Pomerol is both a wine region and an AOC in Bordeaux, in the southwest of France. Located near the town of Libourne, 45 kilometres north-east of Bordeaux, the appellation is approximately 3 by 4 kilometres in size, making it the smallest among of the most renowned wine regions in the country.
The flagship grape of the area is Merlot and the Pomerol wines that are made from the grape are very often described as some of its finest expressions.
The fame of the Pomerol appellation as we know it today is relatively young, dating back 50 years. Before this time, this small wine region was very different in regards to viticulture.
Although the Romans left traces of wine cultivation in Pomerol at around the 1st century AD, it was not exactly clear where the first vineyards were. Furthermore, the landscape of the area had been mostly vines up until the English founded Libourne in 1270.
Some buildings that are now the headquarters of prominent wine estates were built in the 13th century by the Knights Hospitaller. These were soldiers returning from the Crusades, who established hostels and hospitals in a region crossed by the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dutch started trading wines from Pomerol specifically to the Baltic countries, as well as the Hanseatics, today’s Benelux, northern Germany and Poland. The particular taste of these markets made Pomerol specialise in white, while reds from Bordeaux came from other areas, targeting separate markets.
One of the more obvious proofs of this trend is the fact the first Merlot, Pomerol’s flagship grape today, was first planted as late as 1760.
In the 19th century, the Dutch influence became less powerful and the demand for white wines from Pomerol slowed dramatically. At the same time, reds became pricier on the market and more appealing for producers. Lastly, the new railway connecting Libourne to Paris gave the region an easy access to an extremely lucrative market.
In 1936, Pomerol gained AOC status (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) banning completely production of white wines and formally completing the transition to reds.
At the beginning the 20th century, Jean-Pierre Moueix and his family established a negotiant business in Libourne. After obtaining exclusive selling rights for Châteaux Petrus in 1945, the family took more and more interest in wine-making, eventually purchasing several estates. In 1964, the majority share in Petrus was acquired.
The move implied a different direction to the winemaking of Moueix controlled estates, increasing popularity for the area and reaching a milestone in 1982. The astonished and glowing reviews from wine critic Robert Parker Jr also opened up a lucrative American market for Pomerol.
The position of this appellation on the international wine map today is considered to be firmly established, as the small Pomerol region is focus on prestigious, limited and quality-focus wines, whose demand is continually increasing.
Despite the general climate of Bordeaux being oceanic, Pomerol highlights more continental features due to the distance both from the Ocean and the estuary of the River Gironde.
Diurnal variation are more prominent in Pomerol and summers tend to be quite dry. However, rainfalls intensify during springs and, more importantly in autumn, Pomerol’s heavy clay soil retains water, increasing the hazard of grey rot on Merlot grapes during flowering, right before harvest. This is a problem especially for winemakers who practise extended hanging to prolong ripening.
For the smaller estates, this can be a costly endeavour. Big châteaux employ very expensive yet very effective and picturesque measures to dry out the grapes, ultimately impacting on the final price of the wine.
There are around 800 hectares of vineyards in Pomerol, making it the smallest within the major appellation in Bordeaux. The 150 different châteaux produce about 35,000 hectolitres per year.
60% of total Pomerol production is exported.
The flagship grape in Pomerol is Merlot, planted on 80% of the vineyards. Cabernet Franc accounts for another 15%m while the rest is Malbec.
These three grapes are the only ones allowed to be officially called Pomerol by the AOC. Despite the fact that only a tiny amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are planted in the region, wines from these grapes cannot be included in the AOC.
Historically, Cabernet Franc was the most planted red grape in Pomerol, but an early spring frost in 1956 jeopardised large portion of the vineyards and the estates took it as an opportunity to replant Merlot, significantly changing the profile of the appellation.
The appellation of Pomerol only allows three grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
To preserve quality, there are some restrictions in production, for example, only 42 hectolitres per hectare are allowed to be produced from the harvested crop and tan alcohol level of at least 10.5% needs to be maintained.
Commonly, the soil in Pomerol is sandy clay marl layered with gravel. Depending on the variation of those layers, it’s common to find both lighter, sandier soils and higher clay ones, producing differences in ripening time as well as power and ageing potential of the wines.
The most distinctive and consequential feature of the soil in Pomerol, however, is the clay.
Merlot is largely dominant in Pomerol, with wines blended as high as 95%, but with an average of around 70-80%. Cabernet Franc is very important in the blends as it provides tannic structure and acidity, key factors for the wine to be able to develop its ageing potential. It also adds a degree of spiciness.
Pomerol wines bring characteristic fruit flavours, such as plum and prune. Merlot is known to have a rich and smooth quality and is relatively unique in the fact that it can be consumed relatively early with a high degree of excellence, while also having the ability to improve with age.
Château Petrus is the most important producer in Pomerol and among the finest examples of Merlot. The estate’s production is limited, with less than 3,000 cases of Petrus released annually.
Château Latour à Pomerol is a small, yet highly renowned estate in Pomerol. It is not to be confused with the other Bordeaux producer, Château Latour. Widely recognised as having produced wines among the most legendary in Bordeaux’s legacy, it was particularly highly thought of during the glorious post Second World War period.