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Bordeaux 2020 white wine harvest starts early

Bordeaux winemakers have seen one of the earliest starts to harvest in recent memory, with white wine grapes in Pessac-Léognan among the first to be brought in.

The Bordeaux 2020 vintage has started its journey in châteaux cellars over the past week after several estates in Pessac-Léognan picked their first white wine grapes.

A warm growing season has led to one of the earliest harvests in recent memory, rivalling start dates seen during the infamous heatwave year of 2003, as well as in other early years like 2011 and 1997.

‘In 2003 we started on 18 August, and this year it was the 19th,’ said Jacques Lurton, president of Vignobles André Lurton, which counts Château Couhins-Lurton and Château La Louvière among its several estates in Pessac-Léognan.

‘Grapes have ripened faster than normal [in 2020],’ he told Decanter.com, adding that the group’s vineyards were running around two weeks ahead of a typical schedule.

A similar picture has emerged in several other French wine regions, prompting fresh conversations about how climate change is impacting vineyards.

High summer temperatures, and particularly warm nights alongside hot days, can create extra challenges for white wine producers keen to preserve acidity, but Lurton said that he was very pleased with the balance of the grapes being brought in so far.

‘We don’t have an acidity problem this year,’ he said, reporting that pH levels were relatively low. An initial tasting of the juice suggests some wines ‘won’t be as aromatic as last year’, yet ‘the balance is really good’, Lurton said.

Fabien Teitgen, technical director at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, told France 3 news that the estate’s white grapes showed a ‘nice balance and liveliness’ so far, and didn’t have the profile one might associate with a hot year.

Bordeaux’s reds are still maturing on the vine, with Merlot generally ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Lurton said the red wine harvest at its own estates could begin in around two weeks.

It’s still early days, although the University of Bordeaux’s Wine Institute, the ISVV, said last week that the 2020 red vintage looked ‘promising’.

It reported regular flowering and fruit-set in many vineyards, which are among the key conditions for a good vintage.

Mildew attacks in spring could have curbed potential production in some parts of the wider Bordeaux area, however, said France’s agriculture ministry recently.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also forced châteaux and estates of all sizes to implement extra sanitary measures, from social distancing to face coverings, to bring in this year’s harvest.

Lurton said that his team had no problem recruiting harvest workers, but several measures were in place.

‘It’s crazy to see a grape picker wearing a mask all day in the vineyard,’ he said, but he added that the group as a whole was extremely aware of the potential risks. ‘We have very strict conditions for everyone.’

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