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Sauternes 2018: No Guiraud and a nerve-shredding harvest

Château Guiraud has confirmed that it will not make a 'first wine' from the Sauternes 2018 vintage due to hail damage, while other estates in the area have reported a nervous waiting game in recent weeks as noble rot left it late to make its mark in the vineyards.

  • No Château Guiraud 2018 due to hailstorm during FIFA World Cup final

  • Winemakers left ‘biting their nails’ after ‘horribly dry’ September

  • Botrytis arrived in a rush to ‘save’ the vintage

Read Jane Anson’s latest ratings for Bordeaux 2016 wines in the bottle

Full story: Sauternes 2018 harvest

Hail destroyed 95% of grapes at Château Guiraud on 15 July, wreaking havoc on its Bordeaux 2018 crop while most of the nation was enjoying watching France beat Croatia in the FIFA World Cup final,  said estate director Xavier Planty.

‘I’ve never seen that in 40 years of experience,’ he told Decanter.com.

It means that Guiraud only plans to produce some dry white wine and a small amount of second wine as Sauternes from the 2018 harvest.

For those who escaped hail and fought off mildew, it has still been a long road.

Grapes picked during the week of 22 October revealed excellent botrytis, also known as noble rot. But, even for a famous late harvest wine style, 2018 goes down as a long growing season.

‘Last week’s harvest has been seriously botrytised, and I have tasted some superb musts of great purity,’ said Sauternes expert Bill Blatch, of Bordeaux Gold.

But vintners were biting their nails throughout a botrytis-free September. As Château Raymond-Lafon wrapped up its harvest on 26 October, owner Jean-Pierre Meslier exclaimed: ‘We are saved’.

He added, ‘It was like poker; we had to be very patient with the hand that we were dealt’.

That hand was marked by ‘hopelessly dry conditions’ in September and early October, Blatch said. ‘It is an incredibly late harvest, causing anxiety, while the noble rot refused to appear, but then it all came good in a rush.’

Some 30mm of rain at the end of September kick-started the noble rot. By 25 October, pickers at Château d’Yquem had brought in about half the harvest.

‘What was so unique this year was the huge delay between grape ripeness and the true onset of botrytis on 20 October,’ said Yquem director Sandrine Garbay. Grapes were ripe to pick by 23 August for the dry wine Y d’Yquem, she said.

One worry could be low acidity. Blatch acknowledged ‘some concern’ over high pH levels, but added that ‘everything is so fruit-fresh that it probably won’t matter too much’.

At Yquem, Garbay reported ‘somewhat low acidity’ but she stressed the ‘truly excellent spread of botrytis’. She added that moderate September temperatures –  between 20-22°C maximum, and 2-3°C in the mornings – stopped grapes from becoming over-ripe and helped to maintain ‘pretty fruit and freshness’.

Volumes will be low, however, because of mildew and hail that struck vineyards in the south-west corner of Sauternes. Yquem will have about 20% less 2018 wine than its average potential harvest, Garbay said.

Editing by Chris Mercer.

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