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.
Now 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.
The 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.
We’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.
The 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.