On His Own, the Burgundy Iconoclast Laurent Ponsot Looks to Big Projects

First, Mr. Ponsot said, he will be making wine, both from grapes he purchases as a négociant and from vineyards that he owns. And he will be working with his son, Clément.

“I was born above a cellar in Morey-St.-Denis and grew up among barrels and vats, working with my father,” he said. “I think I have some blood in my wine, not wine in my blood.”

Mr. Ponsot, 63, lean and voluble with salt-and-pepper hair that once hung past his shoulders but is now trimmed neatly, said his new label would simply be “Laurent Ponsot,” which he said represented not an estate or a house, but simply an “entity.” The name was selected not out of vanity, he said, but as an assumption of responsibility for what is in the bottle.

Domaine Ponsot was best known for its grand cru Burgundies, in particular its Clos de la Roche, a vineyard named for the rockiness of its limestone soils — a character expressed, as the French wine writer Jacky Rigaux once put it, “to the chagrin of pickaxes and ploughs but to the delight of the roots that can penetrate into the depths of the parent rock.”

Mr. Ponsot will continue to make some grand crus, though no Clos de la Roche. But he said he will also focus on less exalted, and less expensive appellations.

“When I left Domaine Ponsot,” he said, “I traveled and asked people in the trade, ‘I’m starting from zero; what do you want me to produce?’ They said, ‘Bourgogne rouge et blanc, and then villages.’”


Mr. Ponsot has remained mum on his reasons for leaving the family-run Domaine Ponsot last year.

Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

These are the lower levels of the Burgundy hierarchy, in which vineyard areas are ranked on their potential to produce distinctive wines. Regional wines like Bourgogne Rouge or Bourgogne Blanc are made of pinot noir or chardonnay, just like their grander counterparts. But while they may be delicious, they theoretically offer no distinct sense of place beyond a general Burgundy character.

Above these are village wines, which may express the personality of places like Meursault, Gevrey-Chambertin or Chambolle-Musigny, all of which Mr. Ponsot will produce. Still more distinctive are premier cru wines, from particular vineyards within villages that have the potential to produce better wines, and, at the top, the grand crus, which receive no village designation because the vineyards themselves are so singular.

As Burgundy has gained popularity around the world in recent decades, these grand cru wines, made in minute quantities, have become exorbitantly expensive, leading in part to counterfeiting, as in the Kurniawan case.

“You have people pricing these wines at insane levels,” Mr. Ponsot said. “Seventy percent of grand cru is drunk by people who know nothing about wine. This makes the pricing crazy.”

At such prices, he said, bottles from the most esteemed estates like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti become status symbols or investments that are rarely enjoyed for their intrinsic beauty.

“I want to produce wines that people can open and enjoy,” Mr. Ponsot said. “Not one in two bottles of D.R.C. is ever opened.”

If the current situation makes Mr. Ponsot angry, it is primarily because he passionately loves Burgundy and its defining notion of terroir: that the best wines can express the qualities of where the grapes were grown and the culture of the people who made them. He hates to see a distortion of what it represents.

“No place on earth is like Burgundy,” he said. “It’s 70 kilometers long, one kilometer wide, and it has 1,200 appellations. My whole life I have been believing in terroir.”

This faith in terroir, and a desire that people understand it better, has led Mr. Ponsot to his most ambitious, and perhaps most outlandish, idea for the future.

He wants to build a visitor center, to be called Villa Vinum, set on five acres among the vines of the Côte de Nuits, not far from the Clos de Vougeot. The multilevel center will use virtual reality, interactive screens, films, performances, conferences and a library, with the purpose of educating people about the wines, vineyards and terroir of Burgundy.

The futuristic design, which Mr. Ponsot said he came up with in conjunction with Cicada, a landscape architecture firm based in Singapore, and Eric Poillot, a Dijon architect, will integrate the complex with his new winery, a restaurant, a boutique and a wine shop.


The new label for wines like his Gilly-lès-Cîteaux will be simply “Laurent Ponsot” — intended, he said, not as an expression of vanity but as an assumption of responsibility for what is in the bottle.

Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

He emphasized that Villa Vinum would not be a museum. Rather, he said, it would be focused on the future. The project, he estimated, would cost 20 million euros. He said he hoped to break ground in 2020 or 2021. While he is committed to his vision, he said he also found it a bit daunting.

“You have to be a little naïve, otherwise you do nothing,” he said. “I am scared of this, but it activates my blood.”

Mr. Ponsot has never taken the easy way. While he knew early on that he wanted to work in the vines, he said he would not have felt challenged had he never left Burgundy. Instead, he said, he hid his early passion for wine and left to see the world.

Eventually, he opened a travel agency in Paris, married and had three children. Only in his early 30s did he decide to return to the family domaine. He still will not elaborate on why he left it last year. Domaine Ponsot is now run by his sister Rose-Marie.

His aim at Laurent Ponsot, he said, is to make “haute couture” wines.

“I want to work on each element, from planting the vine to presentation of the wine on the table,” he said. “If I don’t grow the grapes, the grapes I buy must be perfect, in my opinion. Every detail is important.”

In his winemaking, as in his new visitor center, Mr. Ponsot combines a reverence for history with an appreciation of what technology can offer. He farms without chemicals, but refuses to adhere to any sort of agricultural ideology, which he describes as restrictive. He avoids sulfur dioxide, but protects the wine in vats with layers of neutral gas.

Stung by fraud, he says his bottles will be equipped with microchips to assure their provenance. And cases will carry temperature sensors so that customers can be sure they have not been mishandled in transportation.

Mr. Ponsot has always avoided the use of new oak barrels because he dislikes the oaky flavor that they can impart, but he has continued to use older barrels because they permit the slow oxygenation of the wine as it rests in the winery. Now, he said, he has begun an experiment testing an alternative to barrel aging that will also permit this slow exposure to oxygen.

“It took me 20 years to get the perfect cork,” he said, “but I hope it will take less time in this new study.”

The aim, he said, is wine that does not show off, and that is alive and has the ability to communicate. “I don’t want to please critics. I want to please myself,” he said. “When I open a bottle, I want to have an emotion. If I don’t have the emotion I won’t put it on the market.”

Ultimately, he hopes, he will be able to produce from 500 to 600 barrels of wine a year, which is about four times the production of Domaine Ponsot.

“I am an optimistic guy,” he said. “I will end my life with goals, work and faith.”

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