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Bordeaux 2011: frost threatens buds brought on by heatwave

Bordeaux vignerons are by turns delighted and worried by the extraordinary mini heatwave that sat over Bordeaux last week.

As most of Western Europe basked in weather more common in June than April, Bordeaux sweltered in temperatures that regularly topped 30 degrees Centigrade.

But winemakers now have another cause for concern: that the sun is bringing the vines on too fast, leaving new buds vulnerable to April frost.

Every visitor to Bordeaux last week remarked on the transformation of the vines from bare forks at the beginning of the week to substantial leaf growth at the end.

‘Yes, we are worried,’ Pichon Lalande oenologist Thomas Do Chi Nam told Decanter.com. ‘A hard frost can kill buds when they are advanced.’

Other experienced chateau owners have said the same, citing the frosts of 21 April 1991, April 1956 and April 1994 as evidence.

In 1991, Do Chi Nam said, 15-20% of the crop was lost across Bordeaux.

Other winemakers such as Philippe Moreau of Chateau de Pez are more sanguine, pointing out that such devastating frosts in April are very rare, and in any case the ground will retain the heat from such prolonged fine weather. ‘The risks are small,’ he said.

Nevertheless, wine is sensitive to atmospheric pressure and chateaux were pleased to be able to show their wines under blue skies.

When the barometer is falling, acids can be dulled and tannins more pronounced. When pressure is high, wines can taste brighter, the acid fresher, the tannins more integrated.

Everybody remembers the miserable weather this time last year, with critics dashing between car park and tasting room under leaden skies and furious downpours.

No one suggests that the 2009 was compromised by the weather, but equally there is no doubt that blue skies and hot sun make everyone happier.

‘It’s wonderful. The wines are very approachable at the moment,’ Edouard Moueix of J-P Moueix said. ‘It’s the weather. We were a bit worried last week as the wines seemed quite reserved, but they have really opened themselves.’

In the end, Bordeaux vignerons are fatalistic. Charles Chevallier at Chateau Lafite shrugged his shoulders when asked about the dangers of frost.

‘There is always a danger in April. But what can we do?’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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