If Bordeaux does not have rain by 10 September, top consultant Jacques Boissenot may advise clients to pick at less than full phenolic maturity – causing a risk of greenness in the wines.
Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac Leognan
Many winemakers however are far more optimistic that there will be no bloquage of maturity.
Boissenot, who with his son Eric consults for 180 mainly left-bank properties including Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Leoville-las-Cases, Pichon Longueville and Pichon Comtesse, Leoville Barton, Gruaud Larose, Cos d’Estournel and Rauzan Segla, said conditions in July and August have been ‘desert-like’ with vines suffering from heat stress.
‘We had rain in the spring, but it was not sufficient and the grapes are not ripe enough now.’ Conditions in Pomerol where ‘the grapes are almost dry’ are particularly difficult.
The Merlots are particularly fragile, already weakened by uneven flowering. Because the Cabernets flowered later, they were not as sensitive to the weather conditions and are ‘more homogenous,’ Boissenot explained. ‘But even the Cabernets need water,’ he added.
If it does not rain enough, he predicts a vintage like 2003, ‘but even worse, because the heat stress was not as pronounced.’
On 2 September the grapes are showing very high degrees of potential alcohol – 13.5 for Merlot and 12.5 for Cabernet – that could surpass degrees from last year.
‘But last year, the maturity was more complete at this stage,’ he said, adding that a combination of high alcohol and incomplete maturity is possible.
Eric Monneret, at Chateau La Pointe in Pomerol, confirmed that young vines on deep gravel were suffering and some had arrested development, but ‘the majority of vines are thirsty but in perfect health. The absence of any disease means they can well withstand any rain that falls this week.’
In the northern Graves region of Pessac Leognan, Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier (pictured) confirmed 17mm of in July and 15mm in August. ‘We could use some rain,’ he told Decanter.com.
Boissenot said it would be better to harvest grapes which will not be completely ripe than grapes which could be overripe on the outside and not phenolically ripe,’ he said.
If rain comes after 10 September, he added, the grapes would be in too advanced a stage for it to be beneficial. There would be risk of rot as well as dilution.
Many winemakers are far more optimistic.
At Chateau Haut Bailly, general director Veronique Sanders said that although some young Merlot vines were suffering from stress, healthier looking Cabernet vines were ‘in great shape.’
At Chateau Figeac, Eric d’Aramon did not seem too worried either. ‘This could be a year for Cabernet, and that suits us,’ he said. Figeac is a blend of up to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot.
There is general agreement that yields will be low. In Entre-Deux-Mers Martin Krajewski at Chateau de Sours said he had had no significant rain since early April.
‘As a result we expect to have a low yield this year, possibly more than 20% less than normal. Some of the younger vines are under quite a lot of stress from water deficit.’
In Sauternes, vignerons report that in the last two weeks there had been morning mists necessary for the onset of noble rot in the vineyards. Aline Baly at Chateau Coutet said the grapes showed ‘great promise’.
Written by Jane Anson and Panos Kakaviatos in Bordeaux