2011 Season: 3 Weeks Early

An early start to the growing season, then lovely weather for the all important-flowering in the vines – three weeks ahead of usual – seems a little too much of a good thing.

p1030068_2Now what we need is a little divine intervention for some much-needed rain and, with any luck, no natural disasters. We have, after all, had one or two catastrophes strike in May (hail, 2009) and June (hail, 2003).

Budburst kicked off early this year, towards the end of March.

img_47831The photo on the right shows our Merlot on 29th March, and trade visitors to Bordeaux who came for the 2010 en primeur barrel tastings in the first week of April, had the unusual view of green shoots in vineyards everywhere across the region.

The next three pictures, below, reveal the massive difference in timing between 2010 and 2011 on the same day, in the same parcel of vines – again, Merlot, in front of the Château. The left and centre pictures are from April 9th 2010, the one on the right April 9th 2011.


An early start is a positive sign, as it means we’re more likely to have warmer weather and sunshine as the grapes ripen in the build up to the early Autumn harvest. Most great vintages, with the recent exception of 2010, have tended to be earlier rather than later vintages.

img_5654_2We’ve had a little bit of rain, but the growing season in 2011 has picked up where the harvest of 2010 left off – very dry and sunny. So there has been no stopping the cycle of the vines’ growth, with flowering taking place in ideal, sunny conditions way ahead of the norm. The Fête de la Fleur, a big Bordeaux party to celebrate the floraison or flowering, will take place in late June. However, the flowering here is done and dusted before May is even out.

img_6112The flowering in 2011 has been far better than in 2010 – especially with the Merlot. (For more on the uneven flowering in 2010, see this post.) This means that yields are likely to be good, depending of course on the weather that follows and on how many bunches there are. The more uniform the grapes, the more consistency we’re likely to see in the ripening process. The best years, like 2005 and 2009, saw very good flowering. Less good years, like 2002, saw generally poor flowering on the Merlot. Merlot – by far the most widely planted variety in Bordeaux – is sensitive to poor fruit set, often as a result of cool or damp weather during flowering.

It could all go horribly wrong, however, if we don’t get any rain, as we’re not allowed to irrigate by law and the growth of the vines will be blocked through lack of water.

And, as Anthony Barton of Léoville-Barton said of 2003 (the year of the heatwave and summer drought):

“We had two types of grapes – small grapes… and very small grapes.”

Below, taken 21st May – Left, Merlot. Centre, Sauvignon Blanc. Right, Cabernet Sauvignon.


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9 thoughts on “2011 Season: 3 Weeks Early

  1. Ant Hodges - Good Bo

    After spending a week in Vendeé and seeing that it is another 4 hours to come down for a visit, the wife thinks that the second week of our stay here should involve 'short' trips, maybe into the edge of the Loire. I would have loved to come on down and seen these green shoots and get some snaps and info for our next magazine Gavin, but the trip will have to wait till later in the year. If you are 3 weeks ahead of schedule, when do you think you will be harvesting? And do take people on for a few days to come an help out with the harvest? I would love to come on down with a couple of our writers if that would be ok?

    1. Gavin

      Hi Ant, not sure when we will be harvesting. I'll worry about getting some rain on the younger vines for the moment – although there's not much I can do about it, really.
      It'll be early though. We used to take people on for the whole harvest, and indeed we do have some 'apprentices' lined up, but I'll have to play it by ear for the moment regarding shorter spells for a small number of peeps. I was keen on having a 'harvest weekend' for the red, so that quite a few customers could join in, but the growth pattern has left things too tricky to predict for the moment.

  2. James Swann

    It's really interesting to be able to learn of developments in the actual Bordeaux vintage, aside from working with the current en primeur one.

    Would you recommend other ways of staying abreast of this?

    Thanks a lot

    1. Gavin

      Thanks for the comment, James. You have a point. I should probably keep this site up to date more often. Also, I regularly use Twitter @gavinquinney, as you know, although most observers would groan if I start using the #bdx11 hashtag this soon. Any suggestions? Facebook? Flickr?

  3. James Swann

    Hello, thanks for your thoughts

    I wanted to stay abreast of the weather and how the different grapes are performing, water tables, yields and such like, a little inspired on the kind of subject matter and approach by Bill Blatch in his report.

    I had thought of using meteorological sites as a start but wondered it there could be more possibilities.

    However, seeing your thoughts, there could well be a niche for doing so in a wider way, such as the social media you mention.

    I have to say, overall I find Twitter a little too much, just because it seems to be dominated by communication by the trade for the trade, when in principal much communication should reach the public. I’m sure you have your own view and experience though. That said, it could be a good way for this subject area, which would be of most interest to the people working with wine.

    It would be really interesting to see updates on the different aspects observable in the vineyard of the actual vintage. To date we have allways read about them a year after the event but climate change makes this information particularly relevant now.

    That is not to say that you would have the time to do it! Nor is it something necessarily of universal interest, it might not be people’s priority, but I reckon it should be!

    Perhaps a weekly paragraph on the vintage developments on one site or other that becomes known among the trade as a timely and relevant update. That could be great and only really someone in the region could do it to most effect.

    Well, we’ll see.

    1. Gavin

      Thanks, James. I've been giving it some thought, and will get back to you. Quite a few questions there, and several different audiences to think about.

  4. James Swann

    Sure. Interestingly, there have been a few reports coming through. Decanter, Andrew Jefford, Jancis Robinson, Stephen Spurrier and one or two others, all have, at one point or other, commented on what you describe in your article above.

    I wonder if this is usual or indicative.

    There is quite a good piece at Chateau Bellevue also: http://www.domaine-de-bellevue.net

  5. Pingback: Early Harvests in France 2011 | O'Vineyards Carcassonne Wine Blog