Jean-Baptiste Ponsot Rully 'en Bas de Vauvry' 2021
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.
Nothing abides. Just as we Burgundy purists begrudgingly acknowledged the vitality and variety of the three previous hot-weather vintages, along came 2021, classic Burgundy with its frost, damp and low yields.
Way back when, in pre-climate-change conditions, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would struggle, year after year, to come to maturity in what was this, the northernmost spot in Europe where grapes could ripen enough to make still wine. That struggle was, in fact, the very definition of viticulture in Burgundy (chaptalization notwithstanding).
But then weather patterns started to change, not drastically, but gradually: milder winters and earlier springs; hotter summers and earlier autumns. By the time we got to 2018, then 2019 and then 2020, those mild winters were breeding grounds for mildew, the early springs were prone to killer frosts, those hot summers forced ripeness onto reticent grapes varieties, and early autumns left little time to the winemaker to sort it all out.
If this all sounds like an accident waiting to happen, hang on to your hat; it’s all perspective.
2018 was wet, wet, wet through winter and up to mid-April. Then an explosive bud-burst sent the winemakers scurrying to control the vegetation. But then it got hot, hot, south-of-Spain hot, and mildew never stood a chance. Early harvest, no health issues. Big crop. Great vintage.
2019 was wet through the winter. Early bud burst, then frost took part of the crop. A warm set up flowering, but cold weather set in, taking another part of the crop. Then it got hot and very dry. Well-tend vines and, especially, old vines did well because there was last winter’s water in the water table, and good vines can go deep for water. Hot, healthy harvest. Great really ripe vintage.
2020 was precocious. Mild wet winter. Bud burst in mid-April. From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end. Harvest started in August. Indeed, there was more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. When to pick? Overall, great vintage both white and red.
See a pattern?
And 2021…well in 2021 things returned to ‘normal’ (if such a thing is possible in Burgundy!) First came devastating frosts in the early part of April, which were followed by a cool May, leading to a damp summer with the ever-present threat of hail.
Chardonnay was more affected than Pinot Noir in that the red grapes come into leaf later. What all this means for the Burgundy harvest is that it will be a story of low yields (miniscule in places) and a late harvest.
When the older winemakers talk about what to expect this year, words such as ‘historic’ are used and comparisons are drawn with the harvest of 1970.
Some say we could be down 30% on 2020s already low yields. But it isn’t all bad news. Winemakers are nothing if not hardy, and their optimism cannot be shaken that easily. Fewer grapes on the vine means that those which have survived should have an intensity of flavor which sets them apart and may mark this harvest out as extraordinary. There may be other upsides, too: because the harvest is later, the grapes have had more ‘hang time’ which could mean good phenolic maturity.
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