Bordeaux's winemakers have waged an expensive battle against the weather to produce a 2013 vintage that is low in quantity but could be ready to drink in just a few years, according to top consultants in the region.
En primeur 2013 La Grappe tasting at Chateau La Gaffeliere, Saint-Emilion
Many estates have significantly cut production for the 2013 vintage, with several producers reporting on the eve of en primeur week that yields are down by a third or more on normal levels.
Bad weather at key points in the growing season, culminating in rot-inducing humid conditions in autumn, forced wineamkers to weed out an unusually high number of substandard grapes both before and during the harvest.
‘It was a war against nature, and it’s very difficult to win,’ consultant Stephane Derenoncourt told Decanter.com in an interview in Saint-Emilion as many of the world’s top wine critics, journalists and bloggers prepare to taste the 2013 vintage for the first time.
‘It was difficult to make big wines with these kinds of grapes,’ he said. ‘We have seen some very soft winemaking, in terms of extraction and maceration. It will be more difficult to age than it was to make.’
There is a growing consensus among Bordelais that, despite the weather, 2013 has yielded some good surprises. But, even the most successful 2013 wines could be ready to drink within a few years.
‘It’s definitely not a great vintage,’ said consultant Michel Rolland. ‘These are drinking wines, they’re not for ageing. The game was to play with the ripeness of the grapes. We tried to make soft, fruity and elegant wines.’
The lack of ageing potential is no problem, according to some. ‘This is the soul of Bordeaux,’ said Derenoncourt.
‘The wines do no have the power and structure of a great vintage, but they can still be pleasant,’ said fellow consultant Denis Dubordieu. ‘This year, the most important thing was the selection of the grapes,’ he added.
While there are concerns about the reds, he said 2013 is shaping up to be a good vintage for Bordeaux’s dry whites; a sentiment echoed by several observers in the region over the past two days.
Christophe Chateau, spokesperson for Bordeaux wine trade council, the CIVB, said 2013 is an important test for winemakers. ‘We always say in Bordeaux that you cannot see a good winemaker when the vintage is easy, and in 2009 and 2010 everyone was making a good wine. This year you’re going to see who are the good winemakers.’
Some producers, however, could find themselves out of pocket after swallowing higher costs to produce a relatively small quantity of wine. Many estates recruited extra workers to select grapes during harvest, including Chateau Mouton Rothschild which employed 695 pickers at the peek of the harvest.
‘This was one of the most expensive vintages to produce,’ said Rolland. ‘The cost was amazing. Financially, it’s a problem, but what can we do?’
Many estates are optimistic that tasters will find something to enjoy during en primeur week. ‘Thanks to all the rigorous selection and work, I think 2013 is a very good wine,’ Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier told Decanter.com in a video interview last week. ‘It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine, as the Merlot was very disappointing.’
At Lafite, Charles Chevallier added, ‘We found a lot of fruit. It’s a very expressive wine, and for me the result is quite a classic wine’.
Some of the smaller chateaux, with fewer resources, are expected to have found life more difficult.
But, there is optimism among some. Mona Roson, of Chateau Reignac in St Loubes, said quantity was equal to 2012 and there is ‘good fruit’ in the wine. ‘During the harvest, we even stopped for one week to let the Cabernet Sauvignon ripen,’ she told Decanter.com during a Grand Cercle tasting in London this month.
Whether consumers want to buy 2013s is also likely to depend heavily on pricing. One non-Bordeaux merchant said 2013 is likely to be a ‘difficult sell’ overall, but it will vary from chateau to chateau; depending not only on quality, but also on the negociants levels of stock from previous vintages.
Written by Chris Mercer and Georgina Hindle in Bordeaux