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 2011, by Gavin
After two great Bordeaux vintages, 2011 has been a year of living dangerously. “It’s complicated,” Christian Moueix explained when I asked what he thought of the millésime, as his team picked in St-Emilion. If one of the most respected winemakers thinks it’s hard to generalise, it might be foolish for the rest of us to rush into snap judgments.
Let me try and explain what’s been going on in the Bordeaux vineyard this year, and forgive me for the amount of detail. My fascinating weather charts will follow later (updated for 2011 here).
Here’s a summary:
1. Early start, warm spring, then drought.
2. An up-and-down summer.
3. Early harvest, September sunshine.
4. When to pick: balancing ripeness with the risk of rot.
5. These magnificent men (and women) and their sorting machines.
6. Volume 5% up overall but yields vary from one estate to another.
7. Finally, a Tweet showing how the growing season compares.
May 5th 2011, by Gavin
I wrote this piece for Livex, “the insiders’ guide to the global fine wine market”, and was published on 3rd May.
There was something different in the air this year, and it wasn’t just the constant tweeting of what the stuff tasted like.
En primeur attendances were higher than ever at the top estates, according to Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux (right). Much in evidence there, and at all the Firsts, were the Chinese translations of the brochures, to add to the long-standing piles of English and French versions. Based on visits to the leading properties the week after the UGCs, these were still being snapped up by Bordeaux’s new best friends.
Perhaps that’s what’s changed. Opinions about many of the great wines no longer matter. For the top Châteaux, even huge Parker points or double asterisks won’t be required to sell the iconic brands and for most of us, some of the tastings were academic.
March 23rd 2011, by Gavin
I wrote this post for Livex – “The insiders’ guide to the Global Fine Wine Market.”
Robert Parker and other critics are in Bordeaux this week, getting to grips with the new vintage from barrel.
The rest of us – trade and press alike – will have to wait until the first week of April, traditionally the week hosted by the Union des Grands Crus or ‘UGCs’. Scores of other groups have sprung up over the years, while at least 30 of the most sought-after wines can only be sampled at the Chateaux themselves.
So here’s a list of the most popular tastings and those exclusive Chateaux, with the dates and the number of wines in brackets. At the end, I’ve jotted down my ten top tips.
February 18th 2011, by Gavin
There’s an embarrassment of riches in the best barrel cellars of Bordeaux right now. The relatively inexpensive 2008s are being shipped out (the first tranche offer of 100€ ex-cellars for First Growths in April 2009 seems a long time ago), leaving row upon row of French oak barriques bearing the precious, pre-paid 2009 vintage. And, currently being assembled in the ‘first year’ cellars, there’s another great vintage waiting in line.
Time will tell if Lilian Barton Sartorius was right when she said at the start of the harvest, “However well the 2010s turn out, they are going to be cheaper than the 2009s.” At the time I nodded sagely in agreement but now, following an outstanding harvest and with more names being touted as the next big thing in China, I’m not so sure. Meanwhile, a few wise old heads are keeping shtum about 2010 as they want their wines to do the talking in the spring. Nobody wants to hear about another vintage of the century. At least, not just yet.
Robert Parker, after concerns that he would be unable to travel following knee surgery, has indicated that he will be coming to taste the new vintage next month. Significantly, his friend Michel Rolland, the renowned consultant oenologist, believes that most estates that he works with have made, er, better wines in 2010 than in 2009, and for those who prefer wines at the other end of the structure spectrum, Denis Dubourdieu quietly agrees – at least, for reds and dry whites.
February 11th 2011, by Gavin
This article was written for Liv-ex – ‘the insider’s guide to the global fine wine market’ – and published today.
As wine merchants and critics make travel arrangements for the En Primeur barrel tastings in late March and early April, many wise old heads in Bordeaux are keeping shtum about the 2010 vintage. (After the massive prices achieved last summer for the top 2009s, owners and managers would prefer their wines to do the talking in the Spring, as buyers don’t want to hear that it’s another vintage of a lifetime. At least, not just yet.)
As a grower in Bordeaux and dedicated vine-spotter, and being British, the weather is something I like to keep an eye on. I also visited scores of leading Chateaux during the growing season and throughout the harvest. Here are some conclusions, with the help of a few charts, about 2010.
1. 2010 was a very dry year.
2. 2010 was sunny…
3. … but not too hot.
4. Uneven flowering, lower yields?
5. Top terroirs shine, again.
6. Rain in the nick of time.
7. A later harvest (than 2009 and 2005).
8. Harvest ‘à la carte’.
1. 2010 was a very dry year.
I live 15 miles east of Bordeaux and 15 miles SW of St-Emilion between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Bordeaux is a vast wine region, and the weather can vary significantly from one end to the other. It’s fair to say though that 2010 was a dry year across all areas.
October 4th 2010, by Gavin
Our red wine harvest at Château Bauduc kicked-off at 6 o’clock in the morning on Friday, 1st October. One 2 hectare (5 acre) block of 12,000 Merlot vines was harvested in tiptop condition, and we were done and dusted by 10.30 am.
A team of eight manned the sorting table to make sure that no unwanted bits went into the stainless steel fermentation tank. (I say manned but the team was made up of one strapping lad known as The Apprentice, plus seven ladies.) In addition, there was Daniel, Nelly, Ange, me – and Guy on his sexy harvesting machine.
With the dry conditions continuing up to the harvest, there was no rot on the bunches whatsoever, so we were able to pick by machine during the coolest, freshest part of the day.
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.
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 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.