Amid the gossip and intrigue surrounding en primeur week, producers and chateaux owners recall a 2013 vintage that was a test of nerve and stamina.
Jean-Jacques Bonnie presenting the 2013 range of wines at Château Malartic-Lagravière
There have been signs of frustration among winemakers on the sidelines of en primeur week. Regardless of what happens with pricing in the short-term, many producers feel a sense of pride to have emerged from the 2013 vintage with any wine at all.
‘During the 2013 harvest, I lost my hair,’ one producer told Decanter.com.
‘2013 is the year when Bordeaux has worked more than ever before,’ said Jean-Jacques Bonnie at Château Malartic-Lagravière. ‘You never knew when to relax. We didn’t know it wasn’t a disaster until the very end.’
Veronique Sanders, director general of Chateau Haut-Bailly, added, ‘People were working 12 hours a day for ten days straight. Everyone was working non-stop.’
At Haut-Bailly, the 2013 vintage is described as a triathlon. ‘We were swimming in the vineyards in April, we had a nice bike ride in the summer and then we had a race in the autumn. And the most important thing was to win the race,’ Sanders said.
Nearly all estates were forced to draft in extra pickers at short notice during the harvest, as they attempted to balance ripeness against the threat of rot from humid conditions that made much of Bordeaux feel more like Indonesia than southern France.
‘Almost all of the Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot were harvested at the same time,’ said Bonnie.
‘Instead of having 70 people in the vineyards, we had over 100 this year. We had to be very reactive. It was tense.’
Estates had to compete for workers. ‘It’s always a problem,’ said Bonnie.
Those in suburban areas found it easier to get extra workers in quickly, while the Medoc faced more of a logistical challenge.
Good relations with pickers is essential, according to many estates. Chateau Malartic Lagraviere has 45 people working the vineyard all year long, but others often come to help during the harvest. In 2013, firemen turned up in the vines ‘to keep fit’, Bonnie said.
‘We harvest in plastic crates of 10kg each. Most people can carry two. The fireman puts three on his back and two in front. 50kg. All day long.’
Written by Chris Mercer