Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier and president of the Union des Grands Crus reports enthusiastically: It has been several years since Bordeaux has seen such a magnificent vintage. There are still a few weeks of suspense before this promise is fulfilled. The months of May, June and July 2015 were among the hottest and driest on record. Water stress, so important for slowing vegetative growth and ripening, took place early July and brought with it magnificent véraison early August. I haven’t seen such an early, even véraison since 2009. All our grapes had colour by 15 August and many of them were already deeply coloured. Fortunately the month of August was cooler and wetter, returning a certain vigour to the vines.
Dry white wines The month of August enabled the grapes, especially the white wine grapes, to 'breathe' and retain their freshness. The first grapes were picked at the end August. The juice is superb and the weather forecast for the next two weeks is looking perfect. We are quietly confident this will be a great year!!!
Red wines The Merlots will be harvested during the last ten days of September and the Cabernets during the first two weeks of October. The grapes are showing magnificent potential, but we still need six weeks without major disruption.
Sweet white wines The Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are slowly reaching perfect ripeness. As with every vintage, botrytis will call the shots but conditions are favourable for its development.
Gavin Quinney of Ch Bauduc writes a little more cautiously: It's a risky business, predicting a wonderful vintage before hardly a red grape has been picked, so, for the moment, here’s an interim update on how things are going in Bordeaux at the start of the harvest. There’s still a way to go.
A month is a long time in viticulture and many growers were concerned as recently as the first week of August about the extremely dry conditions we'd experienced since mid June. (See Bordeaux 2015 – dry and sunny, still.) Then the rain came in August, refreshing the vines as the bunches changed colour.
Summer seemed to slip into autumn with the arrival of September, with cooler nights and fresh, sunny days right from the start of the month. That’s good news for the white-wine harvest, which is now well under way in the Graves and the Entre Deux Mers, having started earlier, as always, in the warmer vineyards of Pessac-Léognan.
It should be fine this week but there could be rain on the way this weekend, 12-13 September, after which the red harvest will begin in more precocious areas. Some Merlots from recent plantations have already been picked, such as at Château Cheval Blanc in St-Émilion last week (shown above), but these really are exceptions.
The Merlot and Cabernet vines, from St-Émilion to St-Estèphe, are in the best shape since 2010. Green and vibrant canopies, well-formed bunches (conditions for the speedy flowering in late May and early June were terrific), dark, thick skins and absolutely no risk of rot. (It hasn't all been plain sailing, however. Downy mildew and black rot were a risk at the start of the growing season.)
The sunshine and dry breezes during the first 10 days of this month are already concentrating the fruit, following the plumping up of the berries in August. Yields look promising, although for the reds in particular the berries can be small and producers are concerned about the amount of juice. (There's always something to worry about.) Judging by the vines and analysis of the weather statistics, we’re about 10 days ahead of 2014.
Here are some figures about the weather to date. I've taken the average of the rainfall and temperature figures from eight subregions – Northern Médoc, Margaux (except nearby Cussac for August), Léognan, Graves, Sauternes, St-Émilion, Blaye and Entre-Deux-Mers. The charts present a general picture but note that, as so often, rainfall can vary significantly. For example, some areas had double the 30-year average rainfall in August, whereas others, such as Margaux (whose vines on 6 September are shown above), were much closer to the average. It's been a dry year there, for sure.
The figures show that in April, May, June and July combined, Bordeaux had half the average rainfall, but twice the normal rainfall in August. It has also been significantly warmer than usual; while May and August saw temperatures in line with the monthly average, April, June and July were a degree hotter each month.
As is so often the case, September holds the key. Following the rain in August, here's hoping for a September like the ones we had in some other dry years which spring to mind: 2000, 2005, 2010… [NB my Rule of Fives – JR]