Bordeaux 2010 Part One: The Weather

This article was written for Liv-ex – ‘the insider’s guide to the global fine wine market’ – and published today.

As wine merchants and critics make travel arrangements for the En Primeur barrel tastings in late March and early April, many wise old heads in Bordeaux are keeping shtum about the 2010 vintage. (After the massive prices achieved last summer for the top 2009s, owners and managers would prefer their wines to do the talking in the Spring, as buyers don’t want to hear that it’s another vintage of a lifetime. At least, not just yet.)

As a grower in Bordeaux and dedicated vine-spotter, and being British, the weather is something I like to keep an eye on. I also visited scores of leading Chateaux during the growing season and throughout the harvest. Here are some conclusions, with the help of a few charts, about 2010.

In summary

1. 2010 was a very dry year.

2. 2010 was sunny…

3. … but not too hot.

4. Uneven flowering, lower yields?

5. Top terroirs shine, again.

6. Rain in the nick of time.

7. A later harvest (than 2009 and 2005).

8. Harvest ‘à la carte’.

1. 2010 was a very dry year.

002271_rain_2010-01

I live 15 miles east of Bordeaux and 15 miles SW of St-Emilion between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Bordeaux is a vast wine region, and the weather can vary significantly from one end to the other. It’s fair to say though that 2010 was a dry year across all areas.

002171_rainfall_2005_2010-01

Throughout the growing season, from April to October, we had less than half the rainfall than in 2009 – itself a dry year. 2010 was an exceptionally dry year, and not just at the business end of the season from mid-June through to the harvest. There was less rain in March compared to the average, then very low rainfall in April and May, leaving a shortage of water reserves before the summer.

2. 2010 was sunny…

002271_sun_2005_2010-01

2010 saw a fairly similar return to 2009 and 2005 from July to September (when the fruit ripens), and the sunshine continued into October, which was when most of the top reds were picked.  Note the differences between these great years and other recent vintages, which are reflected in the wines.

3. … but not too hot

002271_temp_2005_2010-01

There was plenty of sunshine in 2010 but it wasn’t particularly hot which, given the near drought conditions, was a relief. May was much cooler than the 30-year average (14.2˚C  v 15.4˚C), June warmer (18.6˚C v 18.3˚C), July warmer still (21.7˚C v 21˚C) while August was a shade cooler (20˚C v 21˚C), as was September.

Will Bordeaux become too hot for Merlot and Cabernet with the change in the climate (the atypical, heat-wave vintage of 2003 aside)? These graphs seem to show that it’s not rising temperatures, but a shortage of rainfall that could be more of a concern for the vast majority of châteaux that don’t have perfect terroirs.

4. Uneven flowering, lower yields?

The graphs above tell only half the story. To have a better feeling for how the weather affects the vines, the grapes and the vines, some day-to-day tracking can be helpful. March was cold, with much colder soils than normal until 20th March, leading to a later bud burst than usual in April.

002271_may-june-2010_gav-02

A sunny April, then a hot streak in late May, followed by a cold snap at the end of the month confused the vines, I think. Then rain in the first half of June didn’t help at this critical time, so the flowering was mixed. Subsequently, bunches of Merlot, which is more vulnerable to poor fruit set, were inconsistent from one parcel to another, and often from one vine to another – a result of coulure and millerandage. This was evident from St-Julien to Pomerol. Old timers also said that as there were many larger bunches, the flowering was poor – ‘the bigger the bunches the lower the yield’.

Many of the top estates saw lower yields through a combination of poor flowering and uneven fruit set, fewer bunches, green harvesting later on, strict selection, smaller berries and less juice from the very dry weather. But I saw many vineyards, often in the so-called lesser appellations, positively groaning with bunches, so general claims of low yields might be misleading.

5. Top terroirs shine, again

002271_july-aug-2010_gav-01

After rain in mid-June, it was a dry old time in the vines throughout the summer. By the end of August, there were clear signs of stress in many vineyards through lack of water. Merlot leaves in many parcels from Margaux to Pomerol were wilting, and younger vines suffered.

The great terroirs were showing extraordinary resilience to the drought conditions by providing just enough sustenance to the vines. Some of the Cabernet Sauvignon on the gravelly knolls at Lafite and Mouton, for example, and other top sites in Pauillac, St-Julien and St-Estephe, looked extraordinarily healthy. Likewise, much of the Merlot on the clay-limestone terroirs around St-Emilion and Castillon, and the Cabernet Franc at Cheval Blanc and Angélus.

6. Rain in the nick of time

002271_set-oct-2010_gav-03

Then light rain in early September provided welcome moisture, and further showers around the 24th and the 29th had a positive effect, as did rain later on 4th October. In between these showers, and on into mid-October, it was clear and sunny.

Too much rain, coupled with a later harvest, and there’s a risk of rot. The weather held and I saw no rot whatsoever on any red grapes until mid-October (and those were mine).

7. 2010 was a later harvest (than 2009 and 2005)

The later bud burst at the start of the season was reflected in the later harvest dates than 2009 – some four to ten days – despite the very dry, sunny summer. Later and greater don’t normally go hand in hand, but 2010 is an exception.

8. Harvest ‘à la carte’

Pierre Lurton boasted at Yquem on 28 September that it was another harvest when Châteaux could pick when they wanted to, or ‘à la carte’. I was somewhat sceptical, given that the red harvest had only just begun. Nine days later, they were cheerily picking Cabernet Franc in bright sunshine at Cheval Blanc in St-Emilion (which he also manages). The week after that, at Margaux, Lafite and Mouton, they were lesiurely picking Cabernet Sauvignon, again in bright sunshine. Back on the Right Bank, they were still bringing in the Merlot at Troplong Mondot on the 15th October.

I have to admit, Monsieur Lurton might just have been right.

Part 2 – the wines – will follow.

5 thoughts on “Bordeaux 2010 Part One: The Weather

  1. pskard

    Thanks for a great report. Good read. It will be interesting to see how the vintage turns out En Primeur. Are we seeing another "Vintage of the decade"?

    1. Gavin

      Thanks. I think we can safely say that 2010 is the vintage of the decade. Assuming that 1990 was the vintage of the decade in the nineties – i.e. it's the first of the decade.
      Actually, 2010 will be seen as part of a pair (09 and 10), like 1989 and 1990, or possibly a triumvirate, like 88, 89 and 90 (08, 09, 10). I have no doubt that there will be a vintage of the teenies, eg 2013, or 2015.

  2. Pingback: En primeur 2010 – napięcie rośnie… | WineAdvisors.pl

  3. David Stuart

    Thanks for the reports on 2010; very thorough. Always good to get an insiders view of things. Hope all goes well for you.

    Regards

    David Stuart

    Gateshead, UK