Just before the Primeurs start next week, here is a synopsis of what is being said by those in the know (producers, negociants in Bordeaux, University of Bordeaux) about the quality of the 2008 harvest and why.
THE 2008 VINTAGE
very cold spring
the 7th April in Graves, Sauternes and some parts of the Right Bank.
early summer Rain
There was lots of rain until the end of June which led to widespread
mildew and caused a difficult flowering, especially for the Merlots
which suffered a great deal from shatter and incorrect berry set.
Generally cold and unsettled summer (like 2007) but low rainfall
only the vintages 2000, 2003 and 2005 had a lower amount of summer rain
· Very hot July
last half of August turned out to be cool, cloudy and rainy. The rain helped the berries change color but also swelled the berries and raised the risk of rot (and mildew). Continued delay of about two weeks (started with cold weather during flowering).
AUTUMN Glorious ‘Indian summer’
September arrived with warm, breezy days.
Sun did return around the 14th September it also brought with it the healthy north wind which is dry and cool and healthy.
This allowed many to hold off picking well into October to benefit from the gorgeous ‘Indian summer’ conditions
The quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon which loves warm, light days and cool nights to develop have been an additional surprise to the Médoc producers worried as always that a late harvest will result in not fully developed polyphenols.
WHEN TO PICK?
Very late harvest
Like 2007, growers who had done their vineyard work properly and had lower yields with well aired, well spaced bunches could wait (leaf pulling/plucking and green harvest).
The sugar levels were excellent, the phenolic levels were good but the acidity was still too high by the middle of September. Not until last week of September that growers felt that sufficient ripeness had been achieved.
Harvesting decision made by weather forecast threatening rain.
CONCLUSION AT HARVEST
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon equally good (neither right or left bank better. Merlot harvested too early to really benefit from the Autumn sun though.
· Good phenolics;
ie good colour high level anthocyanes
ie and high IPTs (good tannin levels)
· Aromatic fragrances
· High acidity balanced by high alcohol levels. High malic acid levels in the grapes corrected by the malolactic fermentation
· Rich wines, with freshness, aromatic expression and
Whites good and sweet wines too but tiny quantities
VIEW ON THE VINTAGE SINCE HARVEST
Comparing the 2007 and the 2008 vintage
Bill Blatch, Vintex
“Nobody’s going to believe it, and I’m not making this up, but 2008 in
Bordeaux is rather a good vintage.”
“…Meteorologically, 2008 looks to be the identical twin vintage of
2007…So how come the wines of 2007, whilst retaining the same
late-harvest characteristics of relatively high acidity, had turned out so radically different from those of 2008, the former (2007) bright, fruit-driven, fine-styled and elegant, the latter (2008) darker, richer, more generous and more tannic? Even to the growers, the outcome came as something of a surprise. They were expecting 12.5º and suddenly it all came in at 14°; anthocyanin counts of 7-800 and they got over 1,000; IPTs (tannin measure) of 50 and they ended up often over 90.
The answer seems to lie, despite the apparent similarities, in the
vine’s radically different behaviour in 2008 compared with 2007. In 2007, it had got off to an early and rapid start, with a quick early budding, followed by an early, if erratic, flowering; and it was only then that it got slowed down by the dreary summer months, and then achieving a flash last-minute ripening in those fine September days.
2008 was entirely different: from the beginning of the season right up to the end, the vine never did anything fast all year; it took its time over all the stages; it seemed lazy, didn’t want to bud, grow leaves, flower or do anything at speed. Consequently, it had very slow cycles, which, despite the strain put on it by the April frost, by the excess of water in May and by a mediocre summer, allowed it to perform more effective ripening transformations in its grapes all very gradually and very inconspicuously. ..
…(2008 was) a very late harvest that everyone could finally be proud of. If only its volume had been as satisfactory…Overall, it was the lowest yield since the Great Frost of 1991.”
Paul Pontallier on 2008 Primeurs
‘2008 is in many ways similar to 2004 and 2006. It was a fairly
average summer, but with a wonderful late season. The grapes ripened very well – perhaps they did not reach the extraordinary ripeness of some years, but they showed extremely good concentration, more than in 04 although perhaps less than in 06. The wine itself has a tight texture, good length and while not perhaps the extra dimension of a truly great vintage, it is still an exceptionally good one.’
Denis Dubourdieu, head of the Oenology faculty at Bordeaux University,
compares the vintage to 1988 – a classic, cool climate vintage with
excellent fruit and somewhat stern tannins.