Bauduc 2010: A Dry Old Party

Too much rain in the Summer of 2007, frost in April 2008, hail (twice) in May 2009 and, yes, drought in 2010. “What next,” asked a friend, “rivers of blood?”

Welcome to viticulture, Bauduc-style, and 2010 will be remembered as the year of the drought. (Cue monsoons during the harvest.)

dsc_0730_2We’ve seen half the normal rainfall in the five months since the beginning of April compared to the 30-year average in Bordeaux (see weather graphs in this article). Remarkably, the young vines have kept up with their older counterparts and look surprisingly healthy: with the lack of damp in the air, the risk of mildew has been reduced – unlike in humid Augusts like 2007 and 2008, for example – so most of the leaves look green and verdant with minimal spraying. But yellow leaves around the fruit zone tell a part of the story, as some of the vines have effectively shut down and the grapes have stopped ripening in certain parts of the vineyard.

dsc_0745Of course, these problems resulting from the lack of rain are avoidable. Firstly, choosing to rip out crappy old vines and replacing them with young ones lead to this. Guilty as charged, but I’m glad to see the back of 3 metre-wide rows of Cabernet Sauvignon on vigorous rootstock (SO4 to be precise) pumping out bunches of grapes that never ripened properly and tasted of green peppers. I’m fond of our new Sauvignon Blanc (featured in all these photos taken today), planted on low-yielding rootstocks in 1.8m wide rows.

The old vines, with deeper roots, are quite happy. More importantly, we could irrigate the young vines but we are forbidden from doing so by law. This archaic notion – if we were in New Zealand or South Africa we’d be watering our Sauvignon Blanc for sure – has its roots in the Appellation Controlée system that was created in France in the mid-1930s. It was decreed that no irrigation would be allowed in any AC area, which is not the case for ‘lower’ quality levels like Vins de Pays which also allows for higher yields.

dsc_0749The theory put about is that by not watering the vines, the roots have to dig deeper in their search for moisture, resulting in a mature vineyard that is more faithful to its terroir (a handy French word for soil, sub-soil, altitude, slope, meso-climate and growing environment, to name a few components). I’ve said this many times to visitors here (although a little unconvincingly, it has to be said). This may be true, but when you see vines being unduly stressed by lack of water, ‘faithfulness to terroir’ is a minor concern, whereas we are concerned about fruit quality, vine health and, of course, the quality of our wine that goes to our customers.

dsc_0689_2I spoke yesterday to Jean-René Matignon, the long-time winemaker at Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, about how things were going up in Pauillac. I touched on the sécheresse (drought) and the reasons for irrigation being illegal. He told me that the ruling was in place because in the old days – and vignerons might well take advantage today – growers would water their vines just before harvest in order to inflate and dilute their grapes and their volume of wine, and completely compromise quality. (Couldn’t a watering ban after the end of July stop this?)

dsc_0735We live and learn and despite being a supporter of many of the rules that are laid down in triplicate, I’m becoming a bit of a sceptic. Next year, if we see a repeat of these conditions, watch out for drip-feed systems at Bauduc – and Vin de Pays or Vin de France or Vin de Table or Vin de Sod the Rules or whatever on the label. Not sure anyone really gives a damn, just so long as we deliver. As for this year, if you see ‘dry-grown’ written on the back label of our 2010 white, you’ll know it was said through slightly gritted teeth.

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9 thoughts on “Bauduc 2010: A Dry Old Party

  1. Martin Coultas

    Thanks for a most interesting and informative note.

    I look forward to buying "Vin de Pay de regles idiots" in due course.

  2. james

    Hi Gavin,

    Did I tell you that we are carrying out irrigation trials at Rochemorin? A 1Ha parcel has been divided in two, half drip irrigated the rest dry. We make the resulting wine from the parcel identiaclly and use resulting wines to demonstrate the benefits/differences to the AOC authorities. Started in 2004, motivated by drought problems in 2003, but system not really 'tested' until this year. If you're interested I'll organise a visit for you. 'Obviously' the resulting wine cannot be sold as Pessac Léognan…

    1. Gavin

      Brilliant. I had no idea – but then we haven't spoken about irrigation, just thrilling things like the price of top Bordeaux and selling wine to the UAE. Definitely like to see the trial before the harvest, which must be quite soon over there – can we bring Daniel my vineyard manager (who needs convincing)? Best wishes, Gavin. PS Do you know if the wine can still be sold as Chateau Rochemorin, Vin de Pays or whatever?

  3. james

    No problem, I'll set this up for you both; and if you come back during the red harvest you can watch the densimetric sorting machines in action as well…



  4. Hamishwm

    Good notes and rant Gavin. It might sound like a daft question but can a vineyard change from Vin de Pays to AOC during its lifetime? or once it is classified that has to be the status all through?

    Also …with respect….is AOC Bordeaux that important for you? It seems that most of the innovative winemakers in the World push the rules and ultimately look for the best rather than the best conformity.

    1. Gavin

      Hi Hamish
      Thanks for the comment. I don't know the answer to your Vin de Pays v AOC question, but I'd be interested in finding out.

      No, AOC Bordeaux is not important for us, I'd wager. Château Bauduc is, as that's what our customers are buying – so I'd have to check labeling restrictions. We're not Pomerol.

      Best regards, Gavin

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