Bordeaux harvest report 2000

Bordeaux harvest report 2000 Specials Specials

Bordeaux update

'I am certain that this year's will be the vintage of the decade, if not the century.' Christian Moueix of Chateau Petrus.

'The wines this year show a complexity rarely achieved with great tannic power, yet the tannins remain supple and silky. I would compare them to the 1990s, I would say a super-'90.' Pascal Ribereau-Gayon, winemaker at Calon-Segur in Saint-Estephe

Winemakers who were predicting a great year for Bordeaux have upped the stakes and now are saying this may be one of the great years, better than 1990 - perhaps surpassing even 1982.

Florence and Daniel Cathiard of Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte (pictured) in Graves report 'the best conditions [for Merlot] we have seen in ten years.' In Pomerol and Saint-Emilion conditions when picking the Merlot were excellent. Gerard Becot of Chateau La Gomerie in Saint-Emilion says the grapes were in perfect condition, and Alexandre Thienpoint of Vieux Chateau Certan says the Merlot he has picked is 'even better than 1998'.

Now that the alcoholic fermentation of the Merlots is virtually finished, Thienpont is not ready to make any advance forecast on the wine's final outcome. But he admits the wines are already 'extraordinarily fragrant.'

'They have a variety of powerful aromas,' he says. 'Prunes, figs, toast - very cooked savours due to the hot August'

In the middle of September, Jean-Philippe Delmas of Haut-Brion was expecting a perfect vintage even if the fine weather broke, while Pierre Lurton at Cheval Blanc counted on sunny days for a vintage on a level with the outstanding years. Rauzan-Segla director John Kolasa said he was excited by the possibilities of the vintage - but sounded a cautionary note by reminding the most excited winemakers that everything depends on the weather.

'I would say we are going to have a year between the quality of 89 and 90,' he said. 'But nature has the last word.'

Comte Eric d'Aramon of Premier Grand Cru Classe Chateau Figeac, where the Merlot was picked in two days on 14 and 16 September, the Cabernet Franc a week later and the greater part of the Cabernet Sauvignon on 1 October, reckons the 2000 vintage is one of the best he has seen. 'In 12 years managing the property I have never seen Cabernets like that,' he says.

Mathias von Campe, the commercial director at the Medoc's biggest vineyard Château Larose-Trintaudon, says 2000 will be better than 1998, when rain watered down the Cabernets. He is hoping for a great vintage provided the forecast of fine weather holds. 'If I had to make a prediction, I would say this vintage will be soemwhere between the 1999 and the 1996'.

Thursday 28 September

Picking

The Merlot harvest is progressing apace. Some vineyards and chateaux have almost finished picking. Yields are being reported in the region of 35 Hectolitres per Hectare (ha/hl). Most of the whites are in already and early indications would favour high natural sugar content with acid in the region of 5g per litre.

Weather

It has been raining today in most of Bordeaux and will continue to do so until tomorrow night. The outlook for the weekend is good with Saturday partly cloudy and sunshine predicted for Sunday and Monday. The temperature is currently between 14 and 23 degrees and is set to dip by about 5 ° tomorrow and on Saturday.

Vintage Predictions

Florence and Daniel Cathiard of Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte in Graves report 'The best conditions [for Merlot] we have seen in ten years at the chateau'. The grapes are well ripened, have very thick skins and ripe, crunchy seeds. The yield at this chateau has been favourably low - 32 ha/hl. These are all signs that 2000 will be a very good vintage. 'When we see them next (ie when they have been aged in oak), they will have mellowed down. There are a lot of magnificent Merlots, a "classic" style of wine full of complexity, perhaps a little more acidity than usual, undoubtedly a great vin de garde (ie for laying down).' Says Pascal Ribereau-Gayon, winemaker at Calon-Segur in Saint-Estephe

Tuesday 26 September

Picking

Pomerol and Saint-Emilion were the first to start, with Pessac and Leognan just behind. Conditions are ideal with the region enjoying the warm September sun. The Merlot is ripe everywhere, in many cases ahead of average. All the whites are in, some having started the harvest at the end of August.

Ripening

Gerard Becot of Chateau La Gomerie in Saint-Emilion reports there is hardly any need for sorting, all the grapes are in perfect condition, healthy and mature. However, it was touch and go for a while. Hubert de Bouard, president of Saint-Emilion's Viticulturers Association says, 'In July, everyone was nervous. We could have been looking at a loss of two thirds [of the harvest] to mildew. Then all of a sudden, on the 22nd everything changed.' Yield is down on last year for the whole of France by some 9 per cent with smaller bunches and more concentrated flavours. Michel Cazes of Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol says, 'The grapes are beautiful and healthy. Analysis shows good balance and concentration. We have it made.'

Weather

Bar the odd stormy rain shower, the whole of the Gironde has enjoyed almost two months of sunshine with less rainfall recorded between 22 July and 22 September than people can remember. However, with predictions of unsettled weather ahead and the Cabernet Sauvignon yet to be picked it will be interesting to see if it holds out long enough.

Vintage Predictions

Some people are already touting 2000 not as a good vintage but as the vintage. Some estimates put it on a par with 1990, 1982 or possibly even better. It will be a fairly expensive vintage when it is released - especially given the auspicious Y2K date.

Friday 22 September

Warm weather has returned to the region after heavy rain at the start of the week, Stephen Brook reports from Bordeaux.

Some producers in Medoc region are picking Merlot towards end of this week, others will be picking by begining of next week (25 Sept).

On Monday, Le Pin in Pomerol picked their whole Merlot crop before the rain arrived. Properties run by Michel Rolland (Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and Fontenil in Fronsac, as well as his host of consultancies - Angelus, Beau-Sejour-Becot, Grand-Mayne, Leoville-Poyferre, Pape-Clement and others) have delayed picking. While most of the Merlot - but by no means all - has been picked, the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are not yet fully ripe. Alexandre Thienpont of Vieux Chateau Certan says, `The Merlot I have picked is better than the 1998s.'

The majority of properties will be picking by the middle of next week if the weather stays good. Commentators are standing by their early predictions that It could be a great year in Pomerol.

Saint-Emilion

by Alan Spencer

The harvest for Merlot in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol has been set to start on 14 September. The weather forecast for the week is optimistic.

Philippe Raymond is head of the Service Technique at the Syndicat Viticole in Saint-Emilion. This week he led a commission including president Hubert de Bouard de Laforest (Chateau Angelus) and other vintners from the Syndicat out into the vineyards to check the quality potential for the 2000 vintage.

After visiting all areas, from limestone plateau to gravel, sand and alluvium, he said, 'The grapes we tasted everywhere were so potentially beautiful, full of juice and thoroughly concentrated, that we felt we just had to tell everyone how great the vintage was likely to be.'

Vintners have become more quality-conscious. The Commission was struck by the efforts which had been made to prepare the vines by pruning, thinning and de-leafing. This enabled the grapes to get maximum benefit from the remarkable weather conditions in August.

Weather

'Rainfall throughout August was 10mm in total', Philippe Raymond said, 'so we are now five or six days ahead of last year.'

The very dry conditions thoughout the month together with scorching temperatures arrested growth in the vines early. This enriched the grapes during the ripening phase.

Analysis

Potential alcohol checks are high, often over 11 per cent by volume, especially for the Merlot which represent 70 per cent of Saint-Emilion. The sugar acidity ratio shows excellent balance. Phenolic compounds (anthocyanins and tannins) in the skins are abundant, similar to the great vintages of recent years - like 90 or 98.

Any problems?

The danger of rot or mildew which might have arisen during the wet spring was overcome by the hot, dry conditions of August. But any rain before the grapes are picked could quickly start to rot.

Bordeaux dry whites

by Alan Spencer

Top Pessac-Leognan chateaux have started picking their white grapes.

The Comite de Maturite for the Graves, which assesses ripeness levels, met on 31 August and recommended 4 September as the starting date for Sauvignon Blanc. Most chateaux, in Pessac-Leognan in particular, have been picking for some days.

The harvests at Domaine de Chevalier, sometimes described as the greatest dry white in the world, and Latour-Martillac are well advanced.

The reds too are at a good stage of maturity as vintners prepare for the harvest. Starting date for the Merlots, which mature earlier than the Cabernets, is likely to be around 15 September.

Weather

Aout fait le gout ('August makes the taste'), as the old vintners say. Except for March, rainfall was well above the 30-year average, until August started. In that month only half the average fell and although the number of sunshine hours was normal, temperatures were well above the average. The first days of September have been cooler, but thanks to the hot August the grapes are looking splendid.

Denis Dubourdieu, owner of Chateau Reynon and wine expert at the University of Bordeaux Faculty of Oenology told decanter.com that the 2000 vintage is off to a very good start.

'Since July 18, rainfall has been very low, and the hydrous tension (which stops growth in the vine) is excellent. Nights at the moment are cool, which helps maintain good acidity.' Good hydrous tension means the grapes are rich in sugars and phenols.

Dubourdieu says conditions are similar to 1996. 'We are having warm days and dry nights as we did in 1996, which turned out to be a remarkable vintage for Graves whites.'

Ripening

Flowering was several days ahead of average. It started in the last days of May and lasted into mid-June, and was relatively rapid and evenly spread. The grapes as a result ripened earlier than usual. The mid-ripening point was calculated as 6 August. Oenologists observe a healthy balance between sugar and acidity in the composition of the berries. The Sauvignon Blanc is considered to have reached an optimum aromatic quality.

Disease

The warm, humid conditions in spring and early summer set off various diseases, mildew in particular, forcing vintners to spray more frequently. It was quickly eradicated and the state of the vines is generally excellent.

Sauternes

1 Nov 2000

by Alan Spencer in Bordeaux

A great vintage for Bordeaux red and dry whites does not necessarily mean a great vintage for late harvest sweet whites. Botrytis cinerea, which attacks the grapes specifically in the region of Sauternes, Barsac and surrounding areas, only occurs under special conditions and the harvest took place in several runs.

Weather, Picking & Ripening

General

This year a first, second and third run took place between 10 and 15 October, roughly at the same time as the Cabernet Sauvignon. Denis Dubourdieu is a professor at the Faculty of Oenology in Bordeaux says: 'The grapes were thoroughly ripe by 15-20 September with very little botrytis due to the dry weather. Between one half and one third of the botrytised grapes have been picked but with a pessimistic weather forecast, I am very dubious about the rest. Still, there will certainly be some great Sauternes this year.'

Yquem

Mainly due to the sunny weather in August and September plus excellent conditions at the beginning of the harvest, the quality seems on a level with the expectations of a great 2000 vintage for the reds and dry whites. But, the consistent rain over the last three weeks, lacking at the beginning, has ended up by ruining the grapes, as happened in 1982.

During the first two complete 'runs', one fifth of the potential crop was harvested in ideal conditions. Then the dry, windy weather went away and, for nearly a month, picking could only take place over three days after heavy showers made us wait for the grapes to dry out. In spite of the great care taken sorting the grapes by the teams of pickers, we have not been able to find grapes sufficiently concentrated.

According to Yquem source Alexandre de Lur-Saluces, 'Yquem 2000 will surely be made from the two first pickings; the vintage will be small in volume. But it will be of good quality - perhaps even very good quality.'