Category Archives: Bordeaux 2012

Bordeaux 2012: The End of the Harvest

This is another post I wrote for Liv-ex, the fine wine market blog. I’ve backdated it to the date of publication on the Liv-ex site.

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon harvest at Chateau Lafite

The red-wine harvest is coming to an end in Bordeaux as the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon is being picked by the top estates of the Left Bank this week. On the Right Bank, what’s left of the Merlot will be brought in shortly and then, lastly, the remaining Cabernet Franc.

2012 came close to being a terrific vintage. As it is, it’s a promising vintage at the top level, thanks mainly to a fine August and most of September, although yields are fairly low. “What we have is good but there’s just not much of it”, remarked Christian Seely, MD of Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron. (I did warn him that this might raise an eyebrow.)

“It’s a very good vintage, if not a great one”, claimed Paul Pontallier at Chateau Margaux on Monday, as the final cagettes of Cabernet Sauvignon were ferried into the huge reception area. “A lovely summer and September with rain just before harvest, which is completely normal.” Keep reading

Bordeaux 2012: The End in Sight

This is the third of my 2012 Bordeaux harvest updates for Jancis Robinson, the first one being here on this site and the second here. (I’ve backdated the publication date above to match the date it appeared on Jancis’s site.)

As the red-wine harvest draws to a close, there’s a sense of relief and quiet satisfaction in Bordeaux, if not the euphoria of a great vintage.

It has been a long season and nerves have been frayed right to the end: we’ve had what seemed like three seasons in the space of two weeks. What should be picked and when? ‘The weather doesn’t know what it’s doing’ said Lilian Barton at Langoa. ‘I wonder if weather forecaster is the only job where you can keep making mistakes and still never get fired’, tweeted Frédéric Engerer of Chateau Latour.

Three weeks of October sunshine were too much to ask for in the end, and that’s the problem with comparatively late harvests. After a delayed start and a wet spring, Bordeaux had already had its fair share of luck, with two months of fabulous summer sunshine right up until the last week of September.

Since then it’s been a bit up and down. If any grower says they were able to pick ’a la carte’ (as and when they liked) then they must be talking about the dry whites, which were harvested under clear skies in until the last week of September.

That said, the Merlot and Cabernet grapes I’ve seen on the sorting tables at the leading estates, from Pauillac to Pomerol and from Margaux to St-Emilion, have been in remarkably good shape. They don’t have the joy, the concentration, or depth of flavour that you find in great vintages, yet they are healthy, thick-skinned and tasty. The question now is the quality of the tannins in those skins and in the pips – château by château, block by block. As for vinification, gently does it. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2012: The Late Show

This is the second of my 2012 Bordeaux harvest updates for Jancis Robinson, the first one being here on this site or you can find it here on (I’ve backdated the publication date above to match the date it appeared on Jancis’s site.)

The red-wine harvest finally got under way in Bordeaux this week. Merlot is being brought into the increasingly high-tech sorting areas at a leisurely pace, as leading châteaux take advantage of the clear skies and wait for optimum maturity of their precious grapes.

Incredibly, it’s still too early to call. ’We have the potential for a very good vintage but the weather over the next two weeks will be crucial’ said Christian Seely, MD of Ch Pichon Longueville Baron in Pauillac, where Cabernet Sauvignon is king.

Harvest reception at Ch Pichon Longueville

His winemaker, Jean-René Martignon, confirmed that they won’t start the later-ripening cabernet until the week of the 15th October. They, along with most of the top estates of the Left Bank, were picking merlot this week.

Hervé Berland, the new CEO at Ch Montrose in St-Estèphe, agreed. ’I’m asking for God’s help with the Cabernet Sauvignon as this is my first vintage’. He chalked up more than 30 years with Mouton Rothschild. ’I am hopeful because we had a lovely August and, as we say, August makes the must.

’We can move quickly if we need to. You know, and this is a lovely story, we have had pickers at Montrose from the same village in Spain for the last 50 years – can you believe that? – and we now put them up in our newly-restored cottages at the end of the drive by the Gironde.’ (Harvest workers’ cottages are not the only investments being made at Montrose, that’s for sure.) Keep reading

Bordeaux 2012: The Wait for Red October

2012 has been an extraordinary year for sport but will it be a vintage to remember?

Here in Bordeaux, it’s too early to say, even at this late stage. It’s going to go right to the wire.

“Exceptionally late”

Cabernet Sauvignon at Château Pichon Longueville in Pauillac, 26 September 2012

“If 2011 was exceptionally early, 2012 is exceptionally late”, said Lilian Barton of Château Léoville Barton as they prepared to bring in the new vintage in St-Julien, 25 miles north of Bordeaux. The red-wine harvest, which has started quietly in the early ripening vineyards of Pomerol, begins this week in earnest and will last well into October.

As for quality, Gabriel Vialard, the technical director of Château Haut-Bailly – near Léognan, south of the city – was cautiously optimistic after two fine months.

“It could be like 2000 but not if it rains too much. We won’t know until it’s all in.” Thankfully the forecast is fine for the moment.

Summer sun until last week of September

The sunshine we’ve enjoyed in Bordeaux from mid-July onwards, through a warmer than average August, lasted right up until the penultimate weekend of September. We’d had just 30mm of rain here from mid-July until 23rd September, and half of that fell on the 5th August. It’s been extremely dry, with plenty of sunshine.

Then on Sunday, 23rd September, there came one evening and three days of rain, on and off: around 40-60mm in total on the Right Bank and 50-90mm on the Left. That’s fine – and it was much needed in some parcels – so long as it stops there. No more, thanks. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2012: Scorching Summer, but No Rush

Last weekend, Jancis Robinson asked me for ‘a brief report on how the Bordeaux vignoble is looking so far‘ and published my reply on her website a few days later. With Jancis’s kind permission, here was my seat-of-the-pants, stat-free response:

After a long, wet spring, we’ve had a lovely summer in Bordeaux. Unlike last year, however, the owners and MDs of leading châteaux can enjoy the end of their August break on the Atlantic coast at Cap Ferret and Arcachon without feeling the need to rush back to their vines. The red-wine harvest is still some way off.

No two growing seasons are ever the same in Bordeaux but the contrast between 2011 and 2012 could not be more striking. Last year, there was an early budburst and the flying start was accelerated by a warm, dry spring. The lack of rain carried on until the second week of July, with many vines suffering in the drought-like conditions. The summer was then up and down, topped off by an early harvest of the dry whites at the end of August. Almost all the reds and sweet whites in 2011 were brought in during September, which is uncommonly early. The last time that happened was in 2003, an altogether different vintage. Keep reading