Further Sauternes 2014 releases

Coutet_2014

Following Suduiraut’s release yesterday, Coutet today also released at the same price as its 2013: €24 per bottle ex-negociant. It was down 23% on its 2012 release price of €31, although as shown in the chart above, Coutet 2012 has fallen 41% since its opening UK release price of £350 per 12×75. With merchants offering the latest vintage for £230 per 12×75, both the 2012 and 2013 are cheaper, as is the 2006. While James Molesworth was enamoured with the latest offering, scoring it 95-98, James Suckling was less impressed, scoring it 92-93, while Gavin Quinney fell in the middle, awarding it 94-95. 

Filhot was another Sauternes to release this morning, at €15 per bottle ex-negociant: up 3.4% on both the 2012 and 2013, which were released at €14.5. The UK release price of £150 is thus almost the same as the current prices for the 2009, 2010 and 2012, and only slightly below the 2011 and 2013. 

Filhot_2014

Bordeaux 2014: Gavin Quinney’s weather report

With the UGC tastings for En Primeur less than a week away, Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) reviews the growing season of the 2014 vintage.

As the wine trade and critics descend on Bordeaux to taste the 2014s, I thought it would be useful to review how the weather affected the vintage.

(For more on the 2014 Bordeaux harvest as it happened, see 'Après la pluie le beau temps’, 'The red harvest begins’ and 'Guarded optimism as harvest ends’.)

As well as living with the weather day-to-day in a professional sense (which isn't recommended), I’ve collected and compiled a fair amount of data. As a result, my report contains rather too much information for an online article, so I've created a pdf document that should be easy to view on a laptop, desktop, iPad or mobile with a large screen. Just two of the 16 graphs in the report are included below but for the full Bordeaux 2014 weather report, download the pdf here.

Here are 10 points about the weather in 2014:

  • Overall, 2014 was a ‘book-end’ vintage: a relatively cool and damp summer was propped up by excellent flowering in June, and glorious September sunshine prior to the harvest.
  • The wet and mild winter, notably in January and February, led to an early bud burst at the end of an equally mild March.
  • The vines burst into life with the April sunshine, but slowed down during a chilly May
  • Plenty of sunshine in the first half of June was excellent for the flowering on the whole, with some exceptions.
  • July was relatively cool and damp, despite heat spikes. The vines didn’t get the hydric stress they needed to focus on fruit production.
  • August was cooler and damper too, mildew had to be kept at bay during the holidays, and confidence was low.
  • September saw the turnaround. A dry and sunny six weeks from the end of August to early October transformed the vintage.
  • Rain in the second week of October took some of the shine off the harvest. A week more of sunshine would have been perfect.
  • Unlike 2011, 2012 and 2013, there was minimal threat of rot at harvest time on the reds in 2014 (largely down to good weather during the June flowering, as the vines can be quite vulnerable to botrytis then).
  • Yields were approaching normal after the disastrous 2013 crop; the September drought upped the quality – but it reduced the juice.

Here are two graphs that reveal a lot about the vintage:

Bordeaux rainfall

Bordeaux sunshine hours

Although June rainfall was above average, much of the rain fell towards the end of the month and we had less rainy days than the norm. We also had more hours of sunshine at the crucial time of the flowering in the first fortnight of June. It’s also clear to see how dry and sunny September was in the critical build up to the harvest, after a cool summer with rather too many days with rain.

It should, at the very least, be an interesting vintage to taste.

Bordeaux 2014 – guarded optimism as red harvest ends

Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney). In his final Bordeaux 2014 harvest report for Liv-ex, he provides an insider’s view on the end of the red grape harvest.

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

There’s a sense of cautious optimism as the last of the red grapes are harvested in Bordeaux. While 2014 isn’t a great year, it could prove to be a really good one for many chateaux. An excellent flowering in June, a mixed summer, then a gorgeous September and first few days of October all give the impression of a ’bookend’ season that started and ended well.

On the face of it, the timing of the harvest and the size of the crop is almost a return to normal, if there is such a thing. The dry whites were picked in September and the reds in late September and first half of October, producing a decent yield of healthy grapes.

Yet it hasn’t simply been a case of harvesting ’à la carte’, as some Bordelais like to boast in great years like 2005, 2009 and 2010. I’ve been lucky enough to drop in to see the harvest being handled at scores of leading chateaux over the last few weeks and here are some observations.

Conseillante
La Conseillante – 2nd October 2014, last of the Merlot (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

Five glorious weeks

I caught up with Christian Moueix in St-Emilion at the beginning of October, before they picked at Ch Belair Monange. “It’s a good vintage – very good in fact” he said, speaking mainly of his Pomerols. “And a miracle compared to what we thought at the end of August.”

After a fairly lacklustre summer, we’ve had the best September and start to October that I can recall in 16 harvests here.

The good weather lasted for more than just September. After the August veraison (when the grapes changed colour), Bordeaux enjoyed a 38-40 day sunny spell for the crucial ripening period in the build up to the harvest. For example, Léognan, to the south of the city, saw a consistent level of rain in May, June, July and August: 69mm, 71mm, 67mm and 73mm respectively. In 38 days from 29 August to 5 October, however, just 14mm of rain fell there.

“September and the start of October have completely transformed the vintage”, according to Jean-René Matignon, who celebrates the end of his 30th vintage at Pichon Baron today as they pick the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Petit Verdot.

Harvest dates

The picking order for the reds can be quite predictable across Bordeaux yet it seemed more variable this year. Traditionally, the earlier ripening Merlot vineyards of Pessac and Pomerol are the first to come in. Then St-Emilion and the left bank estates pick their Merlots, before the Médoc concentrates on Cabernet Sauvignon and the right bank on the later-ripening Merlots and Cabernet Franc.

This year, however, it has been more random, partly as a result of the varying levels of rainfall in September but also because chateaux could afford to wait while the sun was still shining.

Many of the great estates of the Medoc began harvesting their Merlots in bright sunshine in the last week of September, including Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Palmer, Montrose and many others. Some, like Leoville Poyferré, started harvesting Merlot the following week on 1 October, the same day that Lafite and Mouton started their Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the right bank, Pomerol picked earlier than St-Emilion as usual, starting mainly in that last week of September. Petrus picked on 3 and 4 October, at the same time as L’Eglise Clinet, with Le Pin on 2 October.

Petrus
Petrus – 3rd October, Merlot (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

The sunshine and blue skies sadly departed on Monday 6 October, yet most of the forecasted rain stayed away until Thursday 9 October, giving a great many chateaux on the left bank and in St-Emilion a chance to harvest in overcast but dry conditions. Some Medoc estates such as Lafite and Leoville Barton wrapped up on Wednesday 8 October while others, like Cos d’Estournel, finished on the Friday. Several chateaux in both St-Emilion and in the Médoc have carried on into this week.

MargauxCh Margaux – 8th October, Cabernet Sauvignon (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

Minimal risk of rot

There was almost zero botrytis on the grapes at the umpteen vineyards I visited from the last week of September to 10 October. It was rot-free from St-Emilion to St-Estephe, from Pomerol to Pauillac. This is in contrast to 2011, 2012 and especially 2013 when there was often a compromise between waiting to pick ripe fruit and having to sort and remove any rot-affected bunches.

With less risk of rot, growers have had the chance in 2014 to push for the best level of ripeness until there was nothing more to be gained. Bearing in mind, though, the early start to the growing season in April, it’s no surprise that some vines were visibly flagging by the end.

Another world

It was ’un autre monde’ 30 years ago, remarked Jean-René Matignon, referring to his first vintage at Pichon Baron in 1985. The extraordinary array of sophisticated sorting equipment in use today demonstrates this – most harvest reception areas at the top estates have changed completely in the last 10 years alone. And it doesn’t stop there. ’Come and see my yeast booster,’ said Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer excitedly, whilst at Cos d’Estournel, access to the floor above the spectacular vat room was restricted. ’Not even our consultants are allowed up there – we have 35 separate patents on the kit we designed’ Aymeric de Gironde pointed out. (Good to see, by the way, Cos owner Michel Reybier joining in on the harvest lunch with their team of 80 Spanish pickers.)

Cos d'EstournelCos d’Estournel – 10th October, Cabernet Sauvignon (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

Reasonable yields

After three years of declining yields, 2014 production levels are a cause for mild celebration. ’Les cuves sont pleines’ Denis Durantou of l’Eglise Clinet was happy to report. Most Bordeaux appellations are restricted by law to making around 55hl/ha, and many Crus Classés are talking about ’normal’ yields of 40-48hl/ha.

Not all though – both Thomas Duroux of Ch Palmer in Margaux and Jean Michel Comme of Ch Pontet Canet in Pauillac estimate they’ll produce about 32hl/ha. (Coincidentally, both vineyards are biodynamic, and the vines looked remarkably vibrant and healthy last week given the pressure of downy mildew faced by chateaux in Bordeaux from late July onwards.)

Withered Merlot

One unusual aspect of this year is the widespread occurrence of flétrissement (withering) of the skins of Merlot grapes in some parcels. There are several schools of thought as to what caused this, from the heat spike in July, the hydric stress in September, to a deficiency of magnesium and dry stems as a result of climatic conditions in the Spring across the Gironde. These relatively unripe and shrivelled grapes were often the principle target of the tables de tri and sorting machines. If you had one, that is.

Regional differences

One positive aspect of the vintage, depending on your point of view, is that it is not a uniform one. If the joy of wine is in its diversity then perhaps, despite all the modern technology employed today in Bordeaux, we will find wines of markedly different character in 2014. The varying patterns of rainfall and the negative impact of downy mildew in some vineyards will have made a significant difference.

Compare St-Emilion to St-Estephe for example. Vincent Millet of Ch Calon Segur in St-Estephe highlighted that, with all the talk of a damp summer, they’d had just 30 mm of rain each month in July, August and September. In St-Emilion, rainfall was 85mm, 87mm and 60mm in the same period (we had a whopping 125mm in July at my vineyard, mainly thanks to a freak storm on 25 July).

Even then, most of that September rain on the right bank fell on 17 and 18 September, providing refreshment to the vines some three weeks before the harvest began. In Margaux, meanwhile, there was no rain on 17/18 September but localised showers on the 7 September. These factors all make a difference and tasting the first vats of Merlot reveals there are clear regional characteristics to the wines.

VCC PetrusPomerol 2014 – Olivier Berrouet of Petrus shows Alexandre Thienpont of VCC his optical sorter. (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

How does 2014 compare?

Jean-Claude Berrouet’s first vintage at Petrus was 1964. He was there during this year’s harvest, joking that he was better known these days, since his retirement, for being the father of the current winemaker, Olivier.

’Every year has been different. No two years have been the same but I do think this year will produce elegant, classical wines. They should suit the British.’

Let’s hope so.

Bordeaux 2014 – the red harvest begins

With the 2014 harvest in Bordeaux now under way, the local wine producer and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) provides an insider's view on the conditions that have been affecting this year’s crop.

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

The red wine harvest has got under way in Bordeaux, shortly before the end of an exceptionally sunny September. Merlot, the most widely planted variety and the first of the reds to ripen, has started to come in from the more precocious terroirs and from younger vines on drier soils. Yet there’s no rush. The forecast is for more sun this weekend, and most chateaux and growers are holding off for ‘optimum’ ripeness after the relatively cool and humid summer.

Palmer
Palmer, 24 September 2014 (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

Even at this late stage, the vintage is still too early to call. The next two to three weeks will be crucial as most of the Merlots have yet to ripen fully and the Cabernets will soon follow. ‘Il faut être patient et flexible.’

Many of the top estates in Pomerol and on the left bank tentatively started picking their early Merlots this week under blue skies, although we’ll see a lot more activity from next week onwards. The dry whites, which are always the first to be harvested, were picked from the start of September in Pessac-Léognan and later in the Graves and the Entre Deux Mers; what’s left is being brought in now. The only possible downside was that the weather was almost a little too warm for these whites: the autumnal chilly mornings only kicked in from Tuesday 23 September.

Montrose
Montrose, 24 September 2014 (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

The season has been one of ups and downs. A bright early start with the budbreak in April, then a chilly, damp May slowed things down, followed by the critical June flowering which was almost uniformly good; but a variable and occasionally wet July and a cooler, cloudier August left everyone relying on a fine September. Thankfully, that is what we’ve had. It's been a hot and dry month, other than uneven rain on 17 and 18 September: Léognan had just 10mm, St-Estephe 20mm and St-Emilion almost 50mm, against a Bordeaux 30-year average for the month of 84mm.

So Bordeaux needs one final period of good weather for ripening the Merlots and Cabernets, and during the harvest itself. My feeling is that there's less risk of rot for the reds in 2014 than in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It was the onset of botrytis in damp conditions that forced many people to pick earlier than they would have liked in those years, although 2013 was some way short of ripeness compared to the two previous vintages.

Lafite
Lafite, 24 September 2014 (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

The concerns are more for the ripeness of the tannins in the skins and the pips, and the noticeable tendency for some Merlot grapes to flétrir or wither on the vine before they ripen. If it rains, there's also a risk of dilution of course – the grapes are plump enough already.

(Let’s not get too technical about the pips turning from green to brown. I never forget the despairing way Anthony Barton once said “these days, it's all about the pips.")

La Croix Pomerol
La Croix Pomerol, 24 September 2014 (photo copyright © Gavin Quinney)

Worse though is the undoubted impact of mildew in many vineyards, stemming mainly from the humidity in the summer air from mid-July to late August. The Bordeaux vineyard today is a patchwork of green, healthy vines and others which are browned off and rather sad. In other words, it's extremely unlikely that 2014 can be a great vintage across the board.

Yet for those who have put the work in and are blessed with a decent terroir, 2014 could be a more than handsome vintage if the weather holds for a little while longer.

Après la pluie le beau temps

Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney). His insider’s report with the latest progress of this year's crop is below. All photos in this article are copyright Gavin Quinney.

Après la pluie le beau temps. The French equivalent of ’every cloud has a silver lining’ might just prove to be the case, taken literally, for Bordeaux 2014. After a mixed and wet July and a cool, damp August, the sun is shining brightly for the start of September and the forecast is encouraging for a good harvest – if the weather holds.

Cabernet in St-Julien, looking across to the two Pichons in Pauillac, 4th September 2014

Cabernet in St-Julien 560

So far, it's been a growing season of ups and downs. We had an early bud-burst and an initial growth spurt in April, before a chilly May slowed things down (as reported in Bordeaux 2014 – the start of the flowering). Then sunshine at the end of May and throughout the middle of June produced a largely successful flowering – crucial for decent yields after a feeble crop in 2013 and a lower than normal production in 2012. But what of quality?

July was only slightly cooler than normal, with the average temperature being around 20.3°C, compared to the 30-year average of 21.3°C. There were sunny days but it was considerably wetter than the norm. Rainfall figures for the month vary enormously from one part of Bordeaux to another, due to the heavy rain that fell on 25 July. Some places saw as much as 100mm in one afternoon. We had 50mm that Friday, the same as the Bordeaux 30-year average for the entire month, with another 75mm during the rest of July.

August was chillier, with an average of 18.8° compared to 21.4°C, but there were no heavy downpours, and certainly no repeat of the disastrous hail that fell on the Entre Deux Mers in 2013. (In the north of the Médoc, around 800ha of vines were damaged by a hailstorm on 9 June this year. Bad news for the growers involved, of course, but this represents just 0.7% of the Bordeaux vineyard.)

Some appellations, such as Margaux on the Left Bank and St-Emilion on the Right, had 80mm or so of August rain against a monthly average of 56mm, with others closer to the average for the season. Veraison, when the grapes change colour, was stretched out from the end of July in the earlier ripening vineyards through to the final week of August. As my pictures of the same vine in St-Emilion in the last four years shows, 2014 is well ahead of 2013, slightly ahead of the later harvest of 2012, and behind the early crop of 2011.

What has been significant this summer is not so much the amount of rain or the cooler temperatures, but the humidity in the air. It has been close and humid, albeit with only short bursts of heat, notably in mid-July. One weather station in the Graves reports just 8.5 hours since 22 June of daytime ’dry air’ (less than 40% humidity) compared to 132 hours in 2013, 231 hours in 2012 and 380 hours in 2009.

Our salt mill ground to a halt as the contents dampened. More to the point, the mild humidity has been perfect for the development of the delightfully named ’champignons’ (mushrooms) that lead to fungal diseases; all growers have had their work cut out keeping their vineyards free of mildew and oidium. The presence of mildew on the leaves in some vineyards – onlookers might think that Autumn has come early in places – seriously hampers the ripening at the very least. Mildew has been more of a threat for vineyards with rather too much vigour in the canopy, less so for those vines on the best sites.

Bunch removal (green harvest) in St-Emilion, 28th August 2014

St-emilion 560

Where does that leave us? Despite the relative lack of August sunshine and the humid conditions, many vineyards are in fine shape. You’ll always find some parcels of Merlot with poor fruit set but, on the whole, the flowering went well and the good weather back in June could also prove important in other ways. Not only are yields looking healthy, the positive flowering should lead to more consistent ripening of the bunches in the coming weeks; added to which the fine weather at that time allowed anti-rot treatments to be carried out more easily (unromantic it may be but, arguably, the most effective rot treatments are sprayed during the floraison).

Many chateaux, and not just the famous names, have pulled out all the stops to give their grapes the best chance to ripen. Effeuillage, the removal of leaves from around the bunches, is now being completed on both the morning sun side of the rows (which commonly took place soon after flowering) and now around the bunches facing the afternoon sun. The more the air can circulate around the grapes, the more the risk of rot is reduced.

Green harvest at a leading Pomerol estate, Late August 2014
Pomerol estate 460

More ambitious is the extent of the late green harvesting on the Merlot in some plots, particularly on the Right Bank. The removal of excess bunches was quite normal back in July and just after the August veraison, but the dumping of healthy looking, dark red bunches by some vineyards at this late stage always perplexes visitors around St-Emilion. ‘Green’ harvesting seems the wrong phrase yet it's clear, with the grapes being plumped up by summer rain, volumes would exceed permitted yields (around 55hl/ha, depending on the appellation). How the quality will be improved by this seemingly drastic intervention is now dependent on the weather in the final weeks before the harvest.

As for comparisons, it's still too early to call. We're not going to see the power and concentration of 2000, 2005 or 2010, or the warmth and generosity of 2009. The September sun saved the weaker vintages of 2002 and 2007 but 2014 is in far better shape going into the final run-up to harvest. It feels like a cross between 2001 and 2004 and it could be just what Bordeaux needs. A good or even very good vintage of extremely drinkable wine, with decent yields and attractive pricing.

But there's a long, long way to go before any of that comes to fruition.

I’ll be publishing photos of Bordeaux 2014 each day on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @GavinQuinney

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bordeaux 2014: the start of the flowering

With the 2013 campaign well and truly over, it is with some relief that we can now turn thoughts to the 2014 vintage. Liv-ex has once again opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney). His insider’s report on the growing conditions and progress of this year's crop is below. All photos in this article are copyright Gavin Quinney. 

The flowering has started in Bordeaux and, with any luck, the weather might just be with us for this critical stage of the growing season.

What a difference a year makes. In Bordeaux 2013 – running late, I wrote “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.”

Bordeaux 2014 has been up and down so far and, of course, there's a long way to go. Somehow though, as I tried to cheer up some fellow growers during a cold spell recently, it feels like it’s going to be a good year.

L'Evangile, 1st June 2014

L'Evangile_June 2014

We had an early budbreak and, while it is certainly not a huge crop, the number of potential bunches is about right – for quality. (Nothing like a decade ago when so much green harvesting took place in the summer of 2004, following on from two years of low yields.)

We’ve had intermittent rain and sun, and a huge variation in Spring temperatures from one spell to the next; everyone has had to work hard to combat the threat of mildew as you'd expect in such conditions. But it's looking good.

A few stats, if I may. Rainfall in the period from October 2013 to March 2014 was the highest since 2000-2001. Adding up the rain in ten major sub-regions of Bordeaux, the average for the period was 646mm compared to the 30 year average for Bordeaux (Merignac) of 534mm.

March was a little warmer than usual (9.5 to 10.5˚C depending on the sector, compared to an average of 8.8˚C) and rainfall close to the norm of 65mm, with 50 to 85mm depending on the area.

Gazin (left) and Petrus (right), 1st June 2014

Gazin_Petrus_June 2014

Budbreak began early at the start of April and warm, sunny weather in the second week saw a surge in the vines. By mid-month, we were three weeks ahead of 2013 and only slightly behind the early vintage of 2011.

There was less rain in the Medoc (around 50mm) than the average in April (78mm being the 30 year average for Bordeaux Merignac) but rainfall was in line with the norm (St-Emilion 72mm) or slightly higher elsewhere (Léognan 94mm). Much of this rain came on 22 April and at the end of the month, and we've had to be vigilant against mildew. Temperatures ended up slightly above the monthly average of 12.4˚C.

May has been up and down, and the chilly periods have put the brakes on the rapid early growth. I don't have the final figures across the board but we saw averages of around 2˚C lower than the monthly average temperature of 16.1˚C. Whereas the Medoc saw less rain than the Right Bank in April, the reverse was true in May. Rainfall was above the monthly average of 80mm in the Medoc and slightly below that in the Libournais and Entre Deux Mers.

You can see from the pictures of Merlot in our vineyard (below) that we're some way behind 2011 but well ahead of the retarded 2013.

Chateau Bauduc

Chateau Bauduc_vines_

If we add up the cumulative temperatures over 10˚C since 1 January, one rule of thumb is that a total of 400˚C gives an indication of when flowering is in full flow:

2008 9 June (a late, good year)

2009 8 June (the vintage of the century)

2010 9 June (another vintage of the century)

2011 20 May (an early, good year)

2012 8 June (a good year)

2013 25 June (a late, difficult year)

2014 10 June (based on the forecast)

Over the sunny weekend of 1 June, the flowering began in earnest. The earlier-ripening Merlot in the precocious vineyards of Pomerol is usually first out of the blocks, along with Haut Brion in Péssac.  Merlot is in flower at Pétrus, L'Evangile, La Conseillante, L'Eglise Clinet, Le Pin and throughout Pomerol – and beyond. It was a surprise to see some parts of St-Emilion so close behind, and the fact that Cabernet Franc (such as at Angélus) has also started to flower is a good sign.

Angelus, Cabernet Franc, 1 June 2014 

Angelus_Cabernet Franc_June 2014

Cabernet Sauvignon will not be far behind if the weather continues to be fine, so an important fortnight lies ahead. The forecast is good for this week, at least, so it's more than encouraging for the Merlot (so vulnerable to poor fruit-set if it rains) in the warmer parts of Bordeaux. 

If this sounds too positive a spin at such an early stage, here’s one  reason. I wrote several gloomy articles on the prospects last May and June and about the storms in July 2013, and was rewarded – along with hundreds of our neighbours – with a catastrophic dose of hail in August.

That's why, I can assure you, 2014 is going to be terrific. And this year, I've taken out insurance.

Bordeaux 2013 – the end of the harvest

In his final Bordeaux 2013 harvest report for Liv-ex, local winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) describes the 'nerve-jangling' end to a difficult harvest – for the red wines at least. All photos in this article are copyright Gavin Quinney.

Fleur Cardinale_harvestFleur Cardinale, 19th October

The 2013 Bordeaux harvest is drawing to a close as the last
of the Cabernets and final Sémillon selections for sweet whites are picked.
Sighs of relief all round.

Few grapes are left on the vine now, although they only
finished the Merlot at Chateau Fleur Cardinale (above) in Saint-Emilion on Saturday.
They hadn’t even started the Cabernet Franc.

"C’est pas mûr [ripe]," said the cellar master as he gestured
towards the unpicked vines; the bunches were admirably free of rot, thanks to
the colder, later-ripening terroir.

I've tasted a lot of red grapes in the last few weeks around
Bordeaux and he just about summed it up. Most reds have had to come in before
they were ripe. This should have been a late October harvest, by rights, given
the extremely late flowering in June and retarded colour change that dragged on
into early September. (In between, we had a hot July and a pretty good August –
but don’t mention the hail).

If there are any successes, and there will be some, they are
triumphs over adversity. This has been the most difficult growing season for
red Bordeaux that I’ve seen in fifteen harvests, capped by nerve-jangling
conditions for the picking.

Cheval Blanc_harvestCheval Blanc, October 9th 

The threat of rot at harvest time is also the most acute I’ve witnessed. Many chateaux have picked healthy-looking grapes (such as Chateau Cheval Blanc, pictured harvesting Cabernet Franc above) in the nick of time, or sorted them as best they could. Seeing so many botrytis-affected bunches discarded beneath the vines has been a sad but necessary event.

It’s not that the 2013 harvest has been blighted by days on
end of incessant rain. What we've had is a series of two-day stints of rain,
starting with the last weekend of September (27-29), then 3-4 October (we had
75mm in two days here, 20 kms south east of Bordeaux) and more downpours over
the weekend of 12 October.

In between we’ve seen the windows for harvesting and,
simultaneously, dangerous periods of warmth and humidity which are ideal for
the spread of botrytis. (Even now, in the third week of October, it’s a clammy
19°C this morning.) The picking schedules have largely been determined by the
staying power of the grapes in any given parcel.

Lynch Bages_harvestLynch Bages, October 11th

Some of the larger estates of Pauillac, St-Julien and
St-Estèphe can point to their more resistant Cabernet Sauvignon on the gravel
mounds near the Gironde. Healthy-looking Cabernets were being brought in just
before, during and after the weekend of 12 October at vineyards like
Lynch-Bages (pictured above) and Montrose (pictured below), for example, but this is by no
means late for Cabernet Sauvignon.

Montrose_harvest
Montrose, October 11th

I've mentioned before that yields are generally low and
extremely variable. While the bigger production estates like these might have
reasonable but lower than normal yields (judging by the grapes, of around 35-38
hl/ha), I understand two important Pauillac estates are down at a tiny 15hl/ha.
Compare that to the legal ceiling of 57 hl/ha in 2013.

In the generic Bordeaux appellations, yields are even lower
than the recent official forecast, I reckon. Rendements of around 25hl/ha for red are commonplace.

The whites, both dry and sweet, have been more fortunate.
The dry whites were largely in before the damp and sweaty weather of the last
weekend of September, while growers in Sauternes and other sweet white
appellations have enjoyed having botrytis on their boots.

Suduiraut_harvestSuduiraut, 14th October

The initial selections by the pickers (they pass down each
row several times, snipping off only the berries that have been shrivelled by
noble rot) were very promising. The middle section was less thrilling after rain
diluted some batches but the final tries
this week should produce terrific, mouldy grapes and good quality juice. The
signs are very positive. (Rot
of the right kind is pictured above and below at Chateau Suduiraut).

Suduiraut_harvest2
Suduiraut, 14th October 

For the reds, let’s not be too hasty to pre-judge the wines,
as there’s an awful lot of work to be done in the cellars before we get to the
assemblages for the en primeur tastings next Spring.  I'll cover the challenges regarding the
wine-making at a later stage.

It's fair to assume, however, that with lower yields and
stricter than ever selections for the Grands Vins, there won't be a lot of
great wines on the market next May and June.

Still, there's always the World Cup in Brazil to look
forward to. Roll on 2014.

Bordeaux 2013 – the harvest, part 2

In his second Bordeaux 2013 harvest report for Liv-ex, local winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) describes the harvesting conditions that have further made this 'une année compliquée'.  All photos in this article are copyright Gavin Quinney. 

 

Cos Oct 2 2013 - 020

Cos d'Estournel

A complicated year, a complicated harvest.  After a fraught growing season in 2013 (see
my pre-harvest report for a detailed overview), most Bordeaux chateaux
and vignerons have had to bring in their Merlots rather sooner than planned,
before the dreaded rot sets in. Some Cabernets are following in quick
succession (as at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Pauillac,
pictured below) but now that the sun has come out, there’s a ray of hope for
those that can hold on for a little while longer.

Lafite 2 Oct 2013 - 024 - Version 2

Lafite Rothschild

It’s all a far cry from the à la carte harvests of 2009 and 2010, when you could pick and
choose at leisure. 'Une année compliquée' is a polite way of describing 2013
and can be used by owners and managers without giving their public relations
people a headache. It’s really code for a bit of a shocker.

We know already that yields are low. The weather at the end
of September and for the first days of October then proved, unfortunately, to
be ideal for the development of botrytis – otherwise known as rot. Sultry heat
and too much rain over the weekend of 27-29 September was perfect for the champignons in the bunches to thrive and
forced growers on both banks to be extra vigilant and, for most, to take swift
action.

In many cases they’ve had to harvest red grapes long before they
had had a chance to ripen, and only the tiniest estates in places like Pomerol
can bring in everything at the same time. Out in the vineyards, it's been all
mud-clogged wellies, short-sleeved shirts and waterproofs. Until this week that
is, with the welcome arrival of chilly, bright mornings and sunshine in the
afternoon.

Ch Margaux 2 Oct 2013 - 015

Margaux

Last week, in the clammy, sweaty conditions with hardly a
breath of wind, you could see the rot spreading in some parcels of the
thin-skinned Merlot within a horribly short time. A small percentage of rot on
the bunches (as with the Merlot in Margaux, pictured above)
could explode to 50% rot or more in just a few days. 

But it was not all bad news, as some vineyards – indeed,
some rows within the same plot – coped far better than others. What’s made the
difference is complicated: the precise timing of the late flowering in June
(heavy rain mixed with some sun), the extensive work in the vines (such as
de-leafing, removal of shoots or crop thinning at the right moment), the
terroir (notably the soils and sub-soils), the choice of grass or ploughing
between the rows, the effectiveness of anti-botrytis treatments (the most
important spraying against rot occurs towards the end of the flowering),
exposure to any breeze before the harvest and a host of other factors could all
have made a small but crucial difference. Even the most ambitious and
resourceful chateaux, however, could not hold back the effects of the humidity
for long.

Belair-Monange - 235

Belair-Monange

As one would expect, the earlier ripening vineyards of
Pomerol and Pessac-Léognan were picking last week and even their young Merlot
vines, which ripen first, the week before. (Le Pin picked on Wednesday 2 Oct,
the same day that L’Eglise Clinet wrapped up. Pictured below is Alexandre Thienpont,
leading from the front at Vieux Chateau Certan
the following day.)

VCC 3 Oct 2013 - 50

Vieux Chateau Certan

What was more unusual – and this was down to the threat of
the botrytis spreading – was to see so many Chateaux in St-Emilion and
up-and-down the Médoc harvesting at the same time as the more precocious
terroirs. That rarely happens.

Teams of pickers for the crus classés (the team at Cos
d'Estournel, pictured above, was 80-strong) worked like ants alongside the
towering machines in less prestigious sites nearby.

The queue of tractors and trailors (pictured below)
outside the co-op in St-Emilion stretched way back, and it was the same story
in the so-called 'lesser' appellations. Consultant oenologists were being
rushed off their feet.

St-Emilion co-op - 07

Outside the co-op in St Emilion

Then, just as it seemed that the vineyards which had
survived the rain and the humidity from the last weekend of September could
hold out, more rain came on Thursday 3 and early on Saturday 5 October. This
second burst of rain has proved too much for some plots that have been on the
edge of rot, forcing chateaux to pick, even on Sunday.

This week, the skies are clear and the sun is shining, so
some of the later-ripening vineyards and varieties (especially some cabernet
sauvignon, the mainstay of estates like Mouton-Rothschild,
pictured below) could profit. If the rot holds off.

I'll report back as the harvest draws to a close.

Mouton 2 Oct 2013 - 056

Mouton Rothschild

Bordeaux 2013 – pre-harvest report

As the 2013 harvest gets underway in Bordeaux, Liv-ex has opened up the blog to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney). In this special report he gives an insider's view on the weather and growing conditions for the 2013 vintage – and what that could mean for the wine. All photos and images in this article are copyright Gavin Quinney.

 

Here is a detailed report, as the
Bordeaux harvest begins, on the weather so far this year and the impact on the
vines.

It’s fair to say that my earlier updates on the 2013 growing
season in Bordeaux have been less than enthusiastic. 'Running late' in May, 'The
flowering
' in June, 'Lafite’s weeping willows' in July and then, on my own blog
in August, the 'Hail in Bordeaux' series of posts hardly paint a rosy picture.

Yet even at this stage at the end of September, this roller
coaster vintage is still too early to call. The weather in October for the red
harvest (Bordeaux is 88% red) will be crucial. Even before then, storms are
forecast for this weekend, after a week of sunshine.

To follow my harvest updates on Twitter, type the following in the search box:  from:gavinquinney #bdx13

 

10 THINGS WE DO KNOW

1. 2013 is an exceptionally late harvest. (Or should be.)

2. 2013 will be a small crop in Bordeaux overall.

3. A cold first half of the year held up growth in the
vineyard.

4. An unusually cold, wet May and downpours in June led to
late, uneven flowering.

5. July was hot and dry, August sunny, September up and
down. October is key.

6. An August hailstorm hit more than 10,000 hectares – about
10% of the Bordeaux vineyard – but none of the top Chateaux.

7. Quality and yields will be extremely variable – the
contrast is evident in the vineyards.

8. The dry white harvest has started well, while prospects
for sweet whites are 'promising'.

9. The red harvest is likely to be a race against time (and
rot) as the Autumn weather draws in.

10. The advantage lies with those who have the resources and
equipment to be highly selective.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

A LATE HARVEST

It's late, even by 2012 standards. I happened to take the below pictures of the same vine on the slope below Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf at the
end of August in recent vintages, which show colour change variation.

Same-vine-Tertre-Roteb-10_11_12_13-liv-ex

SMALL CROP

We began with une belle sortie de grappes – plenty of
potential bunches. But cold and wet weather in May and rain at just the wrong
time in June contributed to poor fruit-set on the Merlot across the region.
Some estates have fared better than others – in fact, some vines performed
much better than their immediate neighbours.

Pomerol 22 Aug - 09

Given that 65% of the red vineyards in Bordeaux are planted
with Merlot, coulure (when grapes don't form) and millerandage ('hen and
chick') have had a significant impact on the crop. Cabernet Sauvignon, which
makes up 23%, is variable while Cabernet Franc – just 10% – flowered most
successfully. The Petit Verdot looks good but late in the Medoc, while Malbec
is patchy on the Right Bank. The whites, and especially Sémillon, look in
better shape.

I haven't seen such poor flowering, in general, since the
summer of 2002.

To put volumes in perspective, Bordeaux made an average of
5.57 million hectolitres per year from 2006-2010, and 5.25 million hl in 2012.
If yields are down by 24% on 2012 at 4 million hl, that's the equivalent of 533
million bottles.

HAIL – In the Stalls, not the Royal Circle

Around Créon hail+5 - 092

Many reports will mention hail as a reason for the lower
crop in 2013. This is partly true but the hailstorms caused heavy losses mainly
in the Entre Deux Mers, the source of much AC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur.
Of the best known appellations, only St-Emilion was touched on the SE fringe
and none of Bordeaux's leading Chateaux were hit.

004097_hail_region4

THE WEATHER CHARTS

004120_Oct-Mar_chart_rain

Rainfall during the winter was slightly over the 30-year
average in most sectors, and the most we’ve had in the last ten winters. We
also had more days when it rained – about 100 depending on the area, compared
to an average of 69 days. December and January were the wettest months.

Monthly temperatures were close to the 30-year average until
February, which was 2°C below average (5.7˚C v 7.7˚C), and March, 1.5°C below
(8.6˚C v 10.1˚C).

APRIL – a chilly, late start004120_Apr13_chart_rain_temp

After a cold February and March, April saw fluctuating
temperatures. Bud-break was a bit later than usual and morning frosts at the
end of the month were a threat. The rainfall measured here, some 15 miles SE of
the city of Bordeaux, and at nearby St-Emilion, was lower than in other parts of
Bordeaux: there was 60-70mm in the Medoc. But thankfully no repeat of the heavy
April downpours of 2012 (160-200mm).

With March (60mm) and April both having average or lower
rain than the average, I don't think of the spring of 2013 as being wet. May
and June on the other hand…

MAY – a shocker004120_May13_chart_rain_temp3After a promising start, May was fearfully chilly and wet,
and the vines never got going. The temperature of the subsoils stayed lower
than in previous vintages in the second half of the month, and this was
reflected in the retarded height of the vine canopy everywhere.

If you add the cumulative average temperatures above 10˚C,
recorded in Léognan from 1 January to 31 May, compared to recent vintages, 2013
is way behind:

2008 347˚, 2009 326˚, 2010 325˚, 2011 492˚, 2012 331˚, 2013
212˚.

Bauduc_2011v2013-liv-ex

Given the correlation between temperature and flowering, and
that mid-flowering occurred around 8-10 June for the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012
vintages (20 May for 2011), it's easy to see why the flowering in 2013 was
going to be much, much later.

JUNE – rain during late flowering

004120_Jun13_chart_rain_temp2

Bauduc Flowering June 2013 - 01

A good first week then heavy rain on 8 June. Then, just as
the vines came into flower, we had much more rain than usual and at the wrong
moment for the floraison, which was already late. It seemed that the vines were
splitting their energies between further growth and flowering at the same time
– in the rain – so poor fruit set on the Merlot was inevitable.

The results are mixed though – some vines are badly affected, whereas a few paces along, the flowering was more successful.
Visitors to Vinexpo might recall a baking Sunday and then a filthy Monday night
and Tuesday. The flowering vines were similarly confused.

JULY – a scorcher004120_Jul13_chart_rain_tempJuly was a complete contrast to the months before, with 21
scorching days over 30°C. The first half and middle of July is rarely so
consistently hot in Bordeaux.

The sun was most welcome to holidaymakers and wine tourists
who, based on this evidence, think that growing grapes must be a doddle.

Most of the rain for the month came with heavy storms on the
night of Friday 25 July. (See Lafite's weeping willows.) Worse was to fall on Genissac, south of Libourne, with the
first of the summer's hail.

AUGUST – don't mention the hail004120_Aug13_chart_rain_temp3

A terrible start to the month for some, with a devastating
storm on the evening of Friday, 2 August. Hail tore through about 10,000
hectares of vines, mainly in the Entre Deux Mers – see the map above. See also
'Hail in Bordeaux, part 1' and 'part 2'.

Fine weather set in after the first week. Veraison was very
late, although this wasn't surprising given how retarded the floraison had
been. It was the first vintage I'd seen where no grapes had changed colour by
the start of August in the early -ripening vineyards of Pomerol. First signs of
veraison in the Medoc and in St-Emilion were to be seen in the middle of the
month. That's late.

SEPTEMBER – up, down, up…004120_Sep13_chart_rain_temp4

The grapes are still changing colour in some vineyards at
the start. A bright start to the month, then cool and drizzle. The third week
has seen welcome sunshine, reviving hopes.

At the mid-point, the vineyards are looking green and
healthy. Ready for the long wait ahead?

They start picking the dry whites in Pessac-Léognan in the
sunshine, and even the first pass for Sauternes at Yquem.

Bon courage à tous. We're going to need it.

Medoc 2 Sept 2013 - 20

Guest blog: Lafite’s weeping willows

Liv-ex has opened up the blog to Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney), our regular guest blogger and wine producer at Chateau Bauduc. Following the storms in Bordeaux over the weekend, he reports on the impact had on the region. The photos are of Lafite's willows and copyright Gavin Quinney.


We had a storm in Bordeaux late last Friday and in the early
hours of Saturday. Summer thunderstorms here are not uncommon after protracted
heat waves, but there was some significant, localised damage. Heavy rain caused
flash floods in the city, strong winds brought down a few trees around the
region, and vine growers prayed that any hail would pass them by.

The most photogenic damage was to the willow trees of
Chateau Lafite Rothschild that sit between the lakes and gardens of this
illustrious property and the D2 main road. Many were brought down in fierce
winds between 11pm on Friday and 2am on Saturday.

Several estates in Pauillac, such as Pontet Canet, Lynch
Bages and Fonbadet, suffered superficial damage – to trees, mostly – but it was
in the valley below the buildings at Lafite that tourists stopped to take
pictures. At least twenty trees were lost or broken and by Sunday evening there
was still a great deal of clearing up to be done.

Lafite_willows_1

The mass devastation to the willows is all the more
extraordinary when viewed from the hill just half a mile away, looking down
from Cos d'Estournel in St-Estèphe. The impact was extremely localised, not
unlike the hailstorms that ran through the same area – a few hundred metres to
the north – on 1 September 2011. This time, thankfully, there was no damage to
any vines whatsoever. Low rows of trellised, deep-rooted vines can withstand
even the strongest winds.

As has been seen elsewhere this month, it’s hail that
viticulteurs fear most. The large, red 'G' on the weather forecast – for risque
de grêle – can spell acute danger to the crop.

The only hail of any note fell on the low-lying vineyards of
Génissac and Arveyres on the banks of the Dordogne, just south of Libourne,
located in the Entre Deux Mers but where they grow mostly red grapes for
Bordeaux Supérieur. You have to feel for Jean-Pierre Angliviel de la Beaumelle
of Chateau Larteau near Arveyres, the vineyard that many in the wine trade
would have passed on their way heading north east to the bridge over the river
into Libourne, before turning right to the offices of JP Moueix on the Quai du
Priourat.

The Angliviel de la Beaumelle family have invested heavily
in this attractive Chateau since buying it in 2007, including a Mistral grape
sorting machine. This year, there will be little worth sorting from his 25
acres of merlot. Hail, if you're one of the unlucky ones, can be devastating.

A few miles to the north, Jacques Guinaudeau was quietly
clearing a few branches from a fruit tree at Chateau Lafleur in Pomerol, and
they'll be removing a fallen branch from a huge cedar at Vieux Chateau Certan
shortly. I need to go and do the same here, reflecting that it could have been
far, far worse.

Lafite_willows_2