Jean-Baptiste Ponsot Rully 'en Bas de Vauvry' 2020
Stony-dry minerality, smokiness sublimated by a very elegant and creamy toasted aging. Great finesse and tension, a hallmark of Ponsot whites. All the complexity of the premier crus! Aged 12 months in barrels (one-third new oak) and 3 months of assembly in mass (15% of tank, 20% of new barrels and the rest in barrels of 1 to 4 wines).
Every village in Burgundy has its locomotive, its driving force, it’s star producer. Some are famous and take center stage. Others are more reserved, discreet, working behind the scenes and leading by example. Jean-Baptiste Ponsot in Rully is perhaps the best example of the latter that we have ever met.
Rully, in the Cote Chalonnaise, makes twice as much white as it does red. But it has soils apt for both. Iin Rully, there are village appellation vineyards, as well as premier crus, producing great wines in both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
And Jean-Baptiste Ponsot works several of the best-positioned parcels.
The domain started in 1954 with Jean-Baptiste’s grandfather producing grapes as one of several crops on his polyculture farm. Jean-Baptiste’s father took the step to monoculture, and grapes, and then wine, became the only crop.
Jean-Baptiste took the reins at age 20, and in 2005 built a purpose-made winery and cellars. Today the domain works 8.5 ha (20 acres) on the best slopes in the appellation, two-thirds in premier cru and a third in appellation Rully; two-thirds white and a third red.
Vineyard work is best described as ‘sustainable’, with no herbicides used, and rigorous, meticulous farming to enhance soil quality. High quality, beautiful fruit is the goal. So there is strict control of yields, aeration of the grape bunches as the season develops, selective pruning (depending on the plot), an increased leaf height to protect from frosts, and leaf stripping to allow maximum exposure to sunlight.
In the cellar, wines are left 12 months in oak, one third new, then assembled en masse for another 3 to 6 months, depending on the vintage. Jean-Baptiste says that this resting period is what accounts for the elegant tension that is found in his wines.
His stated goal is to increase quality year after year by respect for the environment and responsible farming.
En Bas de Vauvry
This plot of 2 hectares and 83 acres in the Rully Village appellation was acquired by Jean-Baptiste’s great-grandfather in 1910. Formerly a meadow, vineyard plantations only started in 2000, ending in 2009. He and his father planted these vines in white and red: 2 hectares and 33 acres in Chardonnay, 50 acres in Pinot Noir. « En Bas de Vauvry" is one of the few Rully appellation plots to be located in the heart of the historic Premiers Cru hillside of the appellation, and is considered one of the best village appellation parcels .
This vine plot is exposed East - Southeast, on average slope. Its subsoil is composed of an oxfordian substratum of white marls and marly limestones dominated by so-called oolitic limestones of "Nantoux", whose colluvial scree participate in the coarse fraction of soils. Its soil is brown, limestone, very stony, with a fine marly fraction.
This 2 hectare vineyard is located in the Rully Premier Cru appellation area and belongs to the domain since 1954. This parcel was planted in Pinot Noir by Jean-Baptiste’s father and grandfather from 1978 to 1988 for a part, then by his father and him after that, when it was enlarged. In 2011, Jean Baptiste also bought an additional 1 hectare of Chardonnay which had been planted in 1975.
Molesme is a very generous ground plot, which does not fear drought. It is exposed East - Southeast, with a flatter topography of Piedmont. Its subsoil is composed of an oxfordian substratum of lithographic and oolitic limestone. Its soil is reddish brown calcareous, partly colluvial, with satisfactory hydric regime but with a possibility of seasonal karstic resurgence very localized in this plot.
This beautiful plot of Rully Premier Cru belongs to the domain since 1952, on a surface of 1 hectare and 71 ares. Montpalais was planted in Chardonnay by
Jean-Baptiste’s father and grandfather in 1954. It is therefore a vine that is pruned in simple guyot. This plot never freezes, but is very prone to erosion because its slope is strong: it therefore requires special vigilance
This vine plot is exposed East - Southeast on a regular slope but rather pronounced. Its subsoil is composed of an oxfordian substratum of white marls and marly limestones dominated by oolitic and lithographic so-called "de Nantoux" limestones, whose colluvial screes participate in the coarse fraction of soils. Its soil is brown, limestone, very stony, with a fine marly fraction.
With so many winemakers finishing their 2020 harvest before the end of August, everyone here in Burgundy expected that this hot, sunny vintage would produce atypical wines, overripe, fat and flabby. Why it did not is a mystery to this day.
In fact, 2020 Burgundy, both red and white, is being lauded by the Press and professionals alike as an exceptional vintage, brilliantly fresh, pure, elegant and focused. Yes, the wines are ripe and concentrated, but there is good acidity that more than brings things into balance. This, in fact, defines the Burgundy 2020 style: high acidity and high concentration.
So let’s look, as we do every year, at how the growing season developed, to try to get some idea of what shaped these unexpectedly energetic wines.
In a word, from start to finish, 2020 was precocious. After a mild and humid winter, the vegetative cycle started a month early under sunny skies, with bud burst in mid-April and the first Chardonnay flowers in early May. Then the weather deteriorated. Pinot Noir flowered in cool, damp conditions, and was less successful than Chardonnay, explaining the smaller Pinot crop.
From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end, the driest year since 1945. The grapes started to change color in mid-July, and harvest in August seemed likely.
Now you may think that an August harvest lets everyone get their jobs done and go home early. But remember that there is a big difference between the heat and luminosity of an August afternoon and the cooler, shorter days of September. When maturity comes galloping at you in August, you have to react quickly; a day or two can mean considerable differences in acid and sugar levels.
Indeed, there may have been more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. 2020 was in fact an easy growing season, dry, with little risk of fungal problems. The tough part was deciding when to harvest. Do you put off harvesting to try to get to phenolic maturity, or do you pick sooner to keep acid levels up and to avoid higher alcohol levels?
Many opted to pick early. And for the most part, it proved to be the right decision…though we still do not understand why!
Many 2020 wines have alcohol levels of 13%-14%, but many are higher. Delaying picking increased the potential alcohol levels by as much as a degree a week.
At the same time, good levels of phenolic maturity gave ripe, but not overripe tannins. Some call the 2020s ‘crunchy’, which is a tannin level riper than ‘green’ but less than ‘fine’.
Total acidity was generally high, but most of that was tartaric acid. Malic acid, which would normally make up a big percentage of the total acidity, was low. In fact, the wines changed very little during malolactic fermentation, as there was little malic acid to transform into lactic acid.
So, again, we have a vintage that is characterized by high acidity and concentrated fruit. Some are saying that there has never before been a vintage where ripeness and acidity combined to give such brilliant wines with great aging potential. And this is true for both red and white. Freshness, balance, moderate alcohol.
The whites are rich and ripe, but with a crystalline, almost razor-sharp edge. That little touch of lactic acid makes them complex without adding weight.
The reds might bear a resemblance to past vintages. 2005, maybe. But they made wine differently in 2005. Back then, extraction was the goal: get as much out of the ripeness as you could. Today, Pinot is not so much ‘extracted’ as ‘infused’, like tea. This gives wines that are fresher and more energetic, with no less intensity and maybe more spice.
Drink them now, both red and white. There is astounding vitality in the youthful 2020s. But stick to the regional appellations for now because this is above all a vintage for aging, again both red and white. Keep the premier and grand crus for 10-15 years; longer for the best wines. They have the balance to age, and will reveal little by little the complexity that we just get hints of today. These are wines that may shut down for a few years in a few years, that’s to be expected. But be patient; you will be overjoyed to pull 2020 Burgundy from your cellar down the line.
But even just that little touch of lactic acid made the complexity of the whites.
The village of Rully is situated at the extreme northern end of the department of the Saone et Loire. But tasting the wine it produces, you would think you are still in the Cote d'Or. 15 km from Chalon sur Saone and the wine production zone around the village of Mercurey, south west of Maranges and in the sphere of Chagny, Rully sits at the foot of the Montagne de la Folie, a limestone ridge running north to south and dividing the village from neighboring appellation Bouzeron.
Produced in the communes of Rully and Chagny, appellation Rully includes 23 premiers crus.
Rully white is gold flecked with green, and deepens with age. It should be very floral with notes of hedgerow flowers (acacia, may, honeysuckle and elderflower) as well as lemon acidity, and ripe peach fleshiness on smoky flint minerality. There are several very serious sections of white wine production in the village. Time brings out honey, quince, and dried fruits. These wines should be full of lively round fruit.?
Reds should be ruby through to black cherry with a bouquet of black fruits (blackcurrant, blackberry and black cherry) plus liquorice and perfumed floral notes. On the palate, there can be firm tannins, giving the wine a defined structure.
Subtle differences in the wines are due to differences in soil, exposure and altitude, all of which vary considerably in the zone around the village of Rully. At heights of 230-300 meters, the slopes produce wines which can compete with the best wines of the nearby Côte de Beaune. Generally, Pinot Noir is grown on brown or limey soils with little clay in their make-up. Chardonnay prefers a clay-limestone soil.
White wines - Chardonnay
Red wines - Pinot Noir
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Whites : 223.56 ha (including 58.81 ha Premier Cru)
Reds : 133.47 ha (including 37.19 ha Premier Cru)
The fruit of white Rully calls for delicate. tender food. As the Saone River is just across the plain to the east, you often see river fish, sauteed and in wine or butter sauces or fine Bresse poultry in creamy sauces. It adapts well to hard cheeses such as Comté.
The reds surprise by their structure, at once solid (they can be closed early on) and fruit filled, they match well with roasted poultry, or offal (liver, sweetbreads, kidneys) in sauce or simply sauteed. Risotto and pasta with meat can have the richness to smooth down the firm tannins of a young Rully.
On the label, the appellations 'Rully' and 'Rully 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 du Chaigne
Clos St Jacques
Le Meix Cadot
Le Meix Caillet
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, know as a lieu-dit.
Bas de Vauvery
Bas des Chênes
Meix de Pellerey
Moulin à Vent