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25 Sep 2015

Gavin Quinney of Ch Bauduc reports.

Here's an update on the Bordeaux harvest since my last report on 8 September.

After a dry start to September, when most of the dry whites were picked, there were heavy, localised showers just as the Merlot harvest began in some areas in the middle of the month, before clear weather returned from Sunday 20 September. Other than some rain on Tuesday 22, it's been clear and dry and, crucially, the forecast is good for the rest of the month.

The week of 12-19 September saw quite un-Bordeaux-like weather, thanks to the fallout from the distant tropical storm Henri, with heavy showers giving way to bright sunshine an hour or two later. It was also evident that the downpours were extremely localised and sweeping generalisations should really be avoided. This is borne out by the statistics for the week - 115 mm of rain for that week in Civrac at the northern end of the Médoc, compared to less than 50 mm at the southern point at Blanquefort, just north of the city of Bordeaux. And that's just the Médoc. On the right bank, the amount of rain that fell was also quite variable. Beneficial for some, less so for others.

Fortunately, the red wine harvest had only tentatively started by the middle of the month, and the mixed weather caused some anxiety rather than outright stress. Châteaux with earlier ripening vineyards in Pomerol (see the focused sorting at Ch Le Gay below) and Pessac, for example, kicked off last week but the Merlot harvest really began in earnest from 21 September. Not that picking has been frantic, thanks to the much-improved forecast.

Ch_Le_Gay_-_sorting_grapes_2-1.jpg

Once again, the traditional assumption of 'who picks when' has rather gone out of the window. Pomerol would often be expected to have finished their Merlots before the big names in the Médoc, but that hasn't been the case again this year. Ch Lafite-Rothschild (pictured below) and Ch Pichon Baron, for example, completed their Merlots on 23 September, before many of the famous names in Pomerol had brought in all theirs. Some other Médoc estates on the other hand, such as Ch Léoville Poyferré, have only just started their Merlots.

Ch_Lafite_-_harvest_keeps_coming_in-6.jp

I've spent a day in the Médoc both last week and this week, and likewise in Pomerol and St-Émilion (see below). From tasting the grapes, talking to owners, managers and staff, and seeing the harvest come in, my feeling is that 2015 could still be a great vintage, although not on a par with 2005, 2009 or 2010. In those great vintages, the harvest ran pretty smoothly from start to finish (hail-affected vineyards in 2009 apart). Perhaps this could be the first great vintage this century when the harvest hasn't gone like clockwork.

St-Emilion_-_buckets_of_grapes-5.jpg

The quality of 2015 is still in the balance and yet, after the mid-month scare, the prospects are hugely encouraging. The skins are thick, the aromas and flavours are there, the tannins are ripe - or almost ripe - and I've seen no sign of botrytis, except for on grapes for sweet whites. (At least, not so far.) The individual choices of harvest dates will be crucial. Yields too, for the reds at least, look pretty good, the best for five years.

The dry whites were mostly picked during lovely conditions during the first 10 days of September, and the outlook for Sauternes is already bright. Pomerol has picked some lovely fruit, and the top vineyards of St-Émilion will benefit from good weather from now through early October with any luck. (Their Merlots generally ripen later than in Pomerol.) Pessac-Léognan and Margaux, both closer to Bordeaux, have been relatively dry and quality should be high. In the leading appellations of the northern Médoc, some young Cabernet Sauvignon vines may have been picked (at Lafite for example, pictured here on Wednesday) but the dry, sunny weather ahead could be hugely advantageous for the great Cabernets of the left bank. And that's largely where a vintage's reputation is determined.

As ever, we'll have to wait and see.