Bordeaux 2013 weather report

Here’s my weather report for Bordeaux 2013. A word of warning – it’s quite long and there’s no shortage of graphs. Strictly for geeks, freaks and Master of Wine students trying to understand why 2013 has a reputation for being such a crap vintage.

10 highlights about the weather and Bordeaux 2013

  • 2013 was the most difficult growing season in Bordeaux for 20 years or more.
  • It was the smallest crop in Bordeaux since 1991 and 27% down on the low crop of 2012.
  • An unusually cold first half of the year held up growth in the vineyard.
  • A cold, wet May and June culminated in late, uneven flowering. Many Chateaux had much lower yields as a result.
  • July was hot and dry and August quite sunny – one of the plus points of the vintage.
  • An August hailstorm hit more than 10,000 hectares, mostly in the Entre Deux Mers, but none of the top châteaux.
  • Harvest conditions for both dry and sweet whites were good.
  • It was a late red harvest but it would have been later still, given the chance.
  • Rain and humidity at the end of September and into October forced Chateaux to pick their reds as rot set in.
  • Picking at the right moment was critical, as was the ability to eliminate unhealthy and unripe grapes.

Contents

  • 10 highlights about the weather and Bordeaux 2013
  • Bordeaux Rainfall and Temperature 2013
  • Bordeaux Yields 2006 – 2013
  • Rainfall October 2012 to March 2013
  • Bordeaux Rainfall 2013
  • Bordeaux Temperature by Region 2013
  • Bordeaux Sunshine Hours 2005 – 2013
  • Bordeaux Temperature Comparison 2005 – 2013
  • Bordeaux Rainfall Comparison 2005 – 2013
  • Bordeaux Weather – April 2013
  • Bordeaux Weather – May 2013
  • Bordeaux Weather – June 2013
  • Ground Temperatures – April and May
  • Bordeaux Weather – July 2013
  • Bordeaux Weather – August 2013
  • Hail, 2 August 2013
  • Late Veraison, or Colour Change
  • Bordeaux Weather – September 2013
  • Bordeaux Weather – October 2013

 

Bordeaux Rainfall and Temperature 2013

004785_2013_chart_rain_temp

2013 got off to a slow start and the first half of the year was much colder than average. Add to this the cold, wet (and important) months of May and June, and we ended up with the worst possible conditions for the June flowering. This was the most difficult floraison I’ve seen since 2002.

The sun came out in July and August was true to form (except for the hailstorm on 2 August, detailed below). Then intermittent rain, sun and humidity in late September and early October put everyone under pressure to bring the harvest in sooner than they would have liked. The threat of rot was the most pressing I’ve witnessed in my 15 years here.

Bordeaux Yields 2006 – 2013
004324-2006-2013_yields2013 saw a dramatic fall in production, from an average of 52 hectolitres (52 x 100 litres) per hectare in 2009, 2010 and 2011, to 49hl/ha in 2012, then a costly drop to under 34hl/ha in 2013.

383 million litres were produced in 2013, compared to a consistent volume of 557 million in 2009 and 543 million in 2010. Bordeaux made over 600 million litres per year on average from 1996-2005, so 2013 shows a massive drop. (For the equivalent number of 75cl bottles, divide those figures by 0.75. It’s a big number.)

Poor flowering on the Merlot, the most widely planted variety, was mostly to blame, coupled with hail damage to almost 10% of the total Bordeaux vineyard area in the Entre Deux Mers, a vast area which produces vast quantities of regular AC Bordeaux rouge.

Rainfall October 2012 to March 2013

004120_Oct-Mar_chart_rainRainfall during the winter of 2012-2013 was slightly over the 30-year average in most sectors, and the most we’ve had in the last ten winters. We also had more days when it rained – about 100 depending on the area, compared to an average of 69 days. December and January were the wettest months.

Monthly temperatures were close to the 30-year average until February, which was 2°C below average (5.7˚C v 7.7˚C), and March, 1.5°C below (8.6˚C v 10.1˚C).

Bordeaux Rainfall 2013

004785_2013_chart_rain

The Bordeaux vineyards span a vast area of 112,000 hectares and stretch over 150 Kms from one far corner to the other, so there are often noticeable variations in the weather between sub-regions. The storm on 25 July saw markedly levels of rainfall.

Bordeaux Temperature by Region 2013

004785_2013_chart_temp

It was colder everywhere across the region in the first half of the year, culminating in a cold May and June. Vine growth was delayed in all areas as a result. In contrast, July was hotter than usual, although this may easily be forgotten as 2013 is seen as a mediocre vintage.

Bordeaux Sunshine Hours 2005 – 2013

004785_2006-2013_sunshine

Here I compare the hours of sunshine in recent vintages. Take a look at this and the rainfall in any given year and month, and you have a fairly clear picture about how a vintage was defined. The only piece missing from the jigsaw is the timing of the harvest, which can be quite different from one year to the next. 2011 was a very early harvest, whereas 2012 was late and 2013 later still.

For the best vintages, see 2005, 2009 and 2010. 2007 was saved by an Indian summer. 2008 was a cooler, later vintage. 2013 was saved by July and August, quite possibly, with a difficult beginning and troublesome end.

Bordeaux Temperature Comparison 2005 – 2013

004785_2005-2013_temp-03

2013 was cold in Q2, after a cold Q1. Compare the temperature in 2013 with a warm, ripe vintage like 2009.

Bordeaux Rainfall Comparison 2005 – 2013

004785_2005-2013_rainfall-05Some significant swings here, as you’d expect. April can be variable but it’s not quite right to say we had a wet spring as March and April were relatively dry. (It was certainly wet in April 2012.) May and June 2013 were very wet.

Bordeaux Weather – April 2013

004120_Apr13_chart_rain_tempAfter a cold February and March, April saw fluctuating temperatures. Bud-break was a bit later than usual and morning frosts at the end of the month were a threat. The rainfall measured here, some 15 miles SE of the city of Bordeaux, and at nearby St-Emilion, was lower than in other parts of Bordeaux: there was 60-70mm in the Medoc. But thankfully no repeat of the heavy April downpours of 2012 (160-200mm).

With March (60mm) and April both having average or lower rain than the average, I don’t think of the spring of 2013 as being wet. May and June on the other hand…

May 2013

004120_May13_chart_rain_temp3After a promising start, May was fearfully chilly and wet, and the vines never got going.

Ground Temperatures – April and May

004011_PomerolThe temperature of the sub-soils stayed lower than in previous vintages in the second half of the month, and this was reflected in the retarded height of the vine canopy everywhere.

If you add the cumulative average temperatures above 10˚C, recorded in Léognan from 1 January to 31 May, compared to recent vintages, 2013 was way behind:

2008 347˚, 2009 326˚, 2010 325˚, 2011 492˚, 2012 331˚, 2013 212˚.

004011_Graves

Bauduc_2011v2013To show how late things were, here was our vineyard on 23 May 2011 versus 23 May 2013. 2011 was an early harvest, whereas 2013 was to be late.Evolution-of-the-height-of-the-foliage-in-Pomerol_BAUDUC

June 2013

004120_Jun13_chart_rain_temp2A good first week then heavy rain on 8 June. Then, just as the vines came into flower, we had much more rain than usual and at the wrong moment for the floraison, which was already late. It seemed that the vines were splitting their energies between further growth and flowering at the same time – in the rain – so poor fruit set on the Merlot was inevitable.

The results are mixed though – some vines are badly effected, whereas a few paces along, the flowering was more successful. Visitors to Vinexpo might recall a baking Sunday and then a filthy Monday night and Tuesday. The flowering vines were similarly confused.

July 2013

004120_Jul13_chart_rain_tempJuly was a complete contrast to the months before, with 21 scorching days over 30°C. The first half and middle of July is rarely so consistently hot in Bordeaux.

The sun was most welcome to holidaymakers and wine tourists who, based on this evidence, think that growing grapes must be a doddle.

Most of the rain for the month came with heavy storms on the night of Friday 25 July. (See Lafite’s weeping willows.) Worse was to fall on Genissac, south of Libourne, with the first of the summer’s hail.

August 2013

004120_Aug13_chart_rain_temp3A terrible start to the month for some, with a devastating storm on the evening of Friday 2 August. Hail tore through about 10,000 hectares of vines, mainly in the Entre Deux Mers – see the map above. See also Hail in Bordeaux, part 1 and part 2.

Fine weather set in after the first week. Veraison was very late, although this wasn’t surprising given how retarded the floraison had been. It was the first vintage I’d seen where no grapes had changed colour by the start of August in the early -ripening vineyards of Pomerol. First signs of veraison in the Medoc and in St-Emilion were to be seen in the middle of the month. That’s late.

Hail, 2 August 2013

004097_hail_region4

August 2013 – late veraison

I happened to take these pictures of the same vine on the slope below Ch Tertre Roteboeuf at the end of August in recent vintages, which show colour change variation. 2013 is exceptionally late development.

Same-vine-Tertre-Roteb-10_11_12_13-liv-ex

September 2013

004324_Sep13_chart_rain_temp-03The month started well enough but it was then quite chilly and drizzly. The harvest for dry whites showed promise – a good year for dry whites, in fact, except for those vineyards hit by hail in the Entre Deux Mers.

The weather at the end of September and for the first days of October proved, unfortunately, to be ideal for the development of botrytis – otherwise known as rot. Sultry heat and too much rain over the weekend of 27-29 September was perfect for the champignons in the bunches to thrive and forced growers on both banks to be extra vigilant and, for most, to take swift action.

For more on the harvest, see Bordeaux 2013 – the harvest so far.

October 2013

004324_Oct13_chart_rain_temp-05For more, and some photos, read Bordeaux 2013 – the end of the harvest.

The threat of rot at harvest time was the most acute I’ve witnessed. Many chateaux picked healthy-looking grapes in the nick of time, or sorted them as best they could. Seeing so many botrytis-affected bunches discarded beneath the vines has been a sad but necessary image.

It’s not that the 2013 harvest had been blighted by days on end of incessant rain. What we had was a series of two-day stints of rain, starting with the last weekend of September (27-29), then 3-4 October and more dodgy weather over the weekend of 12 October.

In between there were windows for harvesting and, simultaneously, dangerous periods of warmth and humidity which are ideal for the spread of botrytis. The picking schedules were often determined by the staying power of the grapes in any given parcel.

Some of the larger estates of Pauillac, St-Julien and St-Estèphe can point to their more resistant Cabernet Sauvignon on the gravel mounds near the Gironde. Healthy-looking Cabernets were being brought in just before, during and after the weekend of 12 October at vineyards like Lynch-Bages and Montrose, for example, but this is by no means late for Cabernet Sauvignon.

A difficult vintage therefore for reds. The whites, both dry and sweet, have been more fortunate. The dry whites were largely in before the damp and sweaty weather of the last weekend of September, while growers in Sauternes and other sweet white appellations benefited from the spread of noble rot.