Bordeaux vintners are praying for fine weather in the build-up to harvest – after a worse-than average ripening season.

Rain and lack of sunshine throughout August have compromised ripening, according to Professor Denis Dubourdieu of Bordeaux’s Faculty of Oenology, and owner of Château Reynon in Southern Graves.

‘The situation is very, very worrying, though uneven,’ Dubourdieu said. ‘Heavy storms in mid-August hit Léognan, for example, but not the Southern Graves, and in Saint-Emilion and the Médoc rainfall was patchy.’

Otto Rettenmaier of St-Emilion property La Tour Figeac said 2002 did not have the makings of a great vintage.

‘We had a very cold August and July. There wasn’t too much rain but there wasn’t enough sun, so skins are not thick enough. If there is any more rain the berries will burst and rot.’

Rettenmaier added there was a lot of coulure and millerandage (unformed flowers and fruit) this year. ‘It will really be a challenge – we are worried,’ he said.

In contrast, Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux was dismissive of Dubordieu’s comments.

‘It could have been more favourable but we have had much worse weather in August – in 1992, 1993 and 97, for example,’ he told decanter.com. ‘It is a small crop because the setting was not very good, but the vines are beautiful.’

Some vineyards suffered as much as 110mm of rain in August, though in others only 50-60mm of rain was recorded. Average rainfall in August is 30-40mm.

Lack of sunshine, too, has been a major setback. Luminosity is measured by the number of days that reach temperatures of more than 30°C. The 30-year average is 10 days. This year, just five days exceeded 30°C.

Predictions for the dry white harvest are more promising than for the red, since the grapes do better without excess heat. In this respect, the harvest is shaping up like 1978, which has been dubbed ‘the miracle vintage’ for these wines. However, whites represent only 25-30% of overall Bordeaux production.

Harvest is not due to start in Bordeaux for at least another two weeks, during which time anything could happen. While some winemakers fear thunderstorms, others look on the bright side. As Pontallier said, ‘The weather is good now and we’re looking forward to more of it in the next weeks. Until then, nothing is decided.’

Written by Alan Spencer in Bordeaux, and Adam Lechmere