November has been a hectic month, though less so in the vineyard itself. We sometimes forget how beautiful it can be at this time of year, with the golden rows of vines set against the autumn backdrop of the woods.
This month’s exciting review covers the Bordeaux 2018 vintage and how the weather impacted on the harvest. Below is a cutdown version of a longer article that Gavin has just put together for Jancis Robinson’s website and for Liv-ex (the London International Vintners’ Exchange).
Bordeaux 2018 will be remembered as an exceptional year, with no shortage of outstanding wines from this extraordinary vintage. The weather too has been exceptional, with a glorious summer extending long into the September and early October harvest, but the vintage had begun with a bizarrely challenging first half of the growing season. It has ended up, not for the first time, as a year of mixed fortunes.
I’ll try to explain the impact of the weather on yields and quality using – as ever in these vintage reports – a few graphs and statistics.
A dozen highlights of the out-of-the-ordinary 2018 vintage
- A wet winter, followed by a seriously soggy spring.
- The threat of mildew, from spring onwards, was the strongest for decades.
- Hailstorms in May and July caused damage in some unlucky areas.
- The flowering in May and June was largely successful.
- A glorious summer, preceded by just enough rain in late June and early July.
- To have three complete months of sunny, dry weather from early July through to early October is rare.
- Optimal harvest conditions, stress free, with no risk of rot.
- A vintage of great potential, with outstanding reds and some very good whites.
- Balance will be key as alcohol levels are generally quite high.
- The fourth very good to excellent vintage in a row for 75% of the leading châteaux.
- Plentiful yields for most growers but low for those hit by mildew or hail.
- Overall Bordeaux volumes, at a guess, are close to the 10-year average.
The growing season
Here then is the story of the vintage, using daily statistics that I’ve compiled from six different weather stations around Bordeaux.
The amount of rain can differ considerably from one area to another, and even from one commune to another, but this gives a pretty good impression of how the growing season panned out. For a comparison of 2018 with the last two vintages – and they are quite different – see the appendix below.
‘A game of two halves’
At the end of July – the month in which France won the football World Cup – I wrote that Bordeaux 2018 was ‘a game of two halves’. I have to admit I was taking a punt on the weather staying fine for August and September and even, as it happened, for early October, yet it’s extraordinary how the weather stayed so sunny and dry after such a wet start.
The stark contrast in the amount of rain for the period from March to June, compared to July, August and September, and how this compares to other vintages, can also be seen in this grid showing rainfall each month over the last ten vintages.
This month has seen our twentieth harvest at Bauduc. We took over the grapes that were on the vines when we arrived at the start of September 1999, so we haven’t quite clocked up 20 years, but the 2018 vintage is still a (frightening) milestone. Daniel was already here, and he still has no grey hairs, while Nelly joined us as a trainee. Pictured below, they’ve both put up with us ever since. Meanwhile, Michel, above, and better known as known as Papi, had already retired back then yet he’s volunteered to help in each and every harvest, and at 85 is still going strong. There’s hope for us all yet.
Every stage of the grapes’ development is fascinating to some of us but August is the month when most of the bunches change colour (véraison) in Bordeaux, so you really get a visual perspective on how the different varieties perform.
As well as the Bordeaux varieties, we have some non-Bordeaux grapes too, planted around ten years ago as an experiment. Most visitors have little idea that we’re restricted to growing only certain types of grapes, but that’s the same for all protected ‘appellations’ in France: should we wish to make wine with non-Bordeaux grapes, like Syrah or Chardonnay, this would have to be under the basic Vin de France label. (Only a tiny fraction of wine from the Gironde is Vin de France, the rest ‘Bordeaux’ or one of its 60-odd appellations.)
This is a long post below with several photos of each variety, and you certainly don’t need to know all about this stuff to enjoy a glass or two of wine. However, to give you a picture of how different grapes ripen at different times, here are several reds in the same block, taken on the same mid-August day: