Eric Monneret - Architect of Merlot at Chateau La Pointe
By W Peter Hoyne
What accounts today for the prominence and celebrity status of Merlot based wines from the Pomerol region of Bordeaux? Pomerol remains one of the smallest appellations in Bordeaux, yet some of the most expensive wines reside here. This region is a collection of small parcels of family run chateaux with a modest production of wine compared to their counterparts on the Left Bank. Merlot was originally planted in Pomerol in the 1700’s but acclaim for these wines didn’t arrive until the 1980’s. From modest beginnings, these wines have risen in notoriety and captured public attention for their elegance and charismatic flavor profile. Pomerol’s wines are now revered among the elite and part of Bordeaux’s aristocratic society.
For nearly a decade I have followed the evolution of the wines of Eric Monneret at Chateau La Pointe in Pomerol. Its name reflects the triangular shape of the 56-acre property with vineyards planted in varying types of soil consisting of gravel, round pebbles, clay and sand. The history of this estate dates back to 1868 when the castle was under the ownership of Monsieur Grandet. Early on, the quality of the wine were ranked alongside properties such as Clinet, Le Conseillante, L’Evangile and other esteemed properties.
In 2007, the property was purchased by Generali France Insurance company which “breathed new energy” into the property. Eric Monneret was hired as the technical director and general Manager.
Before the 1980’s, Eric recognized that in Pomerol very few knew how to vinify the wines correctly. As long as the weather conditions were forgiving top wines were produced, but when the weather deteriorated the quality collapsed.
From the 1980’s and forward, it was all about modern enology. Wine critic Robert Parker Jr. of the Wine Advocate became an instrumental force in the industry after his reviews of wines from the classic 1982 vintage from Bordeaux. According to Eric “The “Parker’s style wines were a needed trend as it asked producers to better master oenology, vinification and wine aging. It was a key determinant for wine quality and a necessary step in the right direction. It helped a lot because everyone started to understand how to vinify and how to age the wine. For me this period from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s and during this time, the wine is really better. The quality is better.”
“The new generation has had to rediscover that producing wine is mainly vine growing. We went back to the vineyards and rediscovered new practices, because with better farming you have balance, freshness and everything. You create the wine in the vineyard and then you just have to express it in the vat room correctly. We started to say ok, our job is mainly farming. If you are a good farmer and have your vines in good soil, they are alive, in good shape and environmentally friendly, you will have better density and balance in the wine. We remembered that enology does not dominate agriculture. “ Because of these better farming practices and clay soils, Merlot has been able to adapt to global climate change.
According to Eric the beginning of this new step in Bordeaux was with the 2016 vintage. Because 2016 is really the Bordeaux style that we love. It has density with a nice touch of tannin and is so fresh and elegant.
I had asked Eric why some people refer to him as an agricultural engineer? He responded “because of my conviction in that everything is coming from the soil and farming. Everything else comes after that. I want to be a geologist first. The wine business is deeply linked to the soil and geology.
By Eric’s standards, “now it’s time to focus anew on the vineyard, to change our agricultural practices, to read our terroir and express the singularity of each terroir. To rediscover that our job is mainly farming. I spend a lot my time in the vineyards. Farming was not so fashionable, now it is in to be a farmer.”
I questioned why Pomerol has become so trendy. Eric stated “maybe, in Pomerol it is getting better in the last decade because it is more close to what people expect now a days. Here it is handcrafted with small estates and a small team that are very involved with the product. Pomerol is the old classic image people have of handcrafted producers. It is a return to proper farming.”
In Eric’s view “the balance of the Merlot is much better than it was 15-20 years ago. For me, the difference between the top wine is elegancy. Producing something that is strong and powerful is easy and boring. Producing something strong, powerful and elegant that is 5% of the top quality. To reach elegancy you need to have freshness. To have freshness you need to have good acidity. That is true of every great variety, but particularly for Merlot.
“There is nothing worse than an overripe Merlot. As you know Merlot is one of the most difficult varieties to grow because of the profile of the tannin and the level of acidity. As soon as Merlot is overripe it’s overcooked and boring. It’s not interesting at all. With Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, even if the weather is hot and a bit difficult, it has the natural acidity and will help reabsorb part of the over ripeness, but for Merlot, as soon as it is overripe it is awful. The window to harvest for Merlot is very short.
Furthermore “during the last decade we have rediscovered some very fresh Merlot. I hate over ripeness. Our job is just to pick ripe, not over ripe or under ripe. I have pushed harvesting one week later than we used to. I achieve perfectly ripe tannins and then I have something strong and powerful, but with very silky tannins. It is a plot by plot approach so I can reach better ripeness of the tannins and extract something strong but fresh.”
Eric’s vision is “to reach more people and explain the style of the wine. The communication is handcrafted too. A great wine is not only a prize, it’s not only speculation, it’s an exceptional agricultural product and is very rare. My special aim is not to stay at a high price, my aim is to produce the best quality and to communicate it with the maximum number of wine lovers.”