Sauternes 2012 – not a write-off


Yohan Castaing writes:

After the announcements that Ch d'Yquem 2012 will not be bottled (and Pierre Lurton's beautiful oxymoron 'insufficient excellence'), followed by one from Ch Rieussec that 2012 was not a vintage year, the Sauternais felt very embarrassed. But were all the 2012 Sauternes so poor in quality?

In this harvest report, summarised below, Berenice Lurton, dynamic owner of Ch Climens, brings a different point of view. Climens used biodynamic practices, she maintains, to retain the purity, elegance and freshness of the wine and in 2012 this strategy was the cornerstone of the quality of her sweet wines.

There is no doubt that  2012 was very difficult for Sauternes. Spring suffered extremes in climate – hot and dry in March and wet in April and May, requiring work to be undertaken by hand (tractors are totally unstable in the sandy clay soils).

After the poor spring, biodynamics helped the vines withstand the violent climatic attacks. But with the thermal excesses in June (both hot and cold) downy mildew began spreading in the leaves. In July, the bunches were affected, parts of them turning black. Losses ran to 30%.

After hoping for a period without rain, winegrowers were granted their wish – two months without a drop of rain! The different biodynamic treatments helped limit the effect of the eggs laid by the grape moth – what Berenice Lurton described as 'nasty little gluttons' .

With dry conditions in August and September, botrytis kept its distance. On 23 September, the rains returned, with a 40mm downpour. But still botrytis did not come. In 2012 winegrowers fought against rain, but during the harvest there was no rain. The 2011 harvest ended on 28 September, while by this time in 2012 the harvest had not even started. Growers were hoping not to beat the 1978 record, when the harvest didn't start until the first day of November.


At Climens, the harvest started on Monday 15 October under a beautiful sunny sky (see picture). But this was not a normal year, and the rain returned on Friday 19 October. The weather was better on Monday 22 October and the harvest could continue. On Sunday of this week, the wind was still present and the sun returned. The harvest was finished on 31 October with a yield of just 10 hl/ha.

How did biodynamics save the harvest?

The irregular climate of this 2012 vintage posed great problems for many winemakers. By using biodynamic tools, some growers gave the plants greater strength to fight off the downy mildew attacks without damaging the plants. It was by giving the plants strength, and not trying to fight off such attacks using artificial additions, that growers such as Lurton at Climens were able to give the berries that were saved the energy that allowed them to produce wines of good quality. That's the theory, anyway.

It is certain that 2012 will not be as good as 2008, 2009 and 2010. But nevertheless it was still possible, according to Lurton, to produce very fine Sauternes last year. The primeur tastings should be particularly revealing….

See also the official report on the 2012 harvest from Sauternes here.