On the Grapevine with the Grower: Jonathan Maltus

We’re kicking off Bordeaux season by having a chat with one of our favourite growers from the region, Jonathan Maltus. A true British maverick, Jonathan purchased Chateau Teyssier in Saint-Emilion back in the 90s and became synonymous with the Garagiste movement – low-production, artisanal wine made in contrast to traditional Bordeaux. By 2014, Jonathan was one of the most successful winemakers in the region with a perfect 100-point score from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate under his belt.
 
In 2015 Jonathan approached us as he wanted to present a very special new wine from his last boutique single vineyard site. Based on the plateau in Saint-Emilion on some of the best soils in the region, with old vines (some pre-‘56) surrounded by Grand Cru Classe chateaux, allocations of Pontet Labrie are available exclusively through Honest Grapes as part of a membership club (by invitation only). The maiden 2015 vintage alone has 96 points from Jeb Dunnuck and Pontet Labrie is already considered as one of the most elusive wines on the planet.
 
Jonathan is our eyes and ears in the region, and we asked him to tell you a bit more about himself, as well as spill the beans on Bordeaux 2019 ahead of En Primeur tastings later in the month.
 
2019 EP tastings are only around the corner. What are your early thoughts on the vintage?
I think it’s a very interesting vintage. The wines versus 2018 are more persistent, less fleshy, but have a ‘Bordeaux’ quality. Whereas 2018 is quite ‘american’ savvy the 2019 is much more European.
 
Why did you originally get into winemaking?
I was in the oil and gas business. Sold my companies in 1992 to a swiss company and had a restraint of trade for four years. I had just got married and we had friends who had holiday homes in Cahors. So, with a little time on our hands, we decided that it would be good to buy a ruin and do it up for the future. After two weeks I met an English winemaker who I said that I would sell some wine for. Having sold half of his production I thought it would be more fun to buy a property. My wife said why don’t you see if you like it first so I said that I would work for him for free if he taught me how to make wine. I soon realised that Formula 1 was up the road in Bordeaux so we bought 5.5 hectares in Saint-Emilion with a pretty house and we now have 58 hectares (as of Friday).
 
Jonathan Maltus talks to Honest Grapes
 
What is it about the blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc that people find so appealing?
I think that merlot really plumps up the middle of the wine but cabernet franc gives in a finish (tannins) and persistence.
 
We are shortly going to have the first tastings of Pontet Labrie 2019, the Chateau’s 5th vintage. How would you summarise the Pontet Labrie journey?
I think it’s great. It's the nearest parcel we have next to the village of Saint-Emilion and the only parcel that Chateau Grand Pontet doesn't own in the overall parcel called Grand Pontet.
 
What have you found most exciting about the construction of the Le Dôme winery?
It’s a culmination of my career in Saint-Emilion and my legacy for the kids, and their kids. The location is amazing - surrounded completely by Chateaux Angelus and Canon. It is the only non-Premier Grand Cru Classe in the area. And of course, it’s designed by Lord Foster – another Brit.
 
Le Dome St Emilion France
 
The last decade has been highly memorable for Bordeaux. How would you differentiate between the different vintages?
Well climate change has helped for the better (which must be the only good thing that you can say about that). The two ‘classic’ vintages were 2013 and 2017 but you have to say the rest have been pretty memorable. EWE got a couple of 100 Points for 2016 for instance.
 
What does the future hold in store for Jonathan Maltus?
Well, we have a lot of construction going on at the moment - Chateau Teyssier is being expanded to 11 bedrooms, we have a new storage building with a tasting room for Grand Cru Classes and, of course, the great new building of Le Dôme. We have also been recently looking at Burgundy and Champagne – but early days!