There hasn't been a poor vintage in Bordeaux for twenty years but the cold, damp weather, as we approach the critical month of June, is a gentle reminder that anything can happen.
The 2013 harvest will be my fifteenth (a rookie still) and the development of the vines across Bordeaux this year is the most backward I've seen. Our vineyard manager, Daniel, will tell you the same thing, and he's been here since the 80s.
It’s certainly going to be another late harvest, like 2012, and we all know that ’late and great’ rarely go hand in hand when it comes to Bordeaux vintages. ’Comeback of the century’ is the best we can hope for, and I, for one, would settle for that. (If you’re visiting Bordeaux at harvest time, the reds won’t be picked until October.)
At the start of June, the vines should be flowering or about to flower. May, however, has been so wet and cold (my unofficial stats show a chilling monthly average to date of 12.5 °C, compared with a thirty-year average in May of 16.5 °C) that we’re still a little way off the floraison (flowering) and, worse, the vines
have a lot of catching up to do beforehand. (The photo above shows Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Pauillac on 23 May 2013; this one below shows how much further ahead the vines were in May 2003.) It's all rather worrying, although the forecast for early June looks more promising.
If you’re not familiar with this important but unspectacular event, the floraison determines the size of the crop, has a significant impact on quality and gives a good indication as to when the harvest will take place. The annual Fête de la Fleur, a prestigious Bordeaux bash in mid June, is even named in its honour.
The soil temperatures have remained cold, as these graphs from one of my suppliers (Ets Touzan) show: unlike recent years, it has remained chilly in the last week of May, so there’ll be minimal upward curve.
Warmer temperatures are needed in the subsoils, along with sunshine for the leaves, so that the vines can get a move on. After that, we need extended good weather so that flowering can at least be moderately successful.
Despite a reasonable number of potential bunches, there’s a likelihood of coulure, when some of the grapes don’t form. Rapid vine growth and flowering at the same time isn’t a good mix - the vine’s energies are split between the two - and Merlot, the most widely planted variety in Bordeaux, is especially vulnerable to coulure. Poor fruit set means lower yields, without the compromise of better quality in this case. Of course, I hope to be proved wrong.
To show how late things are, here’s our vineyard on 23 May 2011 compared with 23 May 2013. 2011 was an early harvest.
Here we are in a run-of-the-mill vintage like 2007, again on the same day.
Here’s to blue skies in June, and a sunny Vinexpo.