Nestled discreetly within Bordeaux’s right bank, Pomerol may not boast the dramatic landscapes or grand châteaux commonly associated with renowned wine regions. However, what it lacks in visual splendor, it more than makes up for with its deep-rooted history and exceptional wines. The precious soil in this compact appellation, covering almost 2000 acres, produces wines that boast a style and scarcity that amplifies Pomerol's renown worldwide. Despite its minuscule size compared to other Bordeaux sub-regions, Pomerol's wine quality is consistently exceptional. This blend of limited production and outstanding wine quality has fueled tremendous demand for what is arguably the finest example of Merlot in the world.
Pomerol's Unique Charm
Pomerol's charm extends beyond its terroir; it's also characterized by its size and intimacy. With only around 800 hectares of vineyards, Pomerol is the smallest among Bordeaux's major wine-producing appellations. This modest scale lends itself to boutique wineries, where the majority of châteaux operate on a small, personalized scale. Pomerol's châteaux exude an unassuming charm. Grand châteaux and flamboyant signs are noticeably absent among the top estates. Many of these wineries prefer to remain discreet, seamlessly blending into the humble and captivating landscape of the region.
A Journey from Obscurity to Wine Excellence
Pomerol's history is humble yet intriguing. Although vineyards have thrived here since Roman times, it wasn't until the 20th century that Pomerol began earning the recognition it deserved. Previously overshadowed by neighboring St-Emilion, Pomerol gradually emerged as a powerhouse in the world of wine.
Château Pétrus, an iconic symbol of the region, first graced us in 1878, winning a prestigious gold medal at the Paris Exhibition. However, it wasn't until the 1920s and 1930s that substantial markets for Pomerol wines were established in northern France and in the Dutch marketplace. In the United Kingdom, these wines remained relatively undiscovered until the 1960s due to stronger ties with the Médoc. The influential wine critic, Robert Parker, ignited Pomerol's reputation in the 1980s, sparking a surge in demand that continues to outstrip supply.
Pomerol's Historical Evolution
Pomerol's transformation from obscurity to a sought-after wine region is a story of resilience and adaptation. While its nearest neighbor, St. Emilion, began producing wine in the early 1300s, Pomerol remained overlooked, with only a fraction of its land under vine. Even as St. Emilion exported wines to England, Pomerol remind relatively insignificant.
The region began to evolve into a wine-producing commune in the 1700s as farmers gradually transitioned from wheat and produce to grape cultivation. This shift proved wise, given the challenging clay, gravel, and sandy soils. By the late 18th century, over 400 hectares were adorned with vineyards, and Pomerol had become a thriving wine-producing appellation by the early 1800s. White wine production, once prominent alongside red, gradually faded away.
While neighboring regions embarked on grand château construction projects in the 1700s, Pomerol was perceived as capable of producing only ordinary wines. However, the region's unique soil composition and proximity to the bustling city of Libourne paved the way for slow but steady recognition. La Conseillante and L’Evangile were among the first Pomerol wines to garner attention, setting the stage for others like Petit Village, Trotanoy, and Vieux Chateau Certan. The completion of the train line from Libourne to Paris in 1853 further opened markets for Pomerol wines.
Pomerol, like the rest of Bordeaux, grappled with the Phylloxera epidemic. Yet, it displayed resilience, gradually replanting and regaining its footing. In 1900, the Pomerol Growers association was formed, solidifying the appellation's boundaries by 1928.
The Birth of the Appellation
The official recognition of the Pomerol appellation came in 1936 when AOC laws were established by the INAO. These regulations specified that only Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec were suitable for Pomerol's terroir and thus could be cultivated in its vineyards. Additionally, all Pomerol producers were mandated to craft their wines at their châteaux, situated within the appellation's boundaries.
While some wineries were granted exceptions to produce wine in separate appellations, a 2013 French court ruling dictated that these exceptions, collectively known as Les Bannis de Pomerol, would need to produce all their wine within Pomerol by 2018, without any allowances. Although this order was later overturned, the current requirement is that all Pomerol wineries must produce their wine within the appellation's boundaries.
The Pomerol Plateau
One of the defining characteristics of Pomerol is its early ripening. It stands as one of Bordeaux's earliest-ripening zones, primarily due to its signature grape variety, Merlot, which dominates nearly 80% of the vineyards. This dominance contributes significantly to the unique style of Pomerol wines. However, it also exposes them to the fickle climate, resulting in variations between exceptional and less favorable Merlot vintages.
Pomerol's terrain lacks the dramatic slopes and exposures found in other Bordeaux regions. The landscape is predominantly flat, with a maximum elevation of 40 meters and no hills. However, the true character of Pomerol resides in its soils. Unlike St-Emilion, Pomerol doesn't feature limestone but boasts a complex amalgamation of gravel, sand, and clay. These soils are the essence of the region, with quality ascending from the lower terraces to the high plateau, commonly referred to as the Pomerol plateau.
At the peak of this plateau, heavy blue clay emerges at the surface, creating what is known as the Pétrus 'buttonhole.' These clay deposits, rich in water retention, bestow the deep color, potency, and volume characteristic of Château Pétrus. This geological phenomenon also extends into neighboring St-Emilion, influencing the wines of Château Cheval Blanc. In contrast, the plateau's other areas feature mainly sandy-gravel soils with abundant stones, infusing the wines with a robust tannic structure. Heading westward, the clay content once again rises.
Moving to the western lower terraces, sandy soils with finer-grained gravel predominate. The wines from this region are recognized for their enticing fruit ripeness and structural integrity, though they possess less power, volume, and complexity compared to their central plateau counterparts. Further west and south, the soils transition into even sandier compositions, resulting in wines that are lighter and fresher in style.
Terroir, Resilience, and Enduring Appeal
Pomerol's ascent from insignificance to a global powerhouse is a story of terroir, unwavering commitment, and the enduring allure of its exceptional Merlot-driven wines. With its unassuming charm, modest vineyards, and a history marked by resilience, Pomerol stands as a hidden gem within the Bordeaux landscape. As collectors and connoisseurs continue to unearth its well-kept secrets and savor the distinct flavors of this appellation, Pomerol's legacy is destined to thrive, solidifying its position as an adored and highly sought-after wine region on the world stage. Seize the opportunity to acquire as many bottles of these rare and highly sought-after wines as your budget permits before they’re gone!