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:
Another dry and unusually hot month, and the white harvest has already kicked off in the more precocious Bordeaux vineyards, namely to the south of the city in Pessac-Léognan. Most white vines, like ours, are sensibly holding back just long enough until the managers, oenologists and staff return from their holidays.
The INAO, the body that controls viticulture and wine production in the protected Appellations of France, have given approval for the use of anti-hail nets following some extensive tests in Burgundy. Until now, growers in Appellation Contrôlée vineyards have not been allowed to install nets against hail because the effect on the grapes and on the vines hasn’t been properly understood and they can alter the nature of the terroir. Or something like that.
In the big picture of things, this may not seem to be especially significant news but it’s an interesting development for us and for any wine growers who have to live through the fairly regular stress of hail storm alerts. And, from time to time, the real losses from hail damage.
The successful Burgundy tests have taken three years and this coincides with the experimental nets that we installed at Bauduc in June 2015 (above). Our trials were not so much to see if they work against hail (we think they would, though mercifully they’ve not been put to the test) but to assess how long they might last, and what impact there is on the vines, the labour, and the grapes. Now that we’ve been given the feu vert, in effect, we will spend more time and effort really understanding how the grapes behind the nets perform and how they taste during this harvest, compared to the neighbouring rows. Keep reading
This post also appears on JancisRobinson.com and on Liv-ex, the fine wine market website.
I’ll keep the football analogies to a minimum but the end of the month in which France won the World Cup seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the pluses and minuses of the season so far. For wine growers, or viticulteurs, the business end of the season will soon be upon us.
Following on from a wet winter and a thoroughly damp spring, the start of the summer has been dry and hot. In fact, of the last 44 days, 22 have seen temperatures over 30°C around Bordeaux, with another 14 days over 28°C. July itself has been the third hottest in France since 1947, still behind 2006 and 1983 but knocking 2015 into fourth spot. Keep reading
A memorable month with friends, family, football and glorious weather. And, for some of us, Love Island. We’ve also had a record number of visitors to the château to taste and even to buy our wine, and there seems to have been no let-up in the number of online orders in the UK, which is great.
Tim Martin looks like the sort of bloke you could enjoy a beer with in one of his pubs, but he does talk a lot of nonsense about EU tariffs on wine. You may have seen Tim this month on the beeb on Question Time or Newsnight, or on Sky, or being widely quoted in the press. I responded to one of those articles on Twitter – in fact, to Nigel Farage proclaiming fellow Brexiter Tim’s guff as a ‘Brexit boom!’
It’s quite rare for one of my tweets to be shared so widely (photos of dogs in the vines have limited appeal) but this Tim Martin tweet of mine was viewed over 250,000 times, according to Twitter, and my little thread – a string of connected tweets, otherwise known as a rant – had over 1300 retweets.
You see, when Tim bangs on about the EU tariffs on non-EU wine and how we’re all going to be so much better off without them, he forgets to mention that the EU tariff at 6.5p to 8p a bottle on the Australian wine he buys is 27 TIMES less than the UK duty of £2.16, plus VAT. (HM Government charges wine drinkers in Britain no less than 63% of all the wine duty levied in the EU.)
Oh, and there’s a free trade agreement between the EU and Chile (the 32% tariff claimed by the Brexiter MEP Dan Hannan a little while back was utter hogwash) and most South African wine carries no EU tariff.
8p? Tim’s no fool: no one is going to ask, in a few years, why the wine isn’t any cheaper. Or point out that the fall in the value of sterling following the Brexit vote has increased the cost of the product more than the EU tariff ever would.
Anyway, here’s the thread. Keep reading
Now that all the leading Châteaux have released the opening prices, the 2017 en primeur campaign is all but done. Disappointingly though, the year of the frost has ended up as ‘a damp squib’.
There are many good to very good wines at the top end, but a sub-premium vintage won’t sell at premium prices. The châteaux can charge whatever they like, of course, and no one is forced to buy (as far as I know). I agree though with the many UK merchants who reckon that the prices should be viewed alongside the 2014 vintage, as I said last month.
I’d also rather have 3 bottles of 2016 than 4 bottles of 2017 at this level, in most cases. My tables below, showing my en primeur scores for the leading wines from 2017, 2016 and 2014 and the opening and current market prices for each vintage, demonstrate, wine by wine, why the 2017s have failed to sell. Keep reading