A day in the Médoc 2014


I popped over to Bordeaux yesterday for the funeral of Philippine de Rothschild at Château Mouton-Rothschild, a gathering of well over 1,000 members of the great and the good of wine about which I will be writing in more detail. My picture shows just come of the hundreds of sumptuous floral tributes.

It was a gloriously sunny day and the Bordelais were virtually blinking in the strong sunshine, predicted to last all week, for this was quite a novelty for them. This year's summer in the Gironde has been exceptionally changeable, damp, grey and – well – rather British. (The UK meanwhile had one of its best summers in living memory.)

There is still all to play for with the coming 2014 harvest. The flowering took place in excellent fine weather, so the potential quantity is not in doubt – a change from last year. But a big question mark still hovers over quality. What they desperately need in order to be sure of a harvest of healthy, ripe grapes is a long, warm, dry period. Any more seriously wet weather will encourage the spread of the fungal diseases to which vines are so prone – not least in the warm, maritime climate of Bordeaux, where locals are complaining that overall humidity levels in the air have been rising. (See this particular report of the MW symposium in Florence last May.)

I was driven up the Médoc by a small group from fine-wine négociant Mahler-Besse (recently added to Philippe Castéja's quiver of Bordeaux businesses when Stéphanie Mahler-Besse ceded her share of the family négociant). They have extremely smart new offices and a cellar for their most ancient bottles in a very beautiful old building in the Chartrons district traditionally given over to Bordeaux's wine merchants.

Among the Bordeaux trade, there was some talk of Robert Parker's pronouncements on the 2013 vintage, which were published on Friday, many months later than usual, but little hope that they would reignite the lacklustre 2013 primeurs campaign. His enthusiasm for the whites is all very well, they felt, but it will take more than that to convince the world's wine buyers to turn from red to white as far as Bordeaux is concerned. And the négociants' immediate concern, of course, is how to clear all those 2011s in the pipeline.

All the way up the Médoc we saw evidence of how the château owners, the financial beneficiaries of the recent high prices of Bordeaux classed growths, leaving négociants holding their overpriced babies, are spending their money – new chais being so much more attractive than handing it over to M Hollande.

The two-hour Catholic mass, music, speeches and flowers, not to mention the extraordinary crowd, were thoughtfully assembled and truly memorable. I only hope that another exceptional woman in wine, the delightful Yvonne May, who so efficiently and charmingly represented the generic interests of Australian wine in the UK for the last few years and whose life was cut unfairly short last weekend by leukemia, is given as good a send off.

My final image, that of us few Brits who attended Philippine's funeral – Masters of Wine Serena Sutcliffe and David Peppercorn and Jacob, Lord Rothschild – having to spend several hours that night waiting for a delayed Easyjet flight in the shed that is Bordeaux's budget airline terminal, has already been eclipsed by my memories of one of the wine world's more extraordinary women. Jacques Boissenot, the modest consultant oenologist who advised Mouton and so many top properties in the  Médoc, died the day after the funeral at Mouton.