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Anson on Thursday: Bordeaux 2015 behind the scenes – part one

As anticipation around Bordeaux 2015 rises, what are the courtiers up to? What do the consultants think? And which château has flown in guests for a lavish end of harvest party? Jane Anson goes behind the scenes.

Even heading towards the back end of October, with the Bordeaux 2015 grapes in the cellar and the secateurs in the cupboard, it can be difficult for winemakers to switch off the habit of checking the weather reports every morning.

‘We still can’t really be confident until the malolactic fermentation is finished,’ Stephen Carrier at Château de Fieuzal is telling me over my last harvest lunch of the season, with a smile that says they just might be risking a bit of confidence all the same.

The lunch is picture perfect; in a cosy room with long wooden tables covered with red-and-white checked tablecloths. Niçoise salad, shepherd’s pie, cheese, apple tart – hearty food intended for hard-working grape pickers that I in no way deserve but am enjoying anyway.

Fireworks at Ducru-Beaucaillou party

It is a far cry from Bruno Borie’s end-of-harvest celebration at the start of the week.

He flew in 40 sommeliers, wine merchants and journalists from London for a harvest party and tasting masterclass at Ducru-Beaucaillou.

A private jet also arrived from Paris, offloading its passengers at Mérignac airport before a coach took them up to Saint Julien, where they were joined at the château by over 100 members of the Bordeaux wine trade, from courtiers and négociants to local restaurateurs. There was falconry, archery and fireworks.

While Borie was keen to point out to Decanter.com that the event was planned well before the harvest, it’s pretty unusual for individual chateaux to organise such big events outside of en primeur or Vinexpo.

Too soon to call Bordeaux 2015 great

‘It’s still too early to say if it is going to be very good or great,’ said ever-sensible consultant Eric Boissenot as we watched fireworks exploding over the turrets of Ducru.

Boissenot, who works with first growths and many other top estates, is someone who I trust when talking about a vintage. He is so unshowy that his own estate, Château les Vimières in Haut Médoc, can be found for around €16 a bottle despite his credentials.

‘The cabernets are only just in the vats. But the rains in September didn’t do any damage, and in many cases helped with the ripening. It certainly looks promising’.

Behind the scenes

One of the best ways to know if Bordeaux 2015 is really set to be great is to look at what is happening behind the scenes.

Some of the off-camera action is the same every year. There are still vinifications to be controlled, wine to be run off into barrels, blends to be selected, all before en primeur samples can be considered for spring 2016. But in years where expectation is high, certain things speed up, while others slow down.

There are more cars pulling in and out of châteaux driveways this year. Besides the pickers’ lunches (much more subdued in difficult years) and the usual traffic of machines, presses and whatever else is needed to make the wine, there will be a line of visitors hoping for a taste.

The Courtiers

The key members of the local trade are the wine brokers, or courtiers. They will currently be visiting somewhere between 30 and 40 châteaux per week, spending perhaps just 20 minutes at each one, checking in and relationship-building.

The same brokers will also be calling dozens of other properties from their car speaker phones as they drive in between appointments. They will be discussing the high points, sharing potential vinification problems that they have heard about, getting a feel for which estates are going to be the most sought after when it comes to en primeur.

No price negotiations will have started yet, but a sense of momentum will be building.

More calls and visits

‘For courtiers this is the moment to be observing, sniffing the air, getting a feel for what is likely to develop over the next few months,’ Yann Jestin, one the region’s key brokers, tells me. ‘We don’t see much of the owners at this time of year. The important people to be talking to right now are the cellar masters and vineyard managers.’

‘We are already receiving more calls and visits from brokers and négociants than we did last year,’ said Carrier.

‘But we will continue to focus on what is happening in the cellar, as we do every year. In years like 2015, the gaps between the best and the worst barrels will not be as great. But, we still have to focus on delivering on the potential.’

Updated 26/10: Bruno Borie wished to make clear that that his party was arranged for sommeliers before the likely quality of the vintage became apparent.

Read part two of Bordeaux 2015: behind the scenes

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