Pontet Canet History

On my most recent trip to Bordeaux to taste the 2005 vintage I had the opportunity to visit Château Pontet-Canet and meet with the owner Alfred Tesseron. Walking through its cavernous hall above the chai plays host to the northern Médoc Châteaux showing their new-born wines to the world's journalists and wine merchants. It is one of the few Châteaux whose grand dimensions could accommodate so many stands and the thronging crowds that descend upon Bordeaux during Spring. This wine was one of the highlights of my tastings and I would go as far as saying it is as good or better than any other wine from Pauillac in 2005.

The origins of the vineyard dates back to the early 18th century when Jean Francois Ponter a Major-General of the Medoc and Royal Master of the Horse, bought several plots of land north-west of Pauillac in close proximity to the Gironde estuary. His descendants procured further tracts of land in 1750 in an adjacent area called "La Maison de Canet", thus creating one of the most significant estates in Pauillac. It was classified as a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification and ten years later, the 120 hectare estate was acquired by wine-shipper, Hermann Cruse and it remained in the families' hands until 1975.

This was a significant year for Pontet-Canet, the year it was purchased by Guy Tesseron, who had married into the Cruse family and had already acquired Château Lafon-Rochet in 1959. Unfortunately at the tail-end of the Cruse era the reputation of Pontet-Canet had been marred by neglect, the owners treating it as a brand rather than a respected Fifth Growth. They employed out-dated practices such as bottling in their own cellars instead of the Château and selling bulk parcels of wine to the French railways. Its lowest point came when the French Court found them negligent in blending and labeling practices, a litigation which ultimately led to the property being sold.

Despite the incoming, more assiduous owners there was no instantaneous automatic Lazuras-like resurrection like Château Pichon-Baron in the mid-1980's. The wines were still blighted by harsh tannins with an unappealing dry, austere finish and it is really in the last half-dozen years that Pontet-Canet has fully-deserved its Fifth Growth status. The improvement and change in style can be attributed to consultant oenologiste Michel Rolland as well as Alfred Tesseron himself.

The estate covers some 120 hectares located next to Château Mouton-Rothschild with 80 hectares under vine, cultivate on Quarternary gravel soil with a clay/limestone subsoil. Grape varietals consist of: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The average age of vine is 35 years and the planting density is 9,000 per hectare.

by Andrew Lampasone

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