High hopes as Bordeaux 2019 white wine harvest starts

Châteaux have played down the impact of summer heatwaves as white wine grape pickers head for the vineyards, and all estates have one eye on the skies ahead of the red wine harvest expected later in September.

See an October update on the Bordeaux 2019 harvest by Jane Anson


Harvesting has officially begun in Bordeaux, where the first grapes for dry white wines were picked this week.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte, producer of some of the region’s most lauded white wines, began bringing in its first parcels of Sauvignon Blanc on 27 August.

Fierce heatwaves in both June and July slowed up the ripening the process, but there was optimism among estates that the relatively short-lived heat spikes will not have caused lasting damage to Bordeaux’s 2019 white wine vintage.

Decanter’s chief Bordeaux critic, Jane Anson, told Decanter.com, ‘There’s no question that this has been a hot summer, which must be a little worrying for the acid balance in the whites, although August generally saw cooler temperatures than the heatwave of July, and with many whites coming in this week, there is plenty of optimism for the harvest.’

Florence Cathiard, co-owner of Smith-Haut-Lafitte, told the France 3 station this week that she expected a ‘superb’ white wine crop.

Nearby Château Olivier, also in the Pessac-Léognan appellation south of Bordeaux centre, started its white wine harvest on 29 August.

Testing showed ‘a promising balance between sugar and acidity levels,’ it said, adding that fine weather has kept vineyard diseases away. Veraison – where the grapes begin to change colour and ripen – has been uniform, it said.

‘The current sunny and dry weather conditions are a great way to start the 2019 harvest,’ said Olivier.

A smaller crop? Not for everybody…

French government estimates released last week said that Bordeaux was heading for a smaller overall 2019 harvest versus 2018, largely due to rain in some places during flowering in June, plus record-breaking heatwaves and cases of spring frost.

However, it is notoriously difficult to generalise and some estates saw yields hit hard by mildew attacks in 2018.

Quantity levels at Smith-Haut-Lafitte would likely return to normal at the organically-farmed estate in 2019 following a 2018 vintage that saw production fall by 50%, Cathiard told France 3.

Reds

Red wine grapes are further back on their journey and harvesting is not expected to start in earnest in Bordeaux until later in September.

Weather forecasts for the next fortnight looked promising on Friday (30 August), with mostly dry, warm and sunny weather.

Gabriel Vialard, technical director at Château Haut-Bailly, told Decanter.com, ‘We can expect to harvest around 20 September [and we think] the harvest looks promising both in quality and quantity.’

France’s agriculture ministry has said it expects the country’s 2019 harvest to be around 43.3 million hectolitres, at the low end of its earlier forecast range. That would make the 2019 vintage 12% smaller than the 2018 crop.


See also: What makes a great vintage?