May 31st 2013, by Gavin
There hasn’t been a poor vintage in Bordeaux for twenty years but the cold, damp weather, as we approach the critical month of June, is a gentle reminder that anything can happen.
The harvest this Autumn will be my fifteenth (a rookie still) and the development of the vines across Bordeaux in 2013 is the most backward I’ve seen. Our vineyard manager, Daniel, will tell you the same thing, and he’s been working here since the 80s.
It’s certainly going to be another late harvest, like 2012, and we all know that ’late and great’ rarely go hand in hand when it comes to Bordeaux vintages. ’Comeback of the century’ is the best we can hope for and I, for one, would settle for that. (If you’re visiting Bordeaux at harvest time, the reds won’t be picked until October.)
At the start of June, the vines should be flowering or about to flower. May, however, has been so wet and cold (my unofficial stats show a chilling monthly average to date of 12.5°C, compared to a thirty year average in May of 16.5°C) that we’re still a little way off the floraison and, worse, the vines have a lot of catching up to do beforehand. It’s all rather worrying, although the forecast for early June looks more promising.
April 22nd 2013, by Gavin
The Bordeaux 2012 en primeur or ‘futures’ campaign has kicked off. Over the last month, wine merchants and press from around the world have been in Bordeaux for the annual tastings of young barrel samples, and opening prices for some of the leading wines have started to trickle out.
Here is my Bordeaux 2012 weather report, which provides an important background to the character of the vintage. The following is a slightly updated version of the one that was published a fortnight ago by Jancis Robinson and Livex. (Included here are daily tracking graphs for June, July and August which I’ve just compiled, and some photos.)
I’ll follow up with my thoughts on the wines.
I wrote three 2012 harvest reports for Jancis’s site entitled ’Scorching summer but no rush’ last August, followed by ’The Late Show’ in October and lastly ’The end in sight at last’. Given these headlines, you’d be right in thinking that it was a late harvest. What was largely missing from those articles were some weather statistics, so here they are in a graphical format.
After the two outstanding vintages of 2009 and 2010, it’s only normal that onlookers will compare 2012 with 2011. Yet the weather conditions in 2011 and 2012 could hardly have been more different, even if we like to slot two years into the same bracket of ’good but not great’.
12 WEATHER HIGHLIGHTS IN 2012
1. A late bud-burst and a wet April meant a slow start – the opposite of 2011.
2. Mildew was a real threat and had to be kept in check.
3. Mixed weather in June resulted in the flowering being drawn out.
4. Bordeaux enjoyed an excellent summer from mid-July to late September.
5. August was dry and hot but veraison (when grapes change colour) was spread out.
6. The dry whites were picked in fine September weather.
7. The weather changed towards the end of September, and October was up and down.
8. Humid, drizzly weather from 6 October ’encouraged’ many to pick.
9. Expensive grape-sorting machines earned their keep.
10. Sauternes had a challenging year, after three great vintages.
11. Yields were low but not as bad as other parts of France.
12. Quality is uneven and there should be some very good wines.
THE WEATHER CHARTS
1. Late winter, late season
October 19th 2012, by Gavin
This is another post I wrote for Liv-ex, the fine wine market blog. I’ve backdated it to the date of publication on the Liv-ex site.
The red-wine harvest is coming to an end in Bordeaux as the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon is being picked by the top estates of the Left Bank this week. On the Right Bank, what’s left of the Merlot will be brought in shortly and then, lastly, the remaining Cabernet Franc.
2012 came close to being a terrific vintage. As it is, it’s a promising vintage at the top level, thanks mainly to a fine August and most of September, although yields are fairly low. “What we have is good but there’s just not much of it”, remarked Christian Seely, MD of Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron. (I did warn him that this might raise an eyebrow.)
“It’s a very good vintage, if not a great one”, claimed Paul Pontallier at Chateau Margaux on Monday, as the final cagettes of Cabernet Sauvignon were ferried into the huge reception area. “A lovely summer and September with rain just before harvest, which is completely normal.”
October 17th 2012, by Gavin
This is the third of my 2012 Bordeaux harvest updates for Jancis Robinson, the first one being here on this site and the second here. (I’ve backdated the publication date above to match the date it appeared on Jancis’s site.)
As the red-wine harvest draws to a close, there’s a sense of relief and quiet satisfaction in Bordeaux, if not the euphoria of a great vintage.
It has been a long season and nerves have been frayed right to the end: we’ve had what seemed like three seasons in the space of two weeks. What should be picked and when? ‘The weather doesn’t know what it’s doing’ said Lilian Barton at Langoa. ‘I wonder if weather forecaster is the only job where you can keep making mistakes and still never get fired’, tweeted Frédéric Engerer of Chateau Latour.
Three weeks of October sunshine were too much to ask for in the end, and that’s the problem with comparatively late harvests. After a delayed start and a wet spring, Bordeaux had already had its fair share of luck, with two months of fabulous summer sunshine right up until the last week of September.
Since then it’s been a bit up and down. If any grower says they were able to pick ’a la carte’ (as and when they liked) then they must be talking about the dry whites, which were harvested under clear skies in until the last week of September.
That said, the Merlot and Cabernet grapes I’ve seen on the sorting tables at the leading estates, from Pauillac to Pomerol and from Margaux to St-Emilion, have been in remarkably good shape. They don’t have the joy, the concentration, or depth of flavour that you find in great vintages, yet they are healthy, thick-skinned and tasty. The question now is the quality of the tannins in those skins and in the pips – château by château, block by block. As for vinification, gently does it.
October 5th 2012, by Gavin
This is the second of my 2012 Bordeaux harvest updates for Jancis Robinson, the first one being here on this site or you can find it here on JancisRobinson.com. (I’ve backdated the publication date above to match the date it appeared on Jancis’s site.)
The red-wine harvest finally got under way in Bordeaux this week. Merlot is being brought into the increasingly high-tech sorting areas at a leisurely pace, as leading châteaux take advantage of the clear skies and wait for optimum maturity of their precious grapes.
Incredibly, it’s still too early to call. ’We have the potential for a very good vintage but the weather over the next two weeks will be crucial’ said Christian Seely, MD of Ch Pichon Longueville Baron in Pauillac, where Cabernet Sauvignon is king.
His winemaker, Jean-René Martignon, confirmed that they won’t start the later-ripening cabernet until the week of the 15th October. They, along with most of the top estates of the Left Bank, were picking merlot this week.
Hervé Berland, the new CEO at Ch Montrose in St-Estèphe, agreed. ’I’m asking for God’s help with the Cabernet Sauvignon as this is my first vintage’. He chalked up more than 30 years with Mouton Rothschild. ’I am hopeful because we had a lovely August and, as we say, August makes the must.
’We can move quickly if we need to. You know, and this is a lovely story, we have had pickers at Montrose from the same village in Spain for the last 50 years – can you believe that? – and we now put them up in our newly-restored cottages at the end of the drive by the Gironde.’ (Harvest workers’ cottages are not the only investments being made at Montrose, that’s for sure.)
October 1st 2012, by Gavin
2012 has been an extraordinary year for sport but will it be a vintage to remember?
Here in Bordeaux, it’s too early to say, even at this late stage. It’s going to go right to the wire.
“If 2011 was exceptionally early, 2012 is exceptionally late”, said Lilian Barton of Château Léoville Barton as they prepared to bring in the new vintage in St-Julien, 25 miles north of Bordeaux. The red-wine harvest, which has started quietly in the early ripening vineyards of Pomerol, begins this week in earnest and will last well into October.
As for quality, Gabriel Vialard, the technical director of Château Haut-Bailly – near Léognan, south of the city – was cautiously optimistic after two fine months.
“It could be like 2000 but not if it rains too much. We won’t know until it’s all in.” Thankfully the forecast is fine for the moment.
Summer sun until last week of September
The sunshine we’ve enjoyed in Bordeaux from mid-July onwards, through a warmer than average August, lasted right up until the penultimate weekend of September. We’d had just 30mm of rain here from mid-July until 23rd September, and half of that fell on the 5th August. It’s been extremely dry, with plenty of sunshine.
Then on Sunday, 23rd September, there came one evening and three days of rain, on and off: around 40-60mm in total on the Right Bank and 50-90mm on the Left. That’s fine – and it was much needed in some parcels – so long as it stops there. No more, thanks.
September 30th 2012, by Gavin
The sunny, dry weather carried on from August up until the last week of September, giving us the chance to harvest our Sauvignon as and when we wanted. Last year, we spent 500 hours cutting out less-than-noble rot from the bunches. This year, none. Tasty.
So we’ve been able to pick our entire crop of 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ’à la carte’. This is an expression routinely used by cocky vignerons who have had the luxury of choosing when to harvest each parcel of vines, as and when they ripen, without being inconvenienced by forecasts of rain or other such interruptions.
The weather has indeed been kind and there was an important change at just the right moment in mid-September, when the mornings became quite chilly. This allowed us to pick by machine before and just after dawn, while the grapes were cold and delicious. By starting at 5am, as we do routinely nowadays, and wrapping up each day’s harvest by around 9.30am, we brought the grapes in with minimal risk of oxidation at around 12 to 13C.
April 16th 2012, by Gavin
I wrote this article for the trade magazine, Harpers Wine and Spirit, for the April 2012 issue.
Gavin Quinney, a grower in Bordeaux and contributor to Harpers Wine and Spirit, has tasted the top wines en primeur since the 2000 vintage. @GavinQuinney on Twitter.
There are only two types of vintage in Bordeaux these days, it seems. “Best ever” (2009 and then, arguably, 2010) and “Better then expected” (2008 and now, 2011). Most of the wine trade and press who attended the annual primeur tastings in early April agreed that the 2011s showed better than everyone thought they would. And, of course, that prices would have to be lower for the wines to sell as futures.
How does 2011 rate?
2011 is not a great vintage for red Bordeaux but it is a good vintage – and a very good one for dry whites, and an excellent one for Sauternes. I don’t think it’s comparable to any other recent vintage but qualitatively, for the reds, I’d put it well below 2010, 2009, 2005 and 2000 but above 2007, 2004, 2002 and most 2003s (excluding the northern Médoc). It sits somewhere alongside the 2008s and 2001s, depending on the region and the Chateau, and has more charm than 2006.
One plus point about 2011 is that most of the leading Chateaux produced 2011s that typify their terroir, their style, and the vintage. It may not have been a normal growing season in Bordeaux but the wines, for the most part, are faithful to their origin.
’It’s good to return to an Atlantic vintage, after two Pacific ones,’ said Denis Durantou of L’Eglise Clinet in Pomerol. ’With less alcohol.’
April 2nd 2012, by Gavin
At the end of September 2011, I wrote about the unusual 2011 harvest in Bordeaux. Some people out there like to see the nerdy stuff, so I put together my weather charts for Livex, the Fine Wine Exchange. Here’s my article that appeared on their site in March. (For my other fascinating articles on the Livex blog, search ‘Quinney’).
As the trade and press prepare to descend on Bordeaux for the annual en primeur tastings in late March and early April, here are my weather charts for the 2011 season compared to recent vintages.
A summary of what happened in the vineyard:
1. Early budbreak, very warm spring, drought until July.
2. An up-and-down summer.
3. Low threat of mildew early on but risk of rot later.
4. An early harvest under September sun.
5. Picking dates a gamble between ripeness and rot.
6. Sorting and selection were key.
7. Quality and yield vary from one estate to another.
March 20th 2012, by Gavin
I was asked by Gemma, the News Editor at Harpers Wine and Spirit, for my thoughts on the 2011 vintage before the trade and press tastings here in the first week of April. Here was my reply.
Even though I live and breath each vintage in Bordeaux, it’s foolish to try and predict how each Château’s wines are going to show from barrel, especially with such an up-and-down year as 2011.
No-one is going to claim that 2011 is a better vintage than, say, 2009. Apart from me, that is – I lost 80% of my crop to hail in May 2009. (So did hundreds of others, for that matter.) But for the great wines, 2011 sits in the shadows of 2009 and 2010, despite the dry and sweet whites from last year showing real promise.
There are some key factors about 2011.
We had a very early budbreak and then a summer-like spring, so the vines flowered about three weeks early in May. By the beginning of July, after a bone dry period of four months, the development of many vines had become blocked through lack of rain. July and August were then up-and-down – at times hot and humid, at other times cool and rainy.
The year will go down as a very dry year, with just 270mm of rain from March to September, compared to the 30 year-average in Bordeaux of 430mm. But in July and August we had around 150mm of rain compared to a norm of 100mm, so a glance at a weather chart will show that it was an upside-down season – dry from March to June and again in September but wetter in the summer. Weird.