Bordeaux is harvesting grapes grown in ‘close to ideal’ conditions – and all the indications are for a spectacular vintage.
It’s a region that unfailingly talks up even mediocre years, but there are few who disagree that 2005 is looking to be an extraordinarily powerful, ripe and extracted vintage.
‘I am extremely optimistic,’ Chateau Margaux director Paul Pontallier – who starts the Merlot harvest today – told decanter.com. ‘So far growing conditions from day one have been close to ideal. I have never seen that before.’
Sugar levels in the grapes are the highest they have been in 100 years, with the Merlot at 14.5 degrees and the Cabernet at 13, Pontallier said.
In St Emilion, Jonathan Maltus at Chateau Teyssier said, ‘Nobody’s seen numbers like this before. Our Merlot is at 15.2 degrees sugar.’
In a normal year Merlot and Cabernet would be picking at more than a degree lower than that.
A summer with only the lightest rain not only means high sugar levels but thick skins and small berries – which will result in wines of a wonderful depth of colour and superb concentration, producers are hoping.
Not only that but most terroirs report a marked difference in day and night time temperatures, helping the ripening process and aroma development. There is no sign of stress, except on very sandy soils.
Heavy downpours on 9 September helped quench the vines’ thirst and had little impact on quality as the skins are thick and healthy. Since then the weather has been fine, with warm but not torrid days.
Hubert de Bouard of Chateau Angelus, president of the St-Emilion Syndicat, is ecstatic. ‘Much of the Merlot has already been picked, so we know that the quality is superb. The weather forecast predicts sunny days and no rain for the week ahead, so there is no rush to harvest the Cabernet Franc.’
At Cheval Blanc, Pierre Lurton said the ‘big difference’ between 2005 and 2003 – another small and powerful vintage – is the relatively lower temperatures this year. ‘It has been just as dry but not nearly as hot so we can look forward to an excellent vintage.’
Elsewhere in Bordeaux producers are equally bullish. Château Haut-Brion reported reds ‘in a perfect, healthy state,’ while a spokesman for Château Olivier in Pessac said, ‘This is really looking like one of the best harvests for a very, very long time.’
At Domaine de Chevalier, the white grapes are currently being picked, with the first Merlots forecast to be picked in about two weeks. ‘The grapes have optimal health and their balance is excellent,’ maitre de chai Rémi Edange said.
What ramifications such quality will have on the rest of Bordeaux – and France – remains to be seen. If the vintage lives up to expectations there seems little doubt that Robert Parker will mark highly, which will bring many American buyers back into the fold.
And how the trade reacts is another matter. One prominent UK merchant said he had a policy of not expressing too much delight in a good year. ‘The Bordelais need no encouragement to put their prices up. If we proclaim this a great vintage, prices will go up accordingly.’
The last word on the vintage should go to consultant Michel Rolland. ‘If we can’t make great wine in Bordeaux this year,’ he said today, ‘we may as well rip up the vines and plant potatoes.’
Written by Adam Lechmere and Stephen Brook