In connection with the visiting day of Le Week-end des Grands Cru I visited three producer on the right bank of Bordeaux, the Merlot-dominated area around the city of Libourne, which is located on the right bank of the river of Dordogne. We did one visit in Pomerol and two in Saint-Émilion. The visit to Pomerol was at Château Le Bon Pasteur, the flying winemaker Michel Rolland’s own family vineyard. Or rather, it was his until a short time ago when the Rolland family sold it, more about that below.
Rolland consults and has consulted for very many producers, but also produces his own wines, on the right bank of Bordeaux and in Argentina, South Africa (Simonsberg Stellenbosch), and Spain (Toro). The collective label for all of these is The Rolland Collection. Both Michel Rolland and his wife Dany – they met when they studied oenology at the Bordeaux University and both then started to work at a wine laboratory – are involved in the business. Our host at Le Bon Pasteur was his son-in-law, so I assume that the daughter is also working here.
The term Le Bon Pasteur is a Christian concept also found in John 10:11, and in English it is called the Good Shepherd, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”.
The property Le Bon Pasteur originally consisted of vineyards in the three communes of Pomerol, Saint-Émilion and Néac, the last one in the appellation Lalande-de-Pomerol. Originally all three wines were called Le Bon Pasteur, reasonably with the respective appellation indicated. From 1978, the wine from Saint-Émilion has been called Château Rolland-Maillet and that from Lalande-de-Pomerol called Château Bertineau Saint-Vincent. They are still produced at Le Bon Pasteur since the other properties don’t have any buildings of their own. Le Bon Pasteur consists of 7 hectares with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, and is raised 15-18 months in new French oak. In the latest vintages they have experimented with a form of cold pre-maceration (macération pré-fermentaire à froid) in oak to provide additional focus to the fruit.
Michel Rolland is known to be the winemaker, or perhaps one should say winemaking consultant, who is the world leader in achieving wines that corresponds to the style favoured by Robert Parker and correspondingly scored generously by him. This has of course made him very sought-after as a consultant, but also seen with skepticism by those who dislike “parkerised” wines or that global homogenisation of style which is claimed to follow in its footsteps. Some claim that Rolland tries to make everything taste like a Pomerol, meaning powerful, fruity and Merlot-dominated. This type of criticism of the Parker/Rolland style, or at least the caricature of it, seems to have been increasing throughout the 2000s. Rolland was also portrayed rather negatively in the film Mondovino (2004), a film I found more partisan than documentary in its overall story, and he was portrayed in a way that I considered rather unfair.
Therefore, it might be worth pointing out that his own family wine Château Le Bon Pasteur actually doesn’t conform to the caricature of a Rolland wine! It is definitely a true Pomerol in style, with powerful fruit concentration, deep berry aromas with rather dark notes for being a Merlot, hints of sweet fruit and velvety tannins. On the other hand is is very balanced and elegant, it doesn’t reek of toasted oak and it isn’t overly sweet or alcoholic.
In the end of May 2013, just after our visit, it was announced that Le Bon Pasteur (including the two affiliated propoerties) had been sold to the Hong Kong company Goldin Group. According to this article, the reason for the sale was the shared ownership between several members of the Rolland family, and the desire of Michel Rolland’s brother to sell, since the property apparently didn’t yield that much current profits relative to its value. Apparently it had been obvious for some time that they would have to sell. This must, interesting enough, mean that Michel Rolland couldn’t afford to buy his brother out, despite the claims that he’s able to charge astronomic consultancy fees. My guess is that that income has been invested in the foreign properties, and I wouldn’t surprise if the high French inheritance taxes have played a role in the decision to sell, since they cause problems for many wine growers.
Château Le Bon Pasteur 2002
Nose with red berries, a hint of tar, mild dried spices, barnyard aromas, leather, typical developed Bordeaux nose. Medium bodied (+), palate with red and some dark berries, some sweetness of fruit, medium tannins of a rounded character, just a hint of bitterness. Pleasant development and maturity, can take more but is rather ready in development, 89 p.
(At a quick tasting the day before, after many other wines, I scored it “91 p?”, but the note above should be more reliable.)
Château Le Bon Pasteur 2006
Nose with red and a hint of dark berries, slightly sweetish note, spice, some oak, leather and some other animal notes, emerging development. Palate with red and dark berries, quite concentrated, just a hint of sweetness of fruit, medium+ tannins that are rather well embedded but not yet rounded, spice. Tannic aftertaste with with quite a bit of red berries. Somewhat developed, would benefit from more maturity, 91 p.
Not particularly sweet fruit for a right bank wine, good balance and a typical Pomerol, i.e., darker notes than a typical Saint-Émilion.
Château Le Bon Pasteur 2010
Nose with red and dark berries, cherries, flowery and perfumed (actually some maceration semi-carbonique feeling, or “some but positive Beaujolais vibes”), well integrated oak notes, some sweet liquorice, elegant. Good concentration of fruit, dark and red berries, very well embedded medium+ tannins with a silky impression. Aftertaste with tart red berries and tannin. Fine balance and polished elegance. Young, but reasonably approachable, 92+ p.
(At a quick tasting the day before, after many other wines, I scored it “91+ p”, but the note above should be more reliable.)
Château La Grande Clotte Blanc 2010
Bordeaux blanc, the property is located in Lussac, and its red wine is a Lussac-Saint-Émilion. Grape varieties are 60% Sauvignon Blanc and Gris, 25% Sémillon, and 15% Muscadelle.
Sauvignon Blanc-influenced nose with ripe yellow apple, some gooseberry, some honey, discrete spice notes, some mineral. Palate with yellow apple, good concentration of fruit, a bit of sweetness of fruit, honey, slightly waxy, good acidity, rather good mineral notes. Food-friendly style but good balance, approachable now, 88 p.
Le Bon Pasteur is less expensive than the really pricy Pomerols despite the connection to Rolland, and is well worth seeking out.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.