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.
January 14th 2011, by Gavin
The debate about corks versus screwcaps is hardly a new one, so why now?
Today, we’re emailing our customers with a 30-Second Survey to see whether they prefer corks or screwcaps on our whites, reds and rosé. We’re bottling next month, so we’d like to know what our customers prefer.
What closures do Château Bauduc use?
All our wines in our current line-up (pre-2010 vintage) are bottled with natural cork from Portugal. After some poor experiences with corks ten years ago, we did a trial using Stelvin – the leading brand of screwcaps – for our 2002 vintage Bordeaux Blanc. The 2002 bottles sealed with Stelvin are still drinking well today.
Why not carry on with Stelvin screwcaps back then?
Consumer reaction in 2003 was mixed and some restaurateurs were not in favour. The acceptance of screwcaps since has obviously changed in most countries, especially the UK, but not in France. More importantly, we changed cork suppliers – we now use two or three – and the quality of corks has improved dramatically. It’s a small point but we were also quite attached to the uncommon ‘antique’ green colour of our bottles, which until now have not been available here for screwcaps.
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.
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.
May 8th 2010, by Gavin
There was an extraordinary story in both the Torygraph and the Grauniad this week about one of the world’s greatest wine estates being blackmailed by some chap who threatened to poison the precious vines. The dastardly villain, who must be a bunch short of a full basket, tried to extract €1 million from Aubert de Villaine, the co-director of Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy, and to prove his evil intentions he nobbled a priceless Pinot. Monsieur de Villaine, who was named recently by Decanter magazine as their ‘Man of the Year’, managed to trap the plonker with the aid of the local gendarmes and a stash of false banknotes.
Four years ago, I thought we had a similar situation on our hands at Bauduc when I found a row of young vines (above) which looked for all the world like they’d been poisoned. Over 100 recently planted Sauvignon Blanc vines had died in mysterious circumstances and there appeared to be no natural reason as to why the leaves had literally withered on the vine.
February 20th 2010, by Gavin
Mike Kane of Curious Wines in Ireland talks through our Château Bauduc Bordeaux Blanc Sec 2008. “A cracking wine for your money” and no, we didn’t put him up to it. To buy the wine in the UK, click this link to our order page.
Mike’s Curious Wines blog is here, including a rambling interview with your’s truly.
October 9th 2009, by Gavin
As we come to the end of our harvest at Bauduc, we have hardly had a chance to reflect on an extraordinary vintage of triumphs and disasters. Everything looked great until the hailstorms in May. Then we lost a huge slice of the crop. Since the hail, the weather has been fantastic – so we were on the verge of a Perfect Storm: watching other vineyards enjoy a beautiful summer and early autumn, after ours had been badly hit. Salt on the wounds.
So how come we have made more white, more rosé and more red than last year?
Here’s how. It’s not a short or simple story, but this is France.
September 23rd 2009, by Gavin
Given that we’d lost most of our 2009 crop (and a fair chunk of 2010) to hail in May, we could either have thrown in the towel, or gone in search of more vineyards to buy, or take under lease. We were tempted by option A, but umpteen, welcome messages of support from customers – some on this site – persuaded us to get off our butts.
If we’d been in, say, New Zealand, we’d simply have gone out and found some grapes to make up the 80% loss. It would have been up to us – not the State – to ensure that the quality is good enough to go into our ‘brand’: about 70% of the grapes that go into Villa Maria’s consistently good wines, for example, come from contract growers.
September 21st 2009, by Gavin
A 5 minute video update on the state of our vineyards at harvest time, 4 months on from the devastating hailstorms in May.