September 28th 2010, by Gavin
The Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon for the dry whites are mostly in – we finished our Sémillon yesterday – and some estates on the Right Bank, in Pomerol and St-Emilion, have picked Merlot from young vines in the last week (such as Château Canon in St-Emilion, below right). The Merlot harvest started in earnest this week in the Médoc. Hardly a grape had been picked there until now, and they’ll start attacking the Cabernet Sauvignon from next week onwards. If you have the chance to see the harvest in action, on both Banks, sometime over the next fortnight or so is the time to come, although there’s much less to see on the outside at weekends.
The weather leading up to the key picking dates could make the difference between, well, seriously good and great. In case you weren’t aware, we had half as much rain in Bordeaux in the six months to the end of August compared to 2009, which was, of course, a dry year.
The weather in September has been fine, with a dash of refreshing rain in the second week and last week on Friday, 24th. As luck would have it, a drying northwesterly breeze blew off any humidity in the vines on Saturday, averting the risk of rot. The forecast is fine, just for the moment. We don’t really want to pick for the reds until next week, although we have harvested some Merlot plots early to make some rosé. This year, just as last, it’s best to bring in Merlot earlier – more so with these chilly mornings – and press quickly to make rosé, as we need acidity and not fully or over-ripe grapes.
September 15th 2010, by Gavin
5am, Friday 10th September, 2010. The start of our twelfth harvest.
How time flies when you’re on a rollercoaster. Incredible to think back to the beginning of September 1999, when we arrived here for the first time – with a harvest to bring in and a local school to find for four year-old Georgie. Now our not-so-little girl is weekly boarding at a Lycée in Bordeaux (pictured left, with mum, leaving for the start of term).
One thing I’ve learned at harvest time is that it’s all a matter of taste. At this time of year, we’re not talking about wine tasting, or blending, we’re talking about tasting and checking the grapes themselves. Every few mornings during the build-up to the harvest, we collect sample grapes in small plastic bags and hand them in to the lab, conveniently located at the end of our road, for a full analysis on sugar levels, acidity, PH and so on. We get the results by mid-afternoon. Sugars on the rise and acidity falling, hopefully. Technically, hit the right crossover point and one can get close – assuming nature marks the spot with a handily-placed X.
September 14th 2010, by Gavin
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August 27th 2010, by Gavin
The weather’s been warm, sunny and very dry, giving rise to reports – there’s a summary of them here – of another magnificent vintage on the cards (don’t yawn). Anything can happen before the Merlot harvest begins towards the end of September, and in October for the Cabernets, but let me explain why 2010 is not like 2009.
It is, of course, too early to say how 2010 is going to turn out as September is such a critical month, but some things are so evident – and significant – in the vineyard, I thought I should point them out.
10 key points so far
August 27th 2010, by Gavin
Too much rain in the Summer of 2007, frost in April 2008, hail (twice) in May 2009 and, yes, drought in 2010. “What next,” asked a friend, “rivers of blood?”
Welcome to viticulture, Bauduc-style, and 2010 will be remembered as the year of the drought. (Cue monsoons during the harvest.)
We’ve seen half the normal rainfall in the five months since the beginning of April compared to the 30-year average in Bordeaux (see weather graphs in this article). Remarkably, the young vines have kept up with their older counterparts and look surprisingly healthy: with the lack of damp in the air, the risk of mildew has been reduced – unlike in humid Augusts like 2007 and 2008, for example – so most of the leaves look green and verdant with minimal spraying. But yellow leaves around the fruit zone tell a part of the story, as some of the vines have effectively shut down and the grapes have stopped ripening in certain parts of the vineyard.
Of course, these problems resulting from the lack of rain are avoidable. Firstly, choosing to rip out crappy old vines and replacing them with young ones lead to this. Guilty as charged, but I’m glad to see the back of 3 metre-wide rows of Cabernet Sauvignon on vigorous rootstock (SO4 to be precise) pumping out bunches of grapes that never ripened properly and tasted of green peppers. I’m fond of our new Sauvignon Blanc (featured in all these photos taken today), planted on low-yielding rootstocks in 1.8m wide rows.
August 27th 2010, by Gavin
A couple of years ago I thought I’d plant some illegal grape varieties, under Appellation Contrôlée rules, in our Bordeaux ‘garden’. The photos were taken here at the very start of August and again three weeks later, before and after they changed colour – a stage called véraison. The Pinot Noir, which you’re more likely to see in Beaune, Oregon or Central Otago than Bordeaux, was well on its way in late July – much earlier than any of the other reds. Syrah is normally grown in the Rhône – notably the North – amongst many other places (it’s called Shiraz in Oz), while Grenache is found in the Southern Rhône and beyond (it’s known as Garnacha in Spain).
This has been all in the name of research, of course, and there is absolutely no suggestion that any of these terrible, alien grape varieties will turn up in our wine. However, they seem to be doing just fine, so perhaps I’ll have a good look at the ‘Vin de Pays’ or ‘Vin de Table’ option. Bordeaux Pinot, anyone? Watch out, DRC.
August 25th 2010, by Gavin
Here are the six red grape varieties which we are allowed to grow in Bordeaux under Appellation Contrôlée laws. The photos were taken at Château Bauduc at the very start of August and again three weeks later, before and after they changed colour – a stage called véraison. A rule of thumb is that the grapes will be ready to pick some 45 days after mid-véraison. The third shot in each series shows the leaves of each variety, which for me is the easiest way to tell them apart (remembering what you’ve planted and where also helps).
Most of the 117,500 hectares of Bordeaux vineyards are red – 89% in fact. Merlot is the most widely grown variety, with 64% of red, and is the dominant grape on the Right Bank – St.Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac and the Côtes - where it is often blended with Cabernet Franc (11%). Merlot is also responsible for the tanker loads of straight Bordeaux AC and less prestigious Appellations across the whole of Bordeaux. In other words, there’s Merlot… and then there’s Merlot.