Bordeaux 2013 – hardest in 30 years


Jean-Christophe Mau of Château Brown in Pessac-Léognan wrote this painfully honest account of the 2013 vintage on 16 Oct. The image, from Ch Brown's website, is of a much healthier vintage. It is rumoured that not a bag of sugar is to be found in Bordeaux's supermarkets...

It was at 4 pm that the last snips of the secateurs were made in the rows of Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

After 1971, 1972 and 1973, and then the frosts of 1991, 1992 and 1993, here we go again with the trio of 2011, 2012 and 2013. What a difficult vintage this one was, coming after a decade or so when we had got used to things being on the easier side.

One thing is certain today: 2013 has been one of the hardest vintages, or perhaps even the most complicated, in the last 30 years. The disastrous spring set the tone for the year, combining severe delays in the vegetation cycle and the loss of a large part of the harvest, due to all the rain during flowering.

An exceptional month of July, among the sunniest in the last 25 years, and a very pleasant month of August, were not enough to make up for the delays built up during the spring, resulting in véraison as late as 20 August for the Merlot grapes.

What we needed was as exceptional a month of September as in 2012, but that was only partly the case. In the event, the general humidity [and threat of rot – JR] forced us to start the harvest on 1 October, earlier than we had hoped. The Merlot grapes were in very good condition, although botrytis rot did show some signs of virulence here and there. After very strict sorting in the vineyard and the winery, we had some difficulties filling the vats, which do seem so very big this year.

The initial results on the reds (before running off) show a yield of 33 hl/ha, which is some 25% down on the 10-year average for the harvests. We should consider ourselves lucky, however, compared with those in Bordeaux who were hit by a deluge in June or those who suffered from the many hailstorms that ruined all or part of their harvests.

The main disappointment will necessarily be tannin quality, which would have benefited from at least another fortnight to finish off ripening. The winemaking process is set to be a very technical, precise and delicate one. The key will be to extract the tannins gently and go for roundness and a fruity expression that can make the vintage a success.

For our white wines, we are optimistic about the quality, although not regarding volumes since yields averaged 30 hl/ha. The weather conditions in September were ideal for the ripening of Sauvignon Blanc. There is a good level of acidity in the juice, suggesting that the 2013 vintage should be successful and will have good ageing capacity.

Alcoholic fermentation is coming gently to a close and stirring of the must should be able to start soon, before we allow some time for maturing on the fine lees, as is the tradition at Château Brown.

All we can hope for now is that 2014 is not like 1974, 1984 or 1994, but more like 2004. A generous, top-quality harvest would be more than welcome!