August review – grapes, harvest and friends


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.

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Hail nets get the nod

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

Bordeaux 2018 – a game of two halves

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

How 2018 is looking, hail news and more… July review


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.

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Debunking Brexit twaddle about EU wine tariffs

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

Why the Bordeaux 2017 ‘en primeur’ campaign bombed

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

Hail in Bordeaux 2018 and the bigger picture

Many thanks for all the concerned messages. We’re fine thanks, as on this occasion the hailstorms passed us by. To the north of us, primarily in Bourg and Blaye, and the southern Haut-Médoc, they were not so lucky, and we send our best wishes to our fellow viticulteurs whose vineyards have been damaged.

The hailstorm struck on Saturday morning, 26 May, and we had an early warning from friends in the city of Bordeaux with texts and tweets, mostly accompanied by images and videos of hailstones and flooded streets. The hailstorm then moved up towards the Gironde estuary, damaging vines on the left bank around Macau and at the southern end of the Haut-Médoc, before causing huge damage to vineyards on the other side of the river in the picturesque, hilly areas of Bourg and Blaye. (Closer to home, the picture above of her neighbour’s vines is from Dawn Jones-Cooper of Château de Monfaucon near Genissac on the Dordogne river, less than 10 miles from us.) The storm then shifted north to Cognac. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2017 en primeur buying guide

The Bordeaux 2017 en primeur wagon is trundling on, with prices from many of the leading châteaux still to be released. (Update 21 June 2018: En primeur prices for the 2017s have now almost all been included below.)

It’s a long and fairly tortuous journey, as ever, given that the tastings from barrel of the latest vintage, for the trade and the press, took place back in early April. Here I take a look at how the top wines stack up against the 2016s – a great but fairly expensive vintage – and the more reasonably priced 2014s.

For those vineyards that weren’t hit by the April frost, 2017 is generally closer to 2014 in quality than to 2016 (even if different in style), so it’s potentially a useful comparison. Both are good, sometimes very good vintages.

The list includes my ‘en primeur’ score out of 100 for all the leading wines in 2017, 2016 and 2014, plus the en primeur prices for all three years, and current market prices of the two earlier vintages. Simply compare the scores and the prices and you’ll see if there’s value to be had. (It’s not as simple as that, in truth, because some names are worth so much more than others.)

Note that these are for the top 180 wines from Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, Pomerol, St-Emilion and Sauternes, which are sold by the châteaux to Bordeaux négociants now (a year before bottling) and then offered to wine merchants around the world, and on to consumers. Cheaper wines from less famous appellations are not included in my list: these are sometimes offered ‘en primeur’, of course, but for a vintage like 2017 the finished product, I’d suggest, can be re-tasted and purchased after bottling. You could argue that the same applies for the vast majority of the wines on the list – but that’s the game. Keep reading