Bordeaux 2015: Could rains complicate potentially excellent vintage?
14 September 2015
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
The weather chart looks worrying. Rain, rain … and more rain expected this week.
It already rained Friday to Sunday, 11-13 September.
This brings back memories of reporting on Bordeaux’s 2006 harvest on location in Pauillac for decanter.com. I was talking with Jean-Rene Matignon, director of the famous second growth Château Pichon Baron. He told me all had been really fine until rains started to fall and his quote nine years ago, almost to this day: “We need to start picking the Merlot this Wednesday,” Matignon said. “It is just too bad. Before the rains, we had a natural average degree of 14 for the Merlot – brilliant, just like in 2005,” he added. Other winemakers expressed similar concerns, in this story.
Could 2015 be 2006 déjà vu? Well, not so fast. The rains that fell nine years ago just about at harvest time were very hard and intense in a shorter period. So far this year there have been lighter bursts, but nothing as heavy as in 2006. Then again, the chart is not very encouraging. And I also met Jean-Rene in Pauillac during the second week of September this year. His thoughts on 2015? “I’d rather not say anything before we bring the grapes into the vat room.”
By the second week of September, natural degrees for Merlot in many vineyards was 13.5 and sometimes closer to 14. Unlike in 2006, the vines had to deal with some heat stress in a very hot and dry month of July, with a wetter than normal month of August, mainly due to three separate rain storms that rather helped the vines recover from the heat stress. The days were warm but nights cool, a trend that continued into early September, preventing the potential for too much alcohol while maintaining freshness: that’s what Jean-Jacques Bonnie, of Château Malartic Lagraviere in Pessac Léognan, said in the video below, from 8 September, before more negative wet forecasts were issued for the following week.
So far, so good.
A few days later, further north in Saint Estephe, I visited Basile Tesseron, owner of Lafon Rochet, and things started to go in the wrong direction.
In the video below, Tesseron said the potential for more rain “more than concerns me: it gives me a headache”. Already some 20mm had fallen the night of Friday-Saturday 11-12 September (some parts less, others more).
Basile kindly invited me to lunch on the day I visited, Saturday 12 September, to join the château’s team that had run at the annual Médoc Marathon that day. Each year, the marathon features a different theme. This year’s was a fancy dress code so runners wore tuxes or evening gowns as you can see in this link from the regional French newspaper SudOuest.
Shortly after the video interview with Basile, it started to rain. I helped Basile and staff move table settings and glasses into the château. “And to think we had parasols out there to protect us from the sun,” he said. He later looked over his vines as the rain fell and said, simply: “Merde”.
Warm weather and rain can bring rot into a vineyard. And although vintners can treat the vines to limit its negative effects, they need to wait for the vines to dry before they can apply such treatment. Repeated rainfall this coming week is not a good sign. Furthermore, treating the vines so close to harvest may complicate fermentation, as the contents of the treatment tend to prevent optimal functioning of the yeasts that convert the grape sugar into alcohol, remarked Basile.
It is too early for any judgments, so I will issue a report later on and once the harvest is done.
The lunch was great: thick slices of local beef grilled over vine branches, lending a spicy flavor to the meat, accompanied by roasted vegetables, fresh from the local market.
What wine did we enjoy for the lunch? A magnum of … 2006. Tempting fate? That was not the idea! The wine needed a bit of time to open up, with some tight tannins but overall it had a smooth texture and a fine finish – and it went very well with the steaks.
Basile also opened his second wine, Les Pelerins de Lafon Rochet, which was delicious, coming from the excellent 2009 vintage. It had much Merlot in the blend, making it rather sumptuous – and better than the first wine in 2013, which I had tried earlier that day and which was very much a luncheon claret.