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Bordeaux 2011: Sauternes surprised by ‘earliest ever’ harvest

Vintners in the celebrated sweet wine growing regions of Sauternes and Barsac are amazed at how early the 2011 harvest has been.

Climens: ‘earlier than 2003’

‘It is the earliest I have ever seen, with a very sudden spread of botrytis,’ consultant Denis Dubourdieu of Chateau Doisy Daëne in Barsac said. ‘I cannot recall a harvest that ended before October.’

At the neighbouring Château Climens harvest began on 8 September – earlier than the heatwave year of 2003, which started on 12 September.

Botrytis developed rapidly, and pickings lasted until 28 September.

‘To give you an idea of how early the harvest was, last year we only started to pick on 28 September,’ manager Frederic Nivelle said.

Uneven ripening, typical of 2011 across Bordeaux, also affected Sauternes and Barsac. ‘It is the first time I have ever seen grape bunches that were so different,’ Nivelle said.

The challenge was to work fast because bunches were completely botrytised, but fragile, said Jean-Pierre Meslier of Chateau Raymond-Lafon in Sauternes.

‘We could not wait because any rain would have ruined them – and selection was essential,’ Meslier said.

Volumes will be average to above average, but lower than 2005 and 2009, both high-volume years.

As to quality, while the spread of botrytis this year seemed to pose a challenge for some red wine vineyards, it promises a positive Sauternes vintage. ‘We are happy with the quality of the must, very rich and perfumed,’ Meslier said. ‘Although it is too early to talk about what the wine will be like, it looks like a great vintage.’

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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