Tag Archives: Left Bank

Bordeaux 2013 en primeur off and running

Pontet Canet 2011 - 144When Jancis Robinson asked me on Tuesday to write a piece setting the scene for the annual en primeur tastings next week, I don’t think anyone was expecting the first release of the campaign so soon.

Alfred Tesseron of Chateau Pontet Canet surprised more than a few people by releasing the price of his 2013 to the Bordeaux trade on Wednesday. It’s the first time a leading Chateau has put its wine on sale before the world’s wine merchants – and most critics – have had a chance to taste it.

Given that Pontet Canet (above right) has been on a hot streak of late, all the Bordeaux negociants I spoke to will be taking up the offer rather than risk losing future allocations. Most importers – who buy in turn from the negociants – are (quite rightly) saying that they’ll wait to try the wine first before committing themselves.

Palmer, 6 Oct 2010 - 47’It caught everyone by surprise’ said Charlie Sichel of Maison Sichel, who part-own Chateau Palmer (left). ’In view of the strength of the brand, and assuming the quality of the wine is approved by our customers when they come to taste next week, it might be quite clever. It’s a move that the entire Bordeaux trade will focus on; but there are very, very few Chateaux with such strong brand equity as Pontet Canet and any message to proprietors to release a small amount of wine at the same price is dangerous.’

Pontet Canet’s 2013 yields were ’lilliputien’ according to winemaker Jean-Michel Comme, about half the norm at 15hl/ha and a fraction of the 40hl/ha or so of the outstanding 2010 vintage. Allocations of the 2013 to negociants are therefore 50% down on last year. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – the end of the harvest

Also published on JancisRobinson.com and Livex.

The 2013 Bordeaux harvest is drawing to a close as the last of the Cabernets and final Sémillon selections for sweet whites are picked. Sighs of relief all round.

Fleur Cardinale - 02Few grapes are left on the vine now, although they only finished the Merlot at Chateau Fleur Cardinale in Saint-Emilion on Saturday. They hadn’t even started the Cabernet Franc (right).

’C’est pas mûr (ripe)’ said the cellar master as he gestured towards the unpicked vines; the bunches were admirably free of rot, thanks to the colder, later-ripening terroir.

I’ve tasted a lot of red grapes in the last few weeks around Bordeaux and he just about summed it up. Most reds have had to come in before they were ripe. This should have been a late October harvest, by rights, given the extremely late flowering in June and retarded colour change that dragged on into early September. (In between, we had a hot July and a pretty good August – but don’t mention the hail).

If there are any successes, and there will be some, they are triumphs over adversity. This has been the most difficult growing season for red Bordeaux that I’ve seen in fifteen harvests, capped by nerve-jangling conditions for the picking.

Cheval Blanc Oct 9 - 56The threat of rot at harvest time is also the most acute I’ve witnessed. Many chateaux have picked healthy-looking grapes in the nick of time, or sorted them as best they could. Seeing so many botrytis-affected bunches discarded beneath the vines has been a sad but necessary image.

It’s not that the 2013 harvest has been blighted by days on end of incessant rain. What we’ve had is a series of two-day stints of rain, starting with the last weekend of September (27-29), then 3-4 October (we had 75mm in two days here, 20 kms south east of Bordeaux) and more downpours over the weekend of 12 October.

In between we’ve seen the windows for harvesting and, simultaneously, dangerous periods of warmth and humidity which are ideal for the spread of botrytis. (Even now, in the third week of October, it’s a clammy 19°C this morning.) The picking schedules have largely been determined by the staying power of the grapes in any given parcel. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – the harvest so far

Cos Oct 2 2013 - 020 - Version 2

Also published on JancisRobinson.com and Livex.

A complicated year, a complicated harvest. After a fraught growing season in 2013 (see my pre-harvest report for a detailed overview), most Bordeaux chateaux and vignerons have had to bring in their Merlots rather sooner than planned, before the dreaded rot sets in. Some Cabernets are following in quick succession (as at Lafite-Rothschild in Pauillac, below) but now that the sun has come out, there’s a ray of hope for those that can hold on for a little while longer.

It’s all a far cry from the à la carte harvests of 2009 and 2010, when you could pick and choose at leisure. ’Une année compliquée’ is a polite way of describing 2013 and can be used by owners and managers without giving their public relations people a headache. It’s really code for a bit of a shocker.

Lafite 2 Oct 2013 - 024 - Version 2

The weather at the end of September and for the first days of October proved, unfortunately, to be ideal for the development of botrytis – otherwise known as rot. Sultry heat and too much rain over the weekend of 27-29 September was perfect for the champignons in the bunches to thrive and forced growers on both banks to be extra vigilant and, for most, to take swift action.

In many cases they’ve had to harvest red grapes long before they had had a chance to ripen, and only the tiniest estates in places like Pomerol can bring in everything at the same time. Out in the vineyards, it’s been all mud-clogged wellies, short sleeved shirts and waterproofs. Until this week that is, with the welcome boost of chilly, bright mornings and warm sun in the afternoon. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – pre-harvest report

Harvest survey - 62This article also appears on JancisRobinson.com and Livex – the fine wine trading exchange.

As the Bordeaux harvest begins, here is a detailed report on the weather so far this year and its impact on the vines.

It’s fair to say that my earlier updates on the 2013 growing season in Bordeaux have been less than enthusiastic. Running late in May, The flowering and Soggy Vinexpo, sodden vines in June, Lafite’s weeping willows in July and then, in August, the Hail in Bordeaux series of posts hardly paint a rosy picture.

Yet even at this stage at the end of September, this roller coaster vintage is still too early to call. The weather in October for the red harvest (Bordeaux is 88% red) will be crucial. Even before then, storms are forecast for this weekend, after a week of sunshine.

To follow my harvest updates on Twitter, type the following in the Twitter search box:   from:gavinquinney #bdx13


1. 2013 is an exceptionally late harvest. (Or should be.)

2. 2013 will be a small crop in Bordeaux overall.

3. A cold first half of the year held up growth in the vineyard.

4. An unusually cold, wet May and downpours in June led to late, uneven flowering.

5. July was hot and dry, August sunny, September up and down. October is key.

6. An August hailstorm hit more than 10,000 hectares – about 10% of the Bordeaux vineyard – but none of the top châteaux.

7. Quality and yields will be extremely variable – the contrast is evident in the vineyards.

8. The dry white harvest has started well, while prospects for sweet whites are ‘promising’.

9. The red harvest is likely to be a race against time (and rot) as the autumn weather draws in.

10. The advantage lies with those who have the resources and equipment to be highly selective. Keep reading

Lafite’s weeping willows

DSC_0486We had a storm in Bordeaux late last Friday and in the early hours of Saturday. Summer thunderstorms here are not uncommon after protracted heat waves, but there was some significant, localised damage. Heavy rain caused flash floods in the city, strong winds brought down a few trees around the region, and vine growers prayed that any hail would pass them by.

The most photogenic damage was to the willow trees of Chateau Lafite Rothschild that sit between the lakes and gardens of this illustrious property and the D2 main road. Many were brought down in fierce winds between 11pm on Friday and 2am on Saturday.

Several estates in Pauillac, such as Pontet Canet, Lynch Bages and Fonbadet, suffered superficial damage – to trees, mostly – but it was in the valley below the buildings at Lafite that tourists stopped to take pictures. At least twenty trees were lost or broken and by Sunday evening there was still a great deal of clearing up to be done. Keep reading