I could learn something from Ronan Laborde: At 34, he's run a dozen marathons; I'm training for my first. And perhaps all that distance running has given Laborde a longer-term view on things. He seems to just be getting started at his Pomerol estate of Château Clinet, producing not only one of the elite small-production wines of the appellation, but a solid value bottling as well.
"Bordeaux needs to learn to make wines people can buy and drink every day," said Laborde.
Laborde joined Clinet in 2004, working alongside his father who bought the initial property in 1999, when it was just 21 acres. Since then, the property has been expanded to 28 acres of vines and Laborde (along with his sister) took over ownership in 2010. Despite a background in management, Laborde had the wine bug from childhood.
"When I was young, I was the sommelier of the house, always running down to the cellar to bring up bottles for the family dinner," he said.
Laborde has begun working some of his parcels by horse, to offset soil compaction caused by using tractors. He's harvesting and fermenting by parcel, as much of Bordeaux now does. Laborde has also stopped using outside consultant Michel Rolland and starting in 2014 Clinet will be vinified in stainless steel vat, rather than wooden vat, a rather large shift for a wine that has displayed a rather hedonistic profile in recent vintages.
"Freshness and purity is certainly one argument for shifting to steel, but there are other factors too," said Laborde, who still seems relatively content to produce a higher octane style of wine. "Shifting from wood removes the potential for brettanomyces risk in wooden vats, which are very inefficient to clean. Stainless steel vats also use less water as we don't need to keep them filled when not in use, and they also maintain temperature more evenly. We've also brought in smaller steel vats than the wooden ones we had, to even better reflect our vineyard selection as we harvest."
Those new vats range between 35 and 68 hectoliters, rather small indeed. After vinification, Laborde plans to have the malo then take place in barrel, followed by a 14- to 18-month élevage in 60 percent new oak.
In the vineyards, Clinet totals 90 percent Merlot, along with 9 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Cabernet Franc. Most of Clinet's parcels are near the château itself, an elegant, modern-styled building with distinctive red shutters located a stone's throw from the elegant town church whose elegant spire rises above the vineyards of Pomerol.
Situated on primarily clay soils with some gravelly spots, Clinet's vines are highlighted by a 1-acre parcel planted in 1934, a rarity as the frost of 1956 had a devastating effect in the area. Striking red roses stand guard at the end of the vineyard rows, echoing the château's shutters.
The 2012 Château Clinet Pomerol was bottled in March and will be released later this fall. It saw just 14 months in 50 percent new oak, as Laborde wanted to maintain its freshness in this relatively gentle-edged vintage. It shows racy raspberry and red cherry notes, with Clinet's telltale bright red licorice and fruitcake finish.
Heading to U.S. retail shelves soon is the 2011 Bordeaux Ronan, which blends Merlot from the Côtes de Bourg, Lussac, Castillon, Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOCs. Vinified in stainless steel, using inner staves, it's fresh and breezy, with just a kiss of vanilla lining the delightful raspberry and Bing cherry fruit. The value Bordeaux, priced at $12, debuted in the 2009 vintage with 25,000 cases, and Laborde sees it climbing to more than 38,000 cases soon. To that end, he's building a separate facility for it on the edge of Pomerol, showing once again that he's taking the long-term view.