Guest blog from Gavin Quinney
With the dust now settling on the 2012 campaign, thoughts are gradually turning to the 2013 vintage. Liv-ex has opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, local winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney). His insider’s view on the growing conditions - and prospects - for this year's vintage are below. All photos in this article are copyright Gavin Quinney.
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 2013 harvest will be my fifteenth (a rookie still) and the development of the vines across Bordeaux this year is the most backward I've seen. Our vineyard manager, Daniel, will tell you the same thing, and he's been here since the 80s.
Cabernet Sauvignon in Pauillac, 26 May
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.
Flowering vines, May 2003
If you're not familiar with this important but unspectacular event, the floraison determines the size of the crop, has a significant impact on quality and gives a good indication as to when the harvest will take place. The annual Fete de la Fleur, a prestigious Bordeaux bash in mid-June, is even named in its honour.
The soil temperatures have remained cold, as these graphs from one of my suppliers (Ets Touzan) show: unlike recent years, it has remained chilly in the last week of the May, so there’ll be minimal upward curve.
Warmer temperatures are needed in the sub-soils, along with sunshine for the leaves, so that the vines can get a move on. After that, we need extended good weather so that flowering can at least be moderately successful.
Despite a reasonable number of potential bunches, there’s a likelihood of ’coulure’, when some of the grapes don’t form. Rapid vine growth and flowering at the same time isn’t a good mix - the vine’s energies are split between the two - and merlot, the most widely planted variety in Bordeaux, is especially vulnerable to coulure. Poor fruit set means lower yields, without the compromise of better quality in this case. Of course, I hope to be proved wrong.
To show how late things are, here’s our vineyard on 23 May 2011 compared to 23 May 2013. 2011 was an early harvest.
Bauduc, 23 May 2011
Bauduc, 23 May 2013
And here we are in a run-of-the-mill vintage like 2007, again on the same day.
Bauduc, 23 May 2007
Here’s to blue skies in June, and a sunny Vinexpo.