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
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.
July 21st 2010, by Gavin
Bauduc Bondholders had a sense of déjà vu last week as English winegrower Geoff Bowen pitched for a £60,000 investment in a vineyard scheme near Exeter, in the first of a new series of the BBC show. Confident that 20 wine lovers would splash out £9,500 for 5 cases of English sparkling wine a year for 10 years, he wooed canny Duncan Bannatyne.
“There are some really toe-curling moments in the Den,” reads the BBC Dragons’ Den website. “And they don’t come worse that Geoff’s opening minutes in front of the Dragons.
“The Devon-based winemaker starts his pitch and immediately faces the moment entrepreneurs dread – he completely forgets his lines.
“Seconds pass like hours as he struggles to regain his composure under the baleful eye of the silent Dragons.”
Reminded of the brilliant spoof by Harry and Paul (below) sweating nervously in front of the Dragons, I watched with interest as Geoff recovered to explain that he could entice 20 members of the public to pay £9500 for 600 bottles of his sparkling wine, spread over the next ten years. With a few extra costs, it would work out to £20 a bottle, he estimated.
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.
January 7th 2010, by Gavin
Richie Benaud OBE, the famous Australian cricketer and commentator, needs little introduction. What isn’t so well known is that he bought a vineyard in France to enjoy during his retirement. Like vines, the old ones are the best, and this audio sketch is our favourite of the last decade. Thanks to Tom G and Andrew Q for sharing it. We like it because it’s a little too close to the truth for comfort and sums up our first ten years here (“it’s votre derrière if les grapes morts”).
October 14th 2009, by Gavin
This post was also written for the Liv-Ex blog. The London International Vintners Exchange is the leading exchange for fine wine, and their site is a superb resource for knowing the value of top Bordeaux. They kindly asked me for ‘An Insider’s View‘ on 2009.
“Exceptional”. That’s the refrain at the leading châteaux in Bordeaux in 2009. Since mid-June, it has been warm, dry and sunny, and the glorious weather in the last ten days of September and the first week of October has allowed the top estates – on both Banks – to pick their Merlot and Cabernets in perfect condition.
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.