Dry Whites All In, Reds Kick Off

The Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon for the dry whites are mostly in – we finished our Sémillon yesterday – and some estates on the Right Bank, in Pomerol and St-Emilion, have picked Merlot from young vines in the last week (such as Château Canon in St-Emilion, below right). dsc_0807_21The Merlot harvest started in earnest this week in the Médoc. Hardly a grape had been picked there until now, and they’ll start attacking the Cabernet Sauvignon from next week onwards. If you have the chance to see the harvest in action, on both Banks, sometime over the next fortnight or so is the time to come, although there’s much less to see on the outside at weekends.

The weather leading up to the key picking dates could make the difference between, well, seriously good and great. In case you weren’t aware, we had half as much rain in Bordeaux in the six months to the end of August compared to 2009, which was, of course, a dry year.

dsc_06682The weather in September has been fine, with a dash of refreshing rain in the second week and last week on Friday, 24th. As luck would have it, a drying northwesterly breeze blew off any humidity in the vines on Saturday, averting the risk of rot. The forecast is fine, just for the moment. We don’t really want to pick for the reds until next week, although we have harvested some Merlot plots early to make some rosé. This year, just as last, it’s best to bring in Merlot earlier – more so with these chilly mornings – and press quickly to make rosé, as we need acidity and not fully or over-ripe grapes.

How the near drought conditions affects the quality of the reds will be interesting to see, and taste. Philippe Blanc of Château Beychevelle told me last week that he thought it had been “too dry to be perfect” but others don’t agree. The general feeling is ‘très optimiste‘ and that’s a bit understated. Meanwhile, the number of owners and managers who are whipping up the hype for the vintage pale in comparison to the number of outside observers who are looking for news.

Here are some relevant tweets I’ve posted in the last few days:

A masterclass in the Médoc yesterday, tasting with Borie at GPL, Barton, Casteja at Batailley, Tesseron at Pontet Canet and Seely at Pichon.

Most wise heads in Bordeaux know that the last thing people want to hear is “2010 is another fabulous vintage….”

“Would you like to taste the 2010? I can tell you it’s jolly good & we’ll do our best to keep increases to a minimum.” A dry #AnthonyBarton

Lillian Barton, Chateau owner & negociant: “However well the 2010s turn out, they are going to be cheaper than the 2009s.”

After 2 weeks of fine weather, rain this morning might help the late-ripening Cabernet in the Medoc. Merlot starts in earnest there Monday.

After rain yesterday, a dry northerly breeze reduces humidity in the vines & the risk of rot. An important little detail. Forecast is good.

Chilly mornings & fine weather for the next 3 days. The Merlot harvest begins for many top Bordeaux estates.

Tasted our Semillon grapes. Time to pick. Need to remind oenologist that we’re trying to emulate @ not @

It’s 8 am and 8˚C in the vineyard. Spare a thought for all the chilly pickers out there. Not really a romantic getaway. (27 Sept)

On the subject of Twitter, the people to follow for up-to-date Bordeaux news from resident winos, are @newbordeaux (Jane Anson of Decanter), @bordeauxuncorkd (Charlie Matthews) and yours truly @GavinQuinney.

Oh, and finally, if you’re concerned that your 2009s might have been too expensive, I can only say that buyers of Palmer, Pontet Canet, Léoville Barton and Pichon Longueville Baron have bought wines of breathtaking quality.

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4 thoughts on “Dry Whites All In, Reds Kick Off

  1. Chris Gregory

    Re the 2009 pricing; delighted to hear that the Pontet Canet has turned out to be such a worthwhile purchase. Not that I was able to buy any, but am already fascinated to see what will happen with Lafite next year and whether the 2009 pricing will hold up? Any guesses?

    1. Gavin

      Hi Chris
      Frankly I have no idea about Lafite pricing in the future. Anybody's guess. As for 2009 pricing, the best wines at each level will remain high because the quality is exceptional, although some wines were seriously over-priced and they won't be increasing for a long while yet. Compare wines like Montrose at £1200 and la Mission at over £6k. I'll still take 5 of Montrose, even now, please – but I've said that before.

  2. Jeremy

    Hi Gavin

    Just wondered how the 2010 vintage was fairing overall since your last post – both for you at Bauduc and elsewhere from what you've heard? I gather there has been a bit of rain in Bordeaux these past few days [and forecast for next week] and wondered if that was proving beneficial [because of the drought you've had] helping complete the ripening process on the reds or whether counter productive?


    1. Gavin

      Thanks for the comment. I've added another blog post on the progress of the vintage, and we started our Merlot for our reds last friday 1st October. Another parcel today, Tuesday. Regarding rain, we had some around 6-8th September which was very helpful and on the 24th, then some light rain early on the 30th. No problems there and generally helpful. The weather in September was very kind. Rain on Sunday night 3rd October and then throughout most of yesterday, Monday, 4th October, probably won't do any harm to the reds in good condition which have no rot developing, and all the fruit I've seen brought at the best estates in all the top appellations – so far – has been very healthy. Just like I saw in 2009, 2005 and 2000. Not forgetting that some vineyards in Pomerol have already finished picking because their Merlots ripen earlier than others (apart from Haut-Brion and La Mission). The forecast is now good for the rest of this crucial first full week of October, when a lot more Merlot will be picked and Cabernets begin. I can't believe that rain now will help during the final days of ripening – it won't for us as we'd risk rot and dilution, and we need the final few days for riper tannins – but clear skies will.