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’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.