The 2013 Vintage

Notes from Nicolle Croft, 7  September 2013

The grapes are in the middle of turning red, or more like purple. It is very comforting to see after all the extremes that this vintage has already had to cope with. From mid veraison you count 45 days and it brings you to the date to start picking your grapes - normally!

The vines have finally stopped growing leaves - we have had the 'arret de croissance' when the vine switches from growing to investing into its reproductive fruit. A good sign despite being 2 weeks late.

Cabernet grapes at Cambon La Pelouse, Haut Medoc

The bunches are small for sure particularly the Merlot. There are green aborted grapes. But the hot sunny weather which has been constant since the beginning of July is doing a good job in ripening the grapes. There is not the catch-up hoped for but are getting there. Today was the first rainy weather for two months. Sunshine to return next week.

During August there were hot sunny days (30°C) and cool nights (10°C). The large temperature difference during the day and night created dew in the mornings which has caused mildew to form in the new growth of leaves. The challenges are not over.

Now we hear that this is a year when botrytis will be a very high risk. Just what the challenged producers need in a year when we are two weeks behind. It may force their hand to harvest before full ripeness rather than lose all to rot.

The 2012 Vintage

Notes from: Nicolle Croft, 29 June 2012

Summer has definitely arrived in the vineyards of Bordeaux with temperatures this week of over 30°C. The vines have finished flowering and the little grapes are swelling in their bunches. There has been some ‘coulure’ with some of the little berries staying small which will bring yields down – not a bad thing. The combination of the rain during flowering and the warm temperatures has meant that mildew has been an increased risk this year. In fact a spraying expert for the region a week or so ago commented that the only vines that he has seen that had no mildew at all were organic vines that have been sprayed every 6 days with Bouillie Bordelaise (copper sulphate)! The usual interval for spraying with sulphate is 14 days. The hot dry weather experienced currently has put an end to this risk for the moment anyhow. Still can see a difference of stages between bunches of the same vine which does not bode well for uniform ripeness at harvest time.

Leaf plucking in Bordeaux vineyards

Notes from  Nicolle Croft, 10 July 2012

The 'effeuillage' or leaf plucking period is upon us in the vineyards of Bordeaux. The leaves that surround the young bunches of grapes are removed on the side of the morning sun (Northern or Eastern side of the vines) to improve air flow and exposure to the sun's rays. Only this one side of the vines are removed as the sun is softer in the morning and there is less risk of scorching the grapes in the coming hot months (we hope). This can either be done by hand, which is preferable as the work is much more detailed, or by machine (less expensive but the quality of the work is not the same, something that could make all of the difference this year).

A team of 15 or so workers can 'effeuille' 3ha in an hour. This is one of the many tasks (at least ten including pruning, desuckering, raising the wires, ...) that take place during the year by hand, which makes producing wine so labour intensive and expensive (particularly now the SMIC minimum pay rate has gone up thanks to the new socialist government in France! Producers have to pay the same amount again to the MSA for the social security payments).

Summer is arriving in Bordeaux

Notes from Nicolle Croft,  24 July 2012

Temperatures have risen in the vineyards of Bordeaux since the 14 July bank holiday when many start th2ere summer holidays. The small green grapes are getting bigger and in a week or so will change colour in most of the regions. They have already started in the warm gravel soils of the Graves region south of Bordeaux.

In order for 2012 to be a good vintage we need hot sunshine for the rest of the summer particularly September to allow the grapes to fully ripen. Apparently rain is forecast for the weekend.

Bordeaux grapes are ripening

Notes from Nicolle Croft, 16 August 2012

The grapes are changing colour in the vineyards of Bordeaux, a process called 'veraison'. It is a good indicator of the eventual uniformity of ripeness. A little erratic this year. This is the time that the 'eclaircissage' takes place that is the removing of the superfluous bunches of grapes that are overbunched to create better airflow. Also the still green bunches that would not be ripe at the point of harvest.

The weather is a little stormy and grey on this bank holiday (15 August) but has been sunny the last ten days or so. Not a great syummer so far.

Bordeaux Vintage so far for 2012

Notes from Nicolle Croft, 1 September 2012

  • Wet spring with rain at time of flowering indicates uneven ripening
  • Wet spring and early summer has meant risk of mildew has been high and necessitated more sulphate spraying than usual
  • Attacks of mildew on the leaves and more so on the grapes themselves means lower yields
  • Yield will be smaller than usual, fewer larger bunches
  • A heatwave where temperatures were over 40°C during several days in august scorched some grapes blocking the ripening cycle
  • Overall the summer has not been very sunny with a cool first two weeks of July and warmer finish and month of August but changeable
  • The Quality of 2012 will depend on the autumn sunshine to ripen the grapes and to enable producers to leave the grapes on the vine for as long as possible. Rainfall will encourage rot (grey rot/botrytis cinerea). Most producers spray once 3 weeks or so before harvest for this.
  • Once the veraison has finished (when the green grapes turn to red - at the very last stages now in St Emilion and Fronsac) the risk of mildew is pretty much eradicated on the grapes).
  • Sunshine is predicted for the next week or so, perfect for 'la rentrée' when all the kids go back to school and life in France gets back to normal for a few weeks
  • Harvest will be  around start first week of October in the deep sands of St Emilion (predominantly Merlot) but sill be delayed as long as possible if the weather allows!
Merlot harvest Bordeaux 2012 - Underway
Notes from Nicolle Croft, 5 October 2012

The pickers are out in force all over the vineyards of Bordeaux and the noisier harvesting machines too. It is the Merlot that is under the secateurs and looks good. Most people started this week and the weather has stayed pretty fine. The grapes have been able to come in cool and fresh with helps with of prefermentation cold soak. The grapes are very healthy. The bunches are quite small and the berry size too. So far it seems that the alcohol levels are quite high (around 13.5° potential alcohol). There was worry of the low degree of anthocyanins (colour pigment) and moreover the ability to extract the colour and tannins from the skins. But so far in the cellar the colour looks good even from the juice 'saignée' that comes from the weight of the berrys in the bins behind the tractor. The colour from the first pumping overs is deep and almost flourescent! Acidity is present but relatively low. The juice is very aromatic. It is very early days. Only the most ripe plots have been harvested. In between pumping juice into vats, producers are tasting the grapes in vines to ascertain the order of which plots to next harvest. A very hot Friday and Saturday is forecasted with temperatures of 28° - not good for the botrytis particularly if there is a morning mist. (Great for the sweet wines as they need this same rot!).

Update on the Bordeaux Harvest

Notes from Nicolle Croft, 16 october 2012

With the arrival of the wet Autumn weather, the Cabernets are struggling to ripen (most Merlots are in) and rot is setting in. Potential is there (particularly for the Merlot); colour looks good, intense aromas, freshness from the cool nights.

The work now starts in the winery to gently extract the colour, flavours and tannins from the un-uniformly ripe skins and pips.

While Autumn conditions reign in the vineyards with misty mornings, cooler temperatures and more rain, what is happening in the wineries of Bordeaux? The yeasts are busy at work and the grape juice is being transfered into wine (the production of CO2 gas makes work int he winery hard-going).

The wine producers are working on the gentle extraction of the colour, flavours and tannins from the skins. This is done by gentle pumping over at the beginning of the fermentation process when the extraction is soft as it is water and not alcohol that does the extraction of the skins. Also the use of a gaz stick (using inert C02) enables gentle extraction by breaking up the cap of skins with gas, it performs in a few seconds what pumping over does in several minutes - but more gently. The must-have tool of this season!

Bordeaux 2012 Red Harvest is Coming to an End

Notes from Nicolle Croft, 16 october 2012

  • Very late harvest started around start October for many
  • Yields down by 30% on average
  • Good healthy state of Merlot grapes harvested during first two weeks of October (wetter weather following) (bad news for Sauternes as no botrytis then)
  • Dry conditions during the summer caused the 'hydric stress' meant that juice is concentrated and alcohol levels elatively high (around 13°)
  • Juice is very dark and aromatic with intense black fruit of blackberry, blackcurrant
  • Good balanced acidity levels which give freshness due to cold nights from late harvest
  • Main problem is the lack of uniform ripening (due to rain at flowering) so gentle extraction of skins and removal of pips (many unripe) necessary during delestage (see previous blog). Very important decision of when to stop maceration.
  • Other main problem due to the late harvest is the lack of ripeness of the Cabernets and the pressure of increased rot from the wet Autumn conditions
Bordeaux 2012 Cabernets in Need of Help
Notes from Nicolle Croft, 23 october 2012

Due to the late season this year the many cabernets have not had the time before the arrival of the autumn weather to fully ripen. Many producers have left it as late as possible but suffered from Botrytis. The Cabernets have had to be harvested with still some elements of greeness (pyrazine, aroma of green pepper). Many Cabernets this year need a helping hand in the form of thermovinification.

This involves heating the juice to 75°C which destroys pigments (anthocyanins), any tannins but also any botrytised grapes will be laccase free - rid of the rot flavours. It makes the wine fruity without these elements but there may be some difficulty to maintaining the colour in these wines.

It is a technique in frequent use this year in Bordeaux with additional costs (2000€/ 200 hectolitre plus 6€ per hecto en plus) and implications for the quality and ageing potential of these wines.