It’s a cliché to begin this report by imagining the suspicion that must have greeted the news that a Silicon Valley high tech milionnaire had bought the illustrious Château de Pommard in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. Yet it’s impossible to tell the story without it. It was in 2014 that Michael Baum ended his nine year search for a place to make fine wine, at the 300-year-old estate of Château de Pommard. Though defintely an ‘outsider’ from a very different world and culture, the family seem to have embraced the challenge and opportunity, settling in Pommard, a town of 600 souls and far removed from the pace, scale and life of San Francisco.
Only the fifth family to own the Château de Pommard, there has been enormous investment and change under the Carabello-Baum regime, and yet continuity too. Winemaker Emmanuel Sala has been here since 2007, having made wine in Alsace with Josmeyer, and journying via Bandol and Chablis. Half of the wine they make is from their estate vines, and labelled as Château de Pommard, but there is an expanding range of négociant wines that appear under the Famille Carabello-Baum label, though made by the same team and, it appears, to the same exacting standards. Pictured: Michael Baum in front of the Château.
The domaine wines are all produced organically and, from next year, will be certified biodynamic by Demeter. Since the Carabello-Baums took over tractors have been replaced by horses to work the twenty hectares at Clos Marey-Monge, which lie around the Château in Pommard. Commenting on the estate’s 2021 vintage, Michael says that up to 40% or 50% of production might be lost to spring frosts, as for eight or nine nights in a row the thermometer dipped well below freezing.
It appears the Château (actually Châteaux, as unusually there are two historic houses on the property) is a buzz of activity at the moment, both having been totally renovated in an ongoing seven year project, scheduled for completion in 2022. As well as upgrading the winery and cellars, a 28-room, 5 star hotel is being built, as well as a restaurant, health and wellness centre and corporate events facilities. Clearly the entrepreneurship of Silicon Valley is alive and well in rural France.
Another interesting aspect touched upon by Michael was their wine schools: one at the Château and one in Paris, both offering full educational programmes to WSET criteria, “always fully booked every weekend when we run a course,” he tells me. The final project that has been keeping him busy is Vivant.eco. “It’s a passion of mine to bring wine and tech together,” he says, this being an interactive platform offering live, tutored wine experiences involving winemakers and educators, with what appears to be a very busy programme of online events.
And so to the tasting. Emmanuel began by describing “The magic of the nines,” with years ending in a ‘9’ producing outstanding vintages over recent decades and 2019 following that sequence. “We had a beautiful spring and early bud burst, with just enough rain. The rest of the season was dry and warm, but with good freshness. It is one of favourite vintages ever,” he says. Yields were very low, at around 20hl/ha to 30hl/ha, so the production is relatively small.
The wines tasted here are generous, confident wines, not shy on alcohol to acheive that ripeness of fruit, but with very carefully handled oak. “Oak can so easily put a ‘mask’ on the wine,” says Emmanuel, who stresses his careful choice of coopers, barrels, and the modest levels of new oak he prefers to use.
Having been hugely impressed by the 2018 ‘Simone’ cuvée from Château de Pommard a few months ago (note included below for reference), I have to say I loved all three of these Famille Carabello-Baum wines. It’s a full and deliciously forward style, that I suppose leans a little towards ‘New World’ in terms of ripeness and their fairly sumptuous expressions of their terroirs, but the wines lack nothing in terms of clarity and freshness and, ultimately balance. These are beautiful Burgundies marrying tradition and modernity as successfully as any I have tasted.