
There was just a bit of rain in August, and from then on through September was hot but fine. In certain areas Pinot Noir ripened before Chardonnay, so harvest planning was complicated. The first Cremant vineyards were picked at the very end of August, and the harvest continued through to mid-October.
Harvest was a joy for the most part. Good weather. No disease. And the fruit that survived frost and fire was beautiful. Fermentation in both white and red went off easily. Whites finished slowly, gently, giving balance and purity. The length of red fermentation varied a lot, but the tannins are fine and the wine has vigor.
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