Bordeaux 2016 – the largest harvest since 2006

With En Primeur 2016 now less than two months away, Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) looks at production figures for the vintage across Appellations.

2016 was the biggest Bordeaux harvest in over a decade, according to official figures. The production of 577.2 million litres – the equivalent of a staggering 770 million bottles – was the largest since 2006, when there was 10% more vineyard area. Strong harvest figures for Bordeaux are, of course, in stark contrast to many less fortunate regions across France in 2016.

Bordeaux_wine_yields

At an average of 52 hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha), 2016 saw the highest yield per hectare since the largest crop of the century to date in 2004, which came in at 54 hl/ha. “The yield on the Merlot,” I wrote in Bordeaux 2016 – quality and quantity last October, “is the biggest I’ve seen since 2004 and the quality is far superior to that attractive but uneven vintage. As Bordeaux is 89% red and Merlot accounts for two thirds of that 89%, it’ll be a big crop out in the sticks.”

It’s the third good Bordeaux vintage in a row, following on from the minor disaster that was 2013 (34hl/ha), and with the en primeur or ’futures’ tastings due to take place in late March and early April, the trade and the press will soon be able to judge if 2016 lives up to its billing of quality as well as quantity. Red wine accounted for 85% of production in 2016, plus 4% rosé, 10% dry white and 1% sweet white.

As ever, and not unreasonably, the focus for the primeurs will be on the top 300-400 wines from the leading Appellations. I’ve put together the yields for seven of these Appellations since 2006, and 2016 saw the highest yields in several years for five of them (see below). I’ve highlighted years showing the significant yields. It should be noted that the majority of the top estates ‘green harvested’ their crop from early summer onwards, reducing the potential yield in order to improve quality. Or, in some cases, to stay within the permitted maximum quota which, for reds in 2016, was 50hl/ha (eg St-Émilion Grand Cru) up to 58hl/ha (eg Graves), depending on the Appellation.

Top_Bordeaux_appellations_yields_2006_2016

The Cabernet Sauvignon was less plentiful than Merlot – often the result of less even flowering in June and smaller bunches – and this is reflected in more modest yields at some leading chateaux. Younger vines on more porous soils suffered during the Summer drought, when a tenth of the normal rainfall from 23 June to 13 September fell in some areas, and this also reduced the crop size.

As you can see, these Appellations above, in their entirety, make up just 10% of the total area of the Bordeaux vineyard. The bigger picture looks more like this, below, in terms of production for 2016. As there are 60 Appellations for Bordeaux, I’ve collated the figures into logical, digestible chunks:

Bordeaux_2016_production_by_appellation

Generic red Bordeaux makes up 35% of production, with over 200 million litres and yields of 56.6hl/ha across 35,700 hectares. It may not sound much, but this was a significant increase on the 51.1hl/ha and 51.7 hl/ha in 2015 and 2014 respectively. Bordeaux Supérieur notched up almost 60 million litres, with yields of 50.4 hl/ha across 11,850 hectares.

Most, but not all, Bordeaux rouge and Bordeaux Supérieur comes from the Entre Deux Mers and the loosely defined ‘right bank’. If you know a little of the geography of the region, you’ll see that the red and red-toned segments are those of the right bank and the Entre Deux Mers, and they’re responsible for two thirds of the whole output. Merlot, which is widely planted here, saw some spectacular yields in 2016. The Cabernets rather less so.

Meanwhile, the bluer sections of the left bank account for markedly less wine. The entire Médoc and Haut-Médoc – including Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe – and the Graves and Pessac Léognan combined produced 100 million litres of red. That’s a lot of wine but it represented little more than a fifth of the output of Bordeaux red in 2016. Again, by volume, most of the generic dry white comes from the Entre Deux Mers.

Here are the yields for the major groups of Appellations:

Bordeaux_appellations_yields_2006_2016

In every case for red wines and dry whites, the combined averages for each Appellation group show higher yields in 2016 than for any other vintage. It was also a good year for sweet white wines in terms of yield.

Vins de France, Vins de Pays

Non Appellation Contrôlée wines are very much in the minority in the Gironde but it’s interesting to note that production of Vins de France and Vins de Pays (de l’Atlantique) combined, doubled from 16 and 15.5 million litres in 2014 and 2015 respectively to 31.5 million litres in 2016. 90% of this was Vins de France.


Bordeaux 2016 harvest – Quantity and quality

The 2016 harvest in Bordeaux is now entering its final phase. In the post below, Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) offers an update on its progress so far.

Nature has been kind to Bordeaux this year. A bumper crop for many, and a fine harvest – so far. It may be over for some growers in this vast region but there are plenty of bunches still out there, as numerous chateaux hold on for the later-ripening Cabernets and the last Merlots from cooler soils.

There has been no rush, no panic, to bring in the grapes. After the bone-dry summer, the vines enjoyed some overdue refreshment thanks to heavy rain on the night of 13 September. It cleared up soon afterwards and, since then, we’ve had dry and sunny weather for the build-up to the harvest – and for the picking itself – with just one more night of rain on Friday 30 September during a crucial four week period.

Most importantly, given that we’re now well into October, is that there has been no pressure from grey rot on the reds at all. At least, none that I’ve seen in the last fortnight, from St-Emilion to St-Estèphe, and this has given viticulteurs and winemakers more breathing space over which parcels to pick and when.

Without wanting to jump to conclusions about the vintage while the grapes are still rolling off the sorting tables, it’s fair to say that there’s quality and quantity in Bordeaux in 2016. Here’s what we do know:

  • Bordeaux had a wet Spring, which proved to be helpful given the drought that was to follow.
  • Only a few unfortunate vineyards were hit by the late April frosts that so adversely affected the size of the crop elsewhere.
  • Most vineyards – though not all – managed to avoid problems with mildew during the damp weather in May and June.
  • Courtesy of excellent weather during the flowering in the previous vintage – or even the two previous vintages – the vines produced plenty of potential bunches in 2016: ‘une belle sortie.’
  • The flowering in early June this year was remarkably successful, especially on the Merlot, given that the weather was pretty mixed. (See daily rainfall chart below.)
  • We had almost 12 weeks of glorious summer weather – for holidaymakers – from 23 June to 13 September, when many areas of Bordeaux saw just a tenth of the normal rainfall.
  • Young vines on dry, porous ground suffered in the drought and the heat. There won’t be much Grand Vin produced from the tiny grapes from those poor things. Not this year.
  • Some estates, as is often the norm, cut back the crop with successive green harvests, notably on the Merlot. Most vineyards in the so-called ‘lesser’ appellations don’t do this. And can’t afford to.
  • Two nights of rain on the 13 and 30 September accounted for most of the month’s rainfall. Far better this than multiple days of drizzly weather during the harvest.

rainfallchart

  • The amount of rain on 13 and 30 September varied for each region: Margaux (50mm on 13/9, 8mm on 30/9), Northern Médoc (32 and 15 at Bégadan), Léognan (47 and 28), Saint Emilion (32 and 10), Blaye (43 and 9) and Entre-Deux-Mers (50 and 35 at Haux).
  • The dry whites were harvested in September in fine weather. Picking dates varied considerably, even in the same appellations. Most growers are reportedly extremely happy with their yields. (Given the drought, where did all the juice come from?)
  • The Merlot harvest began in September, with some of the action taking place in the last week of the month but most of it – across the region as a whole – in the first week and a half of October.
  • Several estates in the Médoc began picking their Cabernet Sauvignon in the first week of October, while others waited until this week, from the 10th onwards.

monthlygrid

  • October has, so far, been dry. We’ve had mostly sunny days, no rain and properly chilly mornings from 5 October.
  • 2016 is a later harvest and in keeping, timing wise, with what they call ‘classic’ Bordeaux vintages. Cumulative temperature comparisons put 2016 on a (lateness) par with 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, oddly enough.

It would be wrong, given what I’ve seen, to make assumptions about who picked what and when, and to question whether they did the right thing. I have, though, been surprised to see that some estates decided to harvest certain blocks, while others waited to pick their vines nearby. Each, as they say, to their own.

It’s the third year in a row – 2014, 2015 and now 2016 – when there’s been minimal rot on the reds, in contrast to the ‘challenging’ 2013 harvest. There was also pressure, at the time, to pick both the 2011 reds and the 2012s (both good but not great vintages) towards the end of those harvests as rot started to take hold. Other vintages with minimal rot? 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Chateau l’Eglise Clinet, Pomerol (Merlot)
Chateau l’Eglise Clinet, Pomerol (Merlot)
Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol (Merlot)
Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol (Merlot)

The yield on the Merlot, prior to those ‘green harvests’ mentioned above, is the biggest I’ve seen since 2004 and the quality is far superior to that attractive but uneven vintage. As Bordeaux is 89% red and Merlot accounts for two thirds of that 89%, it’ll be a big crop out in the sticks. (The maximum yields have been set last month at between 5000 and 5800 litres per hectare for red, depending on the appellation.)

Yields on the Cabernet Sauvignon are lower than the Merlot, and the harvest is far from finished. As so much of the reputation of the vintage will be based on the great estates of the Médoc and their Cabernets, there’s still so much to play for in the next few days.

Chateau Leoville Barton, St-Julien
Chateau Leoville Barton, St-Julien

I’ll report back on what we might expect from the wines – there’s no lack of colour on the reds, that’s for sure – and what some of the key players make of it all.


Bordeaux 2016 – refreshment at last

Five weeks ago, Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) of Chateau Bauduc wrote a report on the progress of the 2016 vintage. Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Gavin. His insider’s report on how things are shaping up for the harvest is below. 

It’s five weeks since my mid-August report on ‘Bordeaux 2016’s glorious Summer’, so here’s an update on how things are shaping up for the harvest. The white harvest is well under way as we await the Merlots and Cabernets.

The ‘glorious summer’ continued, in fact, for four more weeks until the night of 13th September. It had proved to be exceptionally dry. For the 12 weeks from 23rd June (that infamous date seems a long time ago now), many areas of Bordeaux saw ten times less rainfall than the 30-year average: St-Emilion, Sauternes, Margaux and parts of the Entre-Deux-Mers had around just 14mm compared to the average of 140mm. Even Blaye, which registered more rain than most, had only 30mm in those 12 weeks – less than a quarter of the norm. It was also hot for long stretches, but as you can see from the chart below, the night-time temperatures were not unbearably warm, and the switch between cooler nights and daytime heat was beneficial for the vines.

The lengthy drought ended with a bang last Tuesday evening, with a thunderous storm that had worryingly come with a hail warning. A few hailstones caused a few anxious moments as they tapped on the windows but mercifully there was nothing more serious than that. The vineyards did, though, get a proper dousing, and not before time. The figures in my temperature and rainfall graph below refer to my local weather station. St-Emilion and the far north of the Médoc had a bit less with 32mm, while Margaux, St-Estèphe and Léognan had 47-51mm on the Tuesday and the Wednesday.

graph

Lafite Rothschild - Cabernet Sauvignon on the left, Merlot on the right
Lafite Rothschild – Cabernet Sauvignon on the left, Merlot on the right
c
Chateau Bauduc before the storm

The night of the 13th also seemed to usher in the Autumn, with cooler daytime temperatures and noticeably chillier mornings. It feels that we’ve now entered the third and final stage of this year’s growing season. Spring was wet and relatively cold, Summer was very dry and comfortably hot, and now the build up to the Autumn harvest, and the harvest itself, will be dry, sunny and fresh – with any luck, of course. The forecast, at least, seems fine for the moment, and that rain might just be the refreshment that the vines called out for.

e
Chateau Bauduc
a
Saint-Emilion

Much depends on the subsoils and how the root systems coped with the lack of any summer rain – see the table below for a comparison of recent vintages. Many better-placed vines look in a remarkably good state, while younger plants on more porous or drier ground have undoubtedly suffered. It would though, I think, be a mistake to assume it’s just a case of the top appellations versus the rest: some parcels or rows in, say, Pomerol and Margaux look markedly parched, while others in the (less expensive) Côtes look as fresh as a daisy. And vice versa.

table

The red vines do need some water stress in Summer to produce the best fruit but the roots need access to just enough moisture. Fortunately the wet Spring put enough in reserve for many estates.

As with last year, the argilo-calcaire (clay-limestone) terroirs of St-Emilion (pictured), for example, appear to be in rude health despite the drought. (Last year though there was rain in August.) On the Left Bank certain plots of the Haut-Médoc and its famous appellations within its borders (see Lafite, pictured) have also coped really well, while others had vines that were noticeably flagging – at least until last week’s rain. Yields have been affected by the drought but there are plenty of heavily laden bunches, especially on the Merlot. The overall crop size should be good, thanks to excellent flowering on the Merlot which makes up two thirds of the red in Bordeaux (and nearly 90% of the vineyards are red). That’s the third good production in a row following on from the poor yield of 2013.

d
Chateau Bauduc

It will be fascinating to see how the prolonged stress will have stamped its character on the vineyard sites and the resulting wines. Much will depend on the run-in for the reds, both with the weather and the decision making over harvest dates. After tasting red grapes from around the region, I’d suggest there’s no rush. The rain may have caused a little dilution but given a few weeks of dry, sunny weather, the prospects are exciting if the weather holds.

b
Chateau Bauduc

The dry whites have been and are currently being picked in the Graves and Pessac-Léognan (the first grapes were harvested at the beginning of the month) and now also in the Entre-Deux-Mers (pictured). These recent chilly mornings have been terrific for the Sauvignons and Semillons. Meanwhile, some of the larger ‘caves’ or co-ops have finished their whites already. ‘They want to make a safe wine like one from Gascony’, said one dismissive neighbour, a former head of the Entre-Deux-Mers syndicate. He started his whites today.

Given that we haven’t seen a growing season quite like this, I suspect there’ll be a few debates about what and when to pick. And that’s even before consulting the weather forecast.

If you want to see how the Bordeaux harvest progresses, I’ll be posting plenty of images on Twitter and Instagram @GavinQuinney using #bdx16.


 

Bordeaux’s glorious Summer

With the Bordeaux 2015 campaign now behind us, thoughts are turning to the 2016 vintage. Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) of Chateau Bauduc. His insider’s report on the growing conditions and progress of this year’s crop so far is below.

It’s been exceptionally dry during the holidays, with plenty of sunshine around Bordeaux. Most tourists have been on the beach, relaxing by the pool, strolling around markets or spending time in the city of Bordeaux itself. Those with an interest in wine might have visited the new Cité du Vin, which opened in June, or taken a trip out to Saint-Emilion.

Those who have ventured out into the vineyards – beyond the refreshingly cool barrel cellars – might have seen how dry the ground looks. The parched grass verges contrast starkly with the lush green rows of vines, which are, for the most part, in remarkably rude health. As you’d imagine, young vines with shallow roots on dry soils suffer when there’s no rain but, overall, the vines are coping well, especially given the heat over the French holiday this last weekend with temperatures consistently reaching 33°C or more.

Bordeaux 2016

A glance down at the bunches and you’ll see the grapes are changing colour right now. Veraison is in full flow, as you’d expect in August, with the process in some vineyards almost complete and others not too far behind. Look closer still – if you’re at a more ambitious estate – and you can see the shrivelled bunches of grapes that were snipped off at the end of July or earlier this month. The so-called green harvest, when excess bunches are dumped on the ground to encourage those that remain on the vine to ripen more fully, can be quite shocking even to this experienced vine-spotter. More green harvesting may yet follow, as veraison can reveal the bunches that are lagging behind.

Brown leaves on the ground also show the efforts that have been made to expose the grapes to the ripening sun. It might be just on one side of the rows so far, with the second ‘effeuillage’ to take place at the start of September for the final push – and to avoid potentially punishing sunburn to date on grapes that are exposed to the afternoon sun.

Bordeaux 2016 vineyard

That’s one of the remarkable things about this year. While some less fortunate regions in France will have significantly reduced crops as a result of damaging frost in late April and, in some cases, hail damage, many vineyards in Bordeaux are heading for a what appears to be a very decent crop. There’s a long, long way to go – a month for the white harvest and up to two months for the red – but the Merlot looks plentiful in many vineyards. Given that Merlot makes up two thirds of the red in Bordeaux, and that this vast region has close to 90% red, that’s an awful lot of wine.

The consistency of the flowering on the Merlot, during the first part of June, came as a pleasant surprise to many viticulteurs. This one included. Merlot is susceptible to poor fruitset if the conditions aren’t right – notably coulure and millerandage when the berries don’t form properly – and the weather was decidedly mixed this June. We had good days and we had rainy days. The weather during the last two years at the same stage during flowering, however, was dry and sunny, and this had favourably influenced the number of potential bunches this Spring. The vines seemed to have more in reserve, as if the force was with them. Unusually, the fruit set on the Cabernet Sauvignon is more mixed, and the Cabernet grapes – say, in the northern Médoc – seem to be smaller than normal. That’s just my impression, mind, and that may not be bad news, qualitatively.

The number of potential bunches and the surprisingly successful flowering of Merlot is one feature of the season so far. Another is just how little rain we’ve had in the last eight weeks compared to the months before that. Ample rain in the Spring helpfully built up the reserves in the subsoils but added to the threat of mildew above ground. Some vineyards that fell behind on their treatments fell foul of this – black rot was also a risk – and this could certainly have a bearing on the eventual crop size.

I’ve updated my table of monthly rainfall from six sub-regions over recent years to include 2016 to date. (Admittedly, we can be a bit obsessed by the amount of rain because it has so much impact in the vineyard. For one thing – and most visitors don’t realise this – irrigation is not allowed for appellation contrôlée vineyards.)

January and February 2016 were very wet (228mm and 138mm versus a 30-year Bordeaux average of 87mm and 72mm respectively) after a dry December. You can see from the table that, while April was in line with the average, March, May and June were relatively wet. And then we’ve had precious little rain – funnily enough since 23 June, a date which is memorable, for many of us, for other reasons.

In fact, we had 40mm of rain per week on average in January and February 2016. We then had 20mm per week on average in March, April, May and June up until 23 June. Since 23 June, we’ve had less than 2mm a week. It’s been a particularly dry summer so far – and by some margin the driest July and August to date I can recall this century. (Even July and August 2003 – the roasty-toasty, early harvest – saw more rain.)

Temperature wise, we had a chillier Spring than the 30-year average: 1.3˚C colder in March, 1˚C in April, May was 0.5˚C colder than the norm and June 1˚C chiller (and 2˚C cooler than 2014 or 2015). July was normal at around 21˚C average.

It is way too early to predict quality – we could do with a little refreshment, I feel, but any prolonged September rains could put a big dampener on things. It is worth noting though that the great years of 2005 and 2010 were dry in July and August. So too, however, was 2012, and that year we also had a wet Spring, as per 2016. 2012 was a good rather than great vintage, but it was a later harvest that was compromised by the threat of rot at the end. Because of the rain during the flowering in 2016, I do think there is a greater risk of botrytis at the end of the harvest if conditions go against us.

If you’re planning on visiting Bordeaux during the harvest, 2016 won’t be an early one, despite the lovely, dry summer. Some early ripening vineyards, such as in Pessac-Léognan, will start their whites early in September but expect the dry whites to mostly come in during mid-September and the reds, for the most part, in the first half of October.

If you want to see how things are progressing in the vineyards around Bordeaux, I’ll be posting plenty of images on Twitter and Instagram @GavinQuinney using #bdx16.


Bordeaux 2015 Weather Report

Bordeaux 2015 weather report

With excitement building around Bordeaux 2015 – and the trade preparing to visit the region next week – Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) of Chateau Bauduc offers a comprehensive report on how the weather affected the vintage.

You can download the full report as a PDF: please click here.
Mobile users can click on the charts below for larger versions.

As a backdrop to the official ‘en primeur’ tastings in Bordeaux next week, here’s my report on how the weather had an impact on the 2015 vintage. The graphs and images should provide a Bordeaux enthusiast with a fairly thorough grasp of how this fine vintage came about, and also why there are regional differences.

It’s a seriously long post, so you may prefer to download the full version as a pdf – ideal for reading later on an iPad or large mobile.

10 weather highlights for 2015

2015 was a dry year, with every month from March to October being drier than average – except for a wetter August.

Bordeaux 2015 rainfall and temperature

A cold January and February led to later budding at the start of April but the early growth in the vineyard accelerated through April with warm weather.

The flowering in late May and early June, in close to ideal conditions, was the best for years, followed by useful rain in mid-June.

The summer wasn’t consistent – extremely dry in late June and July, then rain in August. At times, it was hot – 39 out of 92 days of summer saw 30°C or more.

Late August to 10 September was dry – handy for the dry white harvest and ripening of the reds.

The fallout from ‘Storm Henry’ brought rain from 11-17 September, just before the Merlot harvest. The amount varied significantly – eg 87mm in the northern Médoc v 16mm in St-Emilion (see below).

Crucially, it was pretty dry from 18 Sept-2 Oct for the bulk of the red harvest. Chateaux that harvested later had to contend with rain from 2-5 October.

2015 is an excellent vintage but unlike other top vintages in 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010, the harvest brought plenty of anxiety for many growers over when to pick.

The vines and bunches looked extremely healthy at harvest time, with no rot on the reds to eliminate.

A very good vintage is supported by generally good yields on the reds, but lower yields on the whites.

005003_2015_chart_rain

It’s useful to note the lack of rain each month – and the reverse in August – and how sunny it was in June and July as the grapes formed.

005003_2015-the-story-002

Between April and October, 2015 was drier (375mm) than the 30 year average (497mm) and the four previous years. Compare this with the top vintages of 2005, 2009 and 2010.

005003_rain-2005-and-2009-2015-002

 

005003_rain-2005-and-2009-2015-table-002

It’s probably useful to show what was happening in the vineyard between April and October. This was the same block of Merlot, with Pavie our Jack Russell for scale. You can see how dry it was, especially in late May and at the end of July, then how green it was in August and, importantly, dry again in September for the ripening.

004972_2015_photos_Apr-Oct-05

Here is a week-by-week summary, combining figures from 8 sub-regions divided into two graphs – April to June, and July to October. You can find each sub-region’s graphs in the appendix.

004972_2015_chart_rain_temp_Bordeaux_Apr-Jun-005

004972_2015_chart_rain_temp_Bordeaux_Jul-Oct-003

The production in 2015 of 529 million litres (equivalent to 700 million bottles) was just above 2014 and exactly matched the average of the last 10 years. Red accounts for more than 85% of the total.

005000-2006-2015_yields_3

 

Of the appellations most involved in selling ‘en primeur’, 2015 saw the highest yields for some years. Notably Margaux and St-Julien (highest since 2007), St-Estephe (2006), Pauillac (2010) and the large appellation of St Emilion Grand Cru.

005003_rain-2005-and-2009-2015-table-002

The entire surface area and production of these high profile appellations accounts for just 10% of Bordeaux. The en primeur campaign is largely concentrated around these areas but there’ll be quality and value elsewhere as well – as and when the wines become available.

To download the full report, with additional charts in the appendix, please click here.


Bordeaux 2015 harvest and the rule of five

The Bordeaux 2015 harvest is now complete – and expectations for the quality of the vintage are high. Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) of Chateau Bauduc. In the report below, he gives his view on the end of the harvest and makes seven observations about the vintage as a whole – so far.

All photos below courtesy of Gavin Quinney. Copyright © All Rights Reserved.

With the last of the Cabernets having been picked in Saint Emilion during the penultimate week of October, the Bordeaux 2015 harvest finally drew to a close. It seems a long time since the first bunches of Sauvignon were snipped from the vines in Pessac-Léognan at the end of August.

With the fermentations and macerations still in progress, it’s early days to pronounce on the quality of the wines but, even at this stage, it’s safe to say that the ’Bordeaux Rule of Five’ remains intact: every vintage ending in five or zero since 1985 has been excellent and that sequence carries on with 2015. Added to which, the less known rule that for Sauternes and sweet whites you can rely on the ’odd’ years since the turn of the century also stands firm. (I made this latter one up, in truth, but anything to encourage people to try a glass of Bordeaux’s most undervalued wine from ’05, ’07, ’09, ’11…) Meanwhile, the long unbroken run of good vintages for dry whites, arguably stretching back over the last decade, has carried on as well.

 

Pichon Lalande
Pichon Lalande with Pichon Baron on the left
Leoville las Cases looking across to Latour
Leoville las Cases looking across to Latour

2015 may not be the ‘vintage of the century’ for the reds but it will certainly go down as an excellent year. As for the Rule of Five, the wines won’t quite be the same as 2000, 2005 and 2010, mainly because many of the better red wines in 2015 are destined to be more approachable sooner. There’s depth, colour, flavour, complexity and freshness but the structure and the tannins seem more supple, albeit right at the beginning of the life of the wine. And the vintage isn’t as full or as warmly generous as 2009, that other great vintage.

The foundation of the vintage was the excellent flowering in late May and early June, leading to good yields of uniform bunches, followed by invigorating rain in mid-June, then a long dose of hydric stress caused by no rain for six weeks in the second half of June and July. The welcome rain in August refreshed the vines in the nick of time.

Pontet Canet
Pontet Canet

The harvest

As I reported in my September harvest update, the first ten days of September were dry and sunny; most of the dry whites were picked then, while the reds were ripening. Then, just as the Merlot harvest began in some earlier-ripening vineyards, the week of 12-19 September saw some quite un-Bordeaux like weather thanks to the fallout from the distant Tropical Storm Henri. Troublesome showers gave way to bright sunshine an hour or two later. The amount of rain varied considerably from one sub-region to another: it was wetter in the northern regions of the Médoc than further south in Margaux, for example.

Lafite Rothschild
Lafite Rothschild

Clear weather thankfully returned from Sunday 20 September and the Merlot harvest really began in earnest the following day. Other than some rain on Tuesday 22, it was dry and sunny, crucially, all the way through to Saturday 3 October, when it rained. Many chateaux completed their Merlots during this period, while others with later-ripening vineyards, as in parts of Saint Emilion and the Côtes, profited from the sunshine by waiting.

Most larger estates in the Médoc completed their Merlots in late September, and the Cabernet Sauvignon within the first ten days of October; some even wrapped up on Friday 2 October. Other than 3 October, the start of October was mostly dry and occasionally lovely and sunny. Elsewhere, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc was brought in a little later than in the Médoc, in good conditions. (Some pickers might beg to differ about the conditions – it was really chilly in the mornings. Not that that’s bad for the grapes.)

Vieux Chateau Certan
Vieux Chateau Certan

Some observations:

1. The one thing you could rely on with the reds was that there was no rot. I’ve seen scores of vineyards and reception areas during the harvest and saw virtually no botrytis. This was similar to 2010. Since that great vintage, the precocious 2011s were susceptible to the spread of rot during a warm, humid September, the tardy but tasty 2012s had to be brought in quite quickly in the first half of October as the rot threatened during a clammy, damp spell, and most of the red grapes in 2013 had to be picked before they were ripe because of rot, and had to be sorted like mad. Chateaux were much more fortunate in 2014 with a lovely, dry September and early October. This crop of 2015 has pipped 2014 – it was as clean as a whistle. For the dry whites too, it’s the cleanest vintage I’ve seen – that’s not to say ’the best’, just that there was minimal rot.

Smith Haut Lafitte
Smith Haut Lafitte

2. 2015 is the first top vintage since the turn of the century when the harvest itself wasn’t that straightforward. 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 were ’à la carte’ years, the forecast being so good for days on end that you could pick and choose your picking days. The weather in the middle of September 2015, and an uncertain forecast in early October, caused many growers a few anxious moments.

3. There seemed to be quite a gap between harvest dates, compared to other top years. For example, at Chateau Cheval Blanc they started picking their Merlots from young vines on 4 September (the grapes from young vines are routinely picked early). In contrast, the last block of Merlot was harvested at Vieux Chateau Certan – just a few hundred metres away – a full four weeks later. Admittedly, those latter vines are over 80 years old and their last Merlot to ripen, but no one would accuse VCC of making unfashionably heavy wine from over-ripe grapes. Likewise, some of the famous estates of the Médoc wrapped up their Cabernet Sauvignon harvests by Friday 2 October, while others carried on during the following week, and others the week after that.

Smith Haut Lafitte
Smith Haut Lafitte

4. Whether the wide spread of picking dates will be shown in the wines remains to be seen, but at least we won’t be tasting the results of identical strategies. Also, the rainfall in August and in mid-September varied considerably from one sub-region to another, and even from one commune to another. This could also have had significant impact on the outcome from one wine to another, which should make the tastings next April really quite interesting.

5. Yields are generally good on the reds, although younger vines on drier soils suffered in the drought and heat of July. There was a good balance with the number of bunches in most areas, while the berries were small and the skins were thick. That’s a good sign for concentration and overall quality. Yields for dry whites, meanwhile, were relatively low with less juice and, again, fairly thick skins.

 

Vieux Chateau Certan
Vieux Chateau Certan

6. The vines across Bordeaux have rarely looked healthier at harvest time, from the southern end of the Entre Deux Mers to the north of the Médoc, and widthways from the Graves, across to the Côtes, Castillon and beyond. There was a significant risk of downy mildew at the start of May, and evidence of black rot was reported early on, and then oidium (powdery mildew) in August, but generally, the maladies were kept at bay.

7. It’s not only about en primeur. If you add up the entire production of the sought-after appellations of Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan and Pomerol (to name six of my favourite places), it comes to just 5% of the wine produced in Bordeaux. Even if you blend in half the production of the much larger appellations of St-Emilion and the Haut-Médoc, that’s still less than 10% of the output, and only the top wines from these regions are sold en primeur.

Gloria and St Pierre
Gloria and St Pierre

I’m guessing that 2015 production will be the equivalent of 750 million bottles, up from 700 million in 2014 – itself a good vintage. Even if you discount the bottom third of the pyramid, there’ll be plenty of seriously drinkable Bordeaux around in the next few years, and it won’t all cost a fortune.

Bordeaux 2015 – red harvest update

In Gavin Quinney's (@GavinQuinneylast report for Liv-ex, there was "still a way to go" before the Bordeaux harvest began, and rain on the way. Below he provides an update on the last three weeks and examines what effect the recent weather might have on this year's vintage.  

All photos below courtesy of Gavin Quinney. Copyright © All Rights Reserved.

After a dry start to September, when most of the dry whites were picked, there were heavy, localised showers just as the Merlot harvest began in some areas in the middle of the month, before clear weather returned from Sunday 20 September. Other than some rain on Tuesday 22, it's been clear and dry and, crucially, the forecast is good for the rest of the month. 

The week of 12-19 September saw quite un-Bordeaux-like weather, thanks to the fallout from the distant Tropical Storm Henri, with heavy showers giving way to bright sunshine an hour or two later. It was also evident that the downpours were extremely localised and sweeping generalisations should really be avoided. This is borne out by the statistics for the week – 115mm of rain for that week in Civrac at the northern end of the Medoc, compared to less than 50mm at the southern point at Blanquefort, north of the city of Bordeaux. And that's just the Médoc. On the right bank, the amount of rain that fell was also quite variable. Beneficial for some, less so for others.

LEglise Clinet

Ch. L'Eglise Clinet

Fortunately, the red harvest had only tentatively started by the middle of the month, and the mixed weather caused some anxiety rather than outright stress. Chateaux with earlier ripening vineyards in Pomerol and Pessac, for example, kicked off last week but the Merlot harvest really began in earnest from 21 September. Not that picking has been frantic, thanks to the much improved forecast.

Once again, the traditional assumption of ’who picks when’ has rather gone out of the window. Pomerol would often be expected to have finished their Merlots before the big names in the Médoc, but that hasn't been the case again this year. Ch Lafite-Rothschild and Ch Pichon Baron, for example, completed their Merlots on 23 September, before many of the famous names in Pomerol had brought in all theirs. Some other Médoc estates on the other hand, such as Ch Leoville Poyferré, have only just started their Merlots.

Pichon Baron

Ch. Pichon Baron

I've spent a day in the Médoc both last week and this week, and likewise in Pomerol and Saint Emilion. From tasting the grapes, talking to owners, managers and staff, and seeing the harvest come in, my feeling is that 2015 could still be a great vintage, although not on a par with 2005, 2009 or 2010. In those great vintages, the harvest ran pretty smoothly from start to finish (hail-affected vineyards in 2009 apart). Perhaps this could be the first great vintage this century when the harvest hasn't gone like clockwork.

Le Gay_1

Ch. Le Gay

The quality of 2015 is still in the balance yet, after the mid-month scare, the prospects are hugely encouraging. The skins are thick, the aromas and flavours are there, the tannins are ripe – or almost ripe – and I've seen no sign of botrytis, except for sweet whites. (At least, not so far.) The individual choices of harvest dates will be crucial. Yields too, for the reds at least, look pretty good, and the best for five years.

St Emilion

St Emilion
 

The dry whites were mostly picked during lovely conditions in the first ten days of September, and the outlook for Sauternes is already bright. Pomerol has picked some lovely fruit, and the top vineyards of St-Emilion will benefit from good weather from now through early October, with any luck. (Their Merlots generally ripen later than in Pomerol.) Pessac-Léognan and Margaux, both closer to Bordeaux incidentally, have been relatively dry and quality show be high. In the leading appellations of the northern Médoc, some young Cabernet Sauvignon vines may have been picked (at Lafite for example, pictured here on 23 Sept) but the dry, sunny weather ahead could be hugely advantageous for the great Cabernets of the Left Bank. And that's largely where a vintage’s reputation is determined. As ever, we'll have to wait and see.

Lafite_1

Ch. Lafite-Rothschild

 

Bordeaux 2015 – harvest update

Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney). At the time of his last report, Bordeaux had been experiencing a hot, dry summer. His insider's report, below, offers an update on the progress of this year's crop.

All photos below courtesy of Gavin Quinney. Copyright © All Rights Reserved.

It's a risky business, predicting a wonderful vintage before hardly a red grape has been picked, so, for the moment, here’s an interim update on how things are going in Bordeaux at the start of the harvest. There’s still a way to go.

A month is a long time in viticulture and many growers were concerned as recently as the first week of August about the extremely dry conditions we'd experienced since mid-June. (See Bordeaux 2015 – dry and sunny, still.) Then the rain came in August, refreshing the vines as the bunches changed colour.

Merlot_toplong_stemillion_
Troplong Mondot, St Emilion, Merlot

Summer seemed to slip into Autumn with the arrival of September, with cooler nights and fresh, sunny days right from the start of the month. That’s good news for the white harvest, which is now well under way in the Graves and the Entre Deux Mers, having started earlier, as always, in the warmer vineyards of Pessac-Léognan.

It should be fine this week but there could be rain on the way this weekend, 12-13 September, after which the red harvest will begin in more precocious areas. Some Merlots from recent plantations have already been picked, such as at Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion last week, but these really are exceptions.

Cheval_merlot_
Cheval Blanc started with young Merlot vines

The Merlot and Cabernet vines, from St-Emilion to St-Estephe, are in the best shape since 2010. Green and vibrant canopies, well-formed bunches (conditions for the speedy flowering in late May and early June were terrific), dark, thick skins and absolutely no risk of rot. (It hasn't all been plain sailing, however. Downy mildew and black rot were a risk at the start of the growing season.)

Cabsav_poyferre_
Cabernet Sauvignon at Leoville Poyferre

The sunshine and dry breezes during the first ten days of this month are already concentrating the fruit, following the plumping up of the berries in August. Yields look promising, although for the reds in particular the berries can be small and producers are concerned about the amount of juice. (There's always something to worry about.) Judging by the vines and analysis of the weather statistics, we’re about 10 days ahead of 2014.

Here are some figures about the weather to date. I've taken the average of the rainfall and temperature figures from eight sub-regions – Northern Médoc, Margaux (except nearby Cussac for August), Léognan, Graves, Sauternes, St-Emilion, Blaye and Entre Deux Mers. The charts present a general picture but note that rainfall can vary significantly. For example, some areas had double the 30 year average rainfall in August, whereas others, like Margaux, were much closer to the average. It's been a dry year there, for sure.

Bordeaux_2015_rainfall_temperature

The figures show that in April, May, June and July combined, Bordeaux had half the average rainfall, but twice the normal rainfall in August. It has also been significantly warmer than usual; while May and August saw temperatures in line with the monthly average, April, June and July were a degree hotter each month.

Bordeaux_2015_weekly_rainfall_temperature

As is so often the case, September holds the key. Following the rain in August, here's hoping for a September like the ones we had in some other dry years which spring to mind: 2000, 2005, 2010…

Bordeaux 2015 – dry and sunny, still

Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) of Chateau Bauduc. At the time of Gavin's last report a Bordeaux heatwave was looming. A month later, how is the 2015 crop faring?  His insider’s report  is below. All photos are copyright Gavin Quinney 2015.

Lafite_2015

Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Lafite

Véraison, when the grapes change colour, is in full flow in Bordeaux. The dry and sunny weather has continued into the first week of August, with a welcome blip of rain in the early hours of Tuesday the 4th. With most of France taking a holiday, there’s a lull in the work in the vineyard between the hard labour of handling the vines from Spring to Summer, and the build up to the late September harvest. (The whites will start earlier.) 

Margaux_2015

Cabernet Sauvignon, l’éclaircissage, Chateau Margaux

There’s always some tidying up that can be done now, like l’éclaircissage seen here at Chateau Margaux (above) this week – the removal of excess bunches to prevent overcrowding; we’ll see more green harvesting as the veraison draws to a close, when it becomes easier to spot the bunches that are lagging behind. Meanwhile the trimming of leaves with a Japanese sword, as at Chateau Léoville Poyferré, isn't something I’d practice at home.

Leoville Poyferre_2015

Chateau Leoville Poyferre

Concerns over la sécheresse remain, especially for those growers with many younger vines on drier ground. Irrigation, of course, is banned for all 'Appellations' and if you go to different parts of Bordeaux right now, you'll see that the ability of the vines to find moisture underground has a huge impact on the development of the grapes. In many parcels the mature vines are in rude health, such as those planted on the best gravel and clay mounds on the left bank of the Gironde, or on the clay-over-limestone on the better hills and plateaux around St-Emilion. Where the roots can't find any water at all, the tiny berries are dried out and probably won't recover, while the leaves down by the bunches are yellow and noticeably flagging.

It's also fascinating to see the different strategies that properties employ for looking after their vines. You don't have to stray far off la route des chateaux on the D2 to see this, from Margaux north of the city up through St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estephe. Some vines have had leaves stripped right back, the bunches fully exposed, and the crop has been thinned through fairly aggressive green harvesting. In contrast, it would seem that the estates that have taken a 'less is more' approach have made the right call, given the heat and near-drought since mid-June, but you never really know until you taste the wine. 

Belair Monange_2015

Merlot, Chateau Belair Monange

Talking of the heat and drought (again), many areas of Bordeaux, such as Margaux, Léognan and St-Emilion have seen half the normal amount of rain during the growing season so far. I've put together the combined figures from eight sub-regions – the northern Médoc, Margaux, Léognan, Graves, Sauternes, Entre-Deux-Mers, St-Emilion and Blaye.

It is worth noting that the autumn and winter of 2014-2015 was relatively dry, especially compared to the two previous vintages, so it’s not as if we started out with a surplus. The rainfall across those eight sub-regions from October 2014 to March 2015 averaged 417mm, against a 30 year average for Bordeaux of 534mm.

  Bordeaux_2015_rainfall and temperature

The first fortnight of April was dry and sunny and the vines got off to a good start with budbreak then. The weather for the flowering in late May and early June was ideal and the rain soon after helped. There has been precious little rain since mid-June and the difference with July 2014 is enormous – 18mm vs 80mm last year.

Both June and July in 2015 were 1˚C warmer than the 30 year average. It has been, at times, very hot – in the high thirties. 

Bordeaux is a huge area and there is always a significant variation in the weather between the regions. The 30 year average rainfall for Bordeaux for April, May, June and July is around 270mm. Margaux has seen 126mm, Léognan 138 and St-Emilion 138mm. I'll publish the graphs for these and other areas before the harvest. 

Many great vintages, such as 2005 and 2010, have been dry, warm years with a fine finish. We’ll just have to wait and see what the rest of the growing season brings. 

Petrus_2015

Merlot, Petrus

 

Bordeaux facing 40˚C

With the Bordeaux 2014 campaign now behind us, thoughts are turning to the 2015 vintage. Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) of Chateau Bauduc. His insider’s report on the growing conditions and progress of this year's crop so far is below.

Weather_bordeaux_june_2015_

"Come at the end of June", I said to my mother when we arranged for her to stay, a while back. "The weather should be nice then." It has indeed been hot and sunny but we certainly weren't predicting that the temperature could reach 40°C this afternoon. We – and the vines – are bracing ourselves for a heatwave over the next week, with the odd storm mixed in for good measure.

The prospects for the vintage, heatwave notwithstanding, are bright. Bordeaux had close to ideal conditions for the rapid flowering in late May and early June, which was crucial for the size and evenness of the crop; then rain after the 9 June was helpful for the thirsty vines. Since the huge trade fair Vinepxo in the middle of the month, it has been dry and hot again.

Summer schedules for vineyard staff have kicked in, and many seasonal workers sensibly prefer to start the day at 6am to avoid a scorching shift in the vineyard after lunch.

Merlot_pauillac_

Merlot_Pauillac_2_

It’s also the time of year when many chateaux strip away the leaves from shading the bunches on the ‘morning sun’ side of each row of vines, to aid the ripening process. (The two pictures show Merlot in Pauillac, with leaves intact and leaves removed.) The leaves are usually removed on the ‘afternoon side’ much later in the season, once the heat of summer has passed. Some even do effeuillage on both sides of the rows now, exposing the pea-sized grapes to what will undoubtedly be brutal heat. (See Cabernet Sauvignon in St-Julien, pictured.) I know several managers who believe that early exposure to the sun helps the grapes in the long run, although I'm not entirely convinced – I mean, 40°C? (Personally, I've postponed any leaf plucking for now.)

ST_Julien_

New plantations of baby vines also have to be watched. Most new vineyards – usually ones replacing older vines rather than new sites – are planted surprisingly late in the Spring or even later, as a matter of course. Irrigation is only permitted for young vines which are not in production as yet, and usually undertaken by a team manning a huge container with water lances or hoses (as at Ch Léoville Barton, pictured).

Leoville_Barton_2015_

There are alternatives – at Chateau Pavie in Saint-Emilion they have installed a temporary watering system for the young vines in front of the chateau (pictured), while another famous estate is using individual roof tiles to protect each baby vine that they planted in June.

Chateau_Pavie_2015_

After such heat, there's always the risk of summer storms. Some rain wouldn’t go amiss – just don't mention the G-word (grêle). We don't really want our experimental anti-hail nets (pictured) to be put to the test. They are, after all, only a test.

Anti_hail_nets_