“Two things surprised me about Bordeaux,” wrote Paul Shearer in an article in the Financial Times, back in June. “The first was the breathtaking beauty of the place. The second was the warmth of the welcome from the Bordelaises.”
After a lovely July, a mixed August and a dodgy start to September, we need sunshine. And, mercifully, the forecast looks good. In 2007, September sunshine saved the harvest (as happened in 2002), and although each and every year is different, it looks like the same could be true for 2008. The problem is that this will be a late harvest, and more than likely the latest we’ve seen. We don’t just need sun, we need three to four weeks of it.
We have one parcel which will be ready before all the others – this week in fact – a block of sauvignon blanc vines which we planted in 2004. Keep reading
Even though friday was un jour férié, or Bank Holiday, there was work to be done in the vineyard, and on saturday too. Working on a saturday in mid-August doesn’t go down well with the troops, let alone on a Bank Holiday, but the merlot grapes are changing colour from green to red, a process called véraison. And when it’s about a third of the way through, we spray to protect against botrytis or rot, as do most of the top estates in Bordeaux – even if spraying dates don’t feature in the brochure. This was the second preventative measure against rot, the first having taken place during flowering in early June, and the timing can be tricky to judge. As I walked down the rows I thought “that’s 10% veraison”, “that’s 40%”, and so on until at the end of the parcel, I stuck a finger in the air and said, ‘we’ll do this parcel on friday’. And I’d forgotten about the Bank Holiday. Keep reading
July was a great month for sunshine in Bordeaux and very little rain – much less than in 2007 and 2006. In fact, we’ve enjoyed lovely weather since mid-June, right up until yesterday at the start of what looks to be a rainy week. But in this corner of south west France, whenever there has been a build-up of heat over a prolonged period, a storm might follow; we’ve witnessed exciting bouts of thunder and lightning during the hottest periods in previous years. Usually, there’s no harm done, but if there’s a mix of strong winds and the much-dreaded hail, the results can be catastrophic. We were badly hit in June 2003 and it wasn’t pretty.
This time it was the turn of several unfortunate growers and Chateaux in Lussac Saint-Emilion, one of the satellite appellations to the north of the famous, medieval wine town. Hundreds of acres were hit, and some estates have lost all their crop for this year.
Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the night we were badly hit by hail. The evening of 24th June, 2003 lives long in the memory. After a period of steamy hot weather, a hail storm swept through part of the region, starting in the Graves to the south west of us and petering out beyond St-Emilion to the east. Hail on its own can be a bruiser but it’s the combination of hail and gail force winds that inflicts serious damage. We lost half the crop in just a few minutes, and with it half our income for the year. Some of our neighbours’ vines were wiped out, whereas Esme Johnstone’s Château de Sours, just five miles away, remained untouched.
Ironically, we had cancelled our hail insurance policy the year before as the premium had rocketed, and we believed a local pundit who claimed that the geography and shape of the hillsides of Bauduc would force the winds around the estate and that we were unlikely to be hit in just such an event. This turned out, of course, to be complete tosh.