The Bordeaux en primeur campaign has come to a close. Farr Vintners, the UK’s biggest importer of fine wines from Bordeaux, reported that this, unsurprisingly, was their best campaign since the 2010 vintage. But it could have gone better. “Although this has been a successful campaign (and clearly a great vintage), we have only really sold 30-40 châteaux in volume. It would have been more successful if prices had been more reasonable. Too many proprietors have increased their prices without justification and many wines that could have sold well have actually sold poorly as a result of this. On top of this, we were also hindered by an exchange rate that was 15% worse than last year.” Keep reading
As they say, the wines that are really in demand you can’t get hold of, and the wines that are available no one wants to buy. However, there are some delicious wines that are affordable – and available – which are certainly worth a punt. Steven Spurrier, the hugely respected writer and critic for Decanter who retired from judging the primeurs earlier this year, told me that he didn’t buy wines that cost more than £500 a case en primeur/in bond (ie excluding duty and VAT) because he didn’t have any friends who’d appreciate them.
The Bordeaux 2016 ’en primeur’ machine marches relentlessly on. (Lordy, I’ve been to nine Chelsea matches since the official week of tastings began in Bordeaux at the start of April, and there’s still no end in sight.) Here’s a link to a copy of my Bordeaux 2016 report for Harpers, the UK trade magazine, including my favourite 100 red wines. You can find many of my scores tabled alongside other critics on Liv-ex, the London International Vintners exchange, here.
I can’t repeat the whole article here but here are some highlights.
Download a detailed pdf of this map here
As wine maps go, this isn’t the jolliest. The overnight frosts that swept through Bordeaux at the end of April 2017 were devastating for some vineyards but not for others, so – given the conflicting reports about price rises and chateaux ’holding back stock’ – I thought a map showing the levels of impact in different areas would help provide a clearer picture.
As I mentioned a week after the worst of the frosts, we lost about 50% of our potential harvest at Château Bauduc (near Créon on the map), comprising most of the lower slopes of our 25-hectare/63-acre vineyard.
The extent of the damage from the frost at the end of April is now becoming clear. Following on from three really good, generous vintages – culminating in the biggest Bordeaux harvest for more than a decade in 2016 – we’ve been brought back to earth with a very significant bump. Freezing temperatures in the early hours of Thursday 27 April, and to a lesser extent the morning before, have wiped out the crop in many vineyards, right at the start of the growing season. ‘The Lord giveth…’ you might think. ‘C’est la nature’ a neighbour said, with a consoling shrug of the shoulders.
Until last week, I don’t think I’ve ever taken the risk of Spring frosts that seriously. Really damaging frosts in Bordeaux are rare – the stuff of legends, such as the terrible one in April 1991, which almost killed off the harvest, and the even worse one in 1956, which killed off a lot of vines, notably on the Right Bank around St-Emilion.
We did, though, have a warning at exactly the same time last year, when temperatures dropped to freezing before sunrise (on 29 April, here). A few Bordeaux vineyards took a hit, but nothing compared to the losses in Champagne, Chablis and the Loire.
Being based further south, I’m less of ‘G for Gel’ man than ‘G for Grêle’. As anyone who is familiar with our tales of woe, it’s the threat of hail that sends me into a nervous spin. We lost over half the crop in May 2009 and again in August 2013 to hail, so it’s understandable.
But all that changed last week. ’Le gel dévaste les vignes de Gironde’ ran the headline in the Sud-Ouest last Friday, 29 April. And it wasn’t an exaggeration. Keep reading
The wine trade and press descend on Bordeaux next week for the official En Primeur tastings of the latest vintage. There’s little doubt, to my mind, that they’ll find a great many exciting wines, both in the Royal Circle and in the more affordable stalls. At the top end, the wines will not be cheap when prices emerge later on but there’ll be scores of others that offer terrific bang for your buck – or even for your pound. Here, as a precursor to these tastings of young wines from barrel, is a graphical look at how the weather made the vintage.
Here’s how the vintage panned out. I’ll start with a few graphs and tables, and then show a few photos to give you an idea of what was happening in the vineyard. Keep reading
2016 was the biggest Bordeaux harvest in over a decade, according to official figures. The production of 577.2 million litres – the equivalent of a staggering 770 million bottles – was the largest since 2006, when there was 10% more vineyard area. Strong harvest figures for Bordeaux are, of course, in stark contrast to many less fortunate regions across France in 2016.
At an average of 52 hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha), 2016 saw the highest yield per hectare since the largest crop of the century to date in 2004, which came in at 54 hl/ha. “The yield on the Merlot,” I wrote in Bordeaux 2016 – quality and quantity last October, “is the biggest I’ve seen since 2004 and the quality is far superior to that attractive but uneven vintage. As Bordeaux is 89% red and Merlot accounts for two thirds of that 89%, it’ll be a big crop out in the sticks.” Keep reading
An extraordinary growing season and a terrific harvest. Fortune has smiled on us this year and we’re all the more grateful considering the difficulties facing many growers elsewhere in France. The tanks above shows the lottery of growing grapes. Normally, we make roughly the equivalent of three of our 20,000 litre blending tanks of white wine. In 2013, after a 10-minute August hailstorm, we made just one. This year, touch wood, we’ll fill almost five. As our biggest selling white – our straight Sauvignon Blanc – sold out within a few months, that’s welcome news. Keep reading
Nature has been kind to Bordeaux this year. A bumper crop for many, and a fine harvest – so far. It may be over for some growers in this vast region but there are plenty of bunches still out there, as numerous chateaux hold on for the later-ripening Cabernets and the last Merlots from cooler soils.
There has been no rush, no panic, to bring in the grapes. After the bone-dry summer, the vines enjoyed some overdue refreshment thanks to heavy rain on the night of 13 September. It cleared up soon afterwards and, since then, we’ve had dry and sunny weather for the build-up to the harvest – and for the picking itself – with just one more night of rain on Friday 30 September during a crucial four week period. Keep reading
This week has been dry and sunny, so we’ve decided to hold off harvesting the reds at Bauduc for the moment. We had a heavy dollop of rain last Friday night – straight after we’d sent out an upbeat monthly review – so an excellent September came to an abrupt end. Thankfully though, the rain was just a one-off and since then we’ve had fresh mornings and glorious days. We therefore thought we’d leave that downpour to freshen things up in the vineyard, and hang on for what they call optimum ripeness.
We also have a useful early warning system nearby, thanks to the earlier maturing vineyards of Pomerol some 25 minutes up the road near Libourne, where Tom goes to school. Our Merlot usually ripens 8-10 days later than at the top chateaux on the plateau of Pomerol so, after dropping Tom at school, it makes good sense – in the name of research, of course – to study the harvest taking place on one of the finest patches of dirt in the world. Keep reading