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Bordeaux 2016 reds: Dry skies mean waiting game

Bordeaux's 'driest summer since 1893' means concerns about water stress but producers are feeling good compared to their cousins in Burgundy as the 2016 red harvest gets underway.

The harvest for Bordeaux 2016 reds is now fully underway with Merlot grapes arriving in cellars across the region.

But, with no rain forecast for the next 10 days, winemakers are in no rush.

Those with later ripening Cabernet vineyards, especially in Médoc, are set to wait a bit longer.

There is a growing sense of optimism after a strange year of weather. Bordeaux is one of the only French wine regions set to slightly increase its yield versus 2015.

Frost and hailstorms have blighted several other areas, notably Burgundy, Loire and Champagne.

Pierre Lurton, at Château Cheval Blanc in St-Emilion, told Decanter.com that the last plot of Merlots were picked on 1 October after 12 days of harvesting. He expects to wait another two or more weeks for Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘We never could have imagined back in June that we would be harvesting such a promising vintage under these perfect harvest conditions,’ said Lurton.

‘After a rainy start to the season, this has been the driest summer since 1893.’

A rainy spring with 750mm of rainfall between January and 23 June gave way to drought in August and September. Some producers shared photos of withering vines on social media, but 25-40mm in late September helped things.

David Pernet, at Sovivins, said that water stress has affected young vines and some gravelly soils but that overall this is looking to be a high quality vintage.

Laurent Lebrun, at Château Olivier in Pessac Léognan. said he expects to finish Merlot this week and begin picking Cabernet Sauvignon around 12 October. Médoc is on a similar timescale.

‘Things are starting but we are a long way from a rush to harvest,’ said Antoine Medeville, of Oeno Conseil.

Professor Kees Van Leeuwen, at University of Bordeaux, said, ‘People are talking about uneven maturity due to heat blockages during ripening, but the fact is that dry vintages are always quality vintages.

‘The slight risk is that some châteaux may see a more evolved fruit character, going from fresh to cooked, if they wait too long to harvest.’

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