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Bordeaux 2011 ‘rollercoaster’ vintage comes to an end

As the 2011 Bordeaux harvest comes to an end, oenologists describe it as a rollercoaster marked by wild fluctuatons in the weather.

Bordeaux 2011: ‘extremes’

The rapidly-changing weather patterns and temperatures led to a risk of botrytis, and many properties have harvested grapes that did not reach full phenolic ripeness.

As many experts have said, it will be a ‘winemaker’s vintage’, with a good deal of work necessary in the winery.

‘It will be a vintage marked by extremes, at times too cold, at times too hot; at times too humid, at times too dry,’ Bordeaux oenologist Nicolas Vivas told Decanter.com.

Vivas said it was important to take ‘a moderate risk’ and wait long enough for phenolic maturity so that the grape pips would be ripe.

But in some plots, ‘waiting for ideal maturity risked losing aromatic complexity,’ Château Brane Cantenac owner Henri Lurton said.

Varying conditions, with alternating rain and warm weather in late August and September led to uneven ripening with the risk of botrytis, meaning that rigorous sorting was paramount: those producers with super-fast and efficient optic sorting machines put them to full use.

The grapes that came out of all his optic machine looked very healthy, Lurton said, but such careful selection means that production will be one-third less at Brane Cantenac, from an average 45 hectolitres per hectare last year, to 32hl/ha in 2011.

‘You had to sort carefully,’ agreed Jacques 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 and Brane Cantenac.

Boissenot said that Pauillac and St. Julien seemed the most homogenous in the Medoc, because more July and August rains fell further to the south, and St. Estephe to the north had been affected by hail.

What proved the greatest challenge as the harvest ended on Tuesday at Château Picque Caillou in Mérignac, Pessac-Léognan, was the torrid heat of late June that caused heat stress.

‘Cool July weather resuscitated growth, but not enough, so within bunches we removed pink grapes,’ said owner Paulin Calvet.

Extraction should be cautious, said Philippe Dugoua of Château Grand Abord in the Graves, because full phenolic maturity was not quite reached.

Fermentations will be quicker, to avoid potentially bitter tannin from the pips: ‘We will ferment for four days instead of 11 last year,’ Dugoua said.

Finally, some vintners, like Calvet at Picque Caillou, say that chaptalization will be required to beef up potential alcohol degrees in 2011, much the opposite from the last two vintages.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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