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Silicon Valley entrepreneur to double capacity at Burgundy’s largest monopole

Published:  24 January, 2020

Chateau de Pommard, the Burgundy estate owned by American businessman Michael Baum, is undergoing a major winery upgrade in order to help launch the seven terroirs and soil-types of its walled vineyard Clos Marey-Monge into key markets.

Chateau de Pommard is something of an anomaly in Burgundy’s rustic landscape in that it has not only one, but two historic chateaux on the property.

It is also home to Burgundy’s largest monopole – a 20ha plot of walled land that can trace its origins back to pre-Revolution times (its founder, Vivant Micault, was secretary to Louis XV, whose grandson Louis XVI was guillotined in 1792).

And now, in 2020, its US owner is looking to take the theme of pairs forward with the construction of two new wineries: one for red and one for white.

The wineries, which are likely to see juice from 2021, is part of a major rethink that has been underway since the Silicon Valley entrepreneur headed to Burgundy to fulfil his passion for wine in 2014.

Under the direction of long-standing winemaker Emmanuel Sala, the estate has been making the switch to biodynamics, with the ‘Demeter’ certification also slated for 2021.

But perhaps the biggest focus has been the re-assessment of its historic Clos Marey-Monge vineyard.

After separating the soils into seven different bottlings, the wines are now coming to the UK via a newly minted partnership with Jascots.

“Coming from Silicon Valley, I have an innovation bone in my body or two,” Baum said on a visit to the UK this week.

“Emmanuel and I decided to look at the vineyard not as a single 20ha clos, but an assemblage of plots, because we have seven very distinct soil types on the property. In the wine world, everyone is obsessed with terroir these days. We thought, ‘we have the opportunity to do it right’.”

‘Doing it right’ includes a number of soil assessments, which have been ongoing for several years, with around 200 bottles being put away each vintage “until we felt comfortable that each plot truly represents its own identity as a Pinot Noir. We’re big believers that the vine and grapes are only a conduit of the soil and what we taste in the glass”, said Baum.

The first full range was released in August 2019 from the 2017 vintage, with all seven plots, Simone, Chantrerie, Les Paules, Grand Champ, 75 Rangs, Micault and Émilie – each with their “own soil type and microclimate” – represented.

The estate also produces a cuvee of all seven plots, with the blend for 2018 now underway.

As one of the first Americans to arrive in Burgundy, and with a tech background, Baum is part of a wave of outside investment in the area over the past decade, looking to straddle the tradition and forward-thinking divide. Thus far, this has included reverting the 20ha plot to its original name, Clos Marey-Monge; while also placing a focus on education, becoming one of the first WSET programme providers in the Cote D’Or.

But it is perhaps Burgundy’s ‘issue with inorganic farming’ that Baum is most eager to reassess.

This began at the estate’s own clos, with 15,000 vines ripped up and replanted in the first year alone.

He said: “We had a lot of old and dead vines. The average age is around 70 years. So it needed a lot of care. Emmanuel was already in the process of weaning the vineyards off chemicals, which was helpful. We have some great wine in Burgundy, but not many great organic wines – there’s a lot of ground up glyphosate and lot of sulphur.

“Grape vines should be able to produce fruit for hundreds of years, but the challenge is that the right vine isn’t always planted in the right place. Also, the feeding of all these non-organic materials weakens the root structure over time. We’ve seen it in the Émilie plot, as well as elsewhere. The vines are chasing water on the surface rather hunting down for minerals; people are tearing out vines at 40 years old because root structures fail and the plant snaps off.

“Being biodynamic and organic requires a lot more resources. But hey, horses are cheaper than tractors – even if they eat a lot. And taking the longer term view, it makes much more sense.”

Harpers covered the partnership with Jascots back in October

After building the business via restaurants in Paris and others areas of France, Chateau de Pommard is now aiming to build on its client base of private clients in the UK, via an on-trade presence.