The spring and early summer was cold and wet (filling the water table to the top!). The summer since mid July has been exceptionally hot and dry!
The vines are parched that is for sure, particularly the younger ones whose roots don’t yet go down that deep. After a very wet Spring, (there has been no rain since) and it has been seriously hot since mid July – constantly in the 30s. The conditions are very dry this year (as 2005, 2009 and 2010) lower leaves are drying up in some vineyards particularly the younger vines. This causes a hydric stress to the plant and there is a switch from producing vegetation to funelling all of the sugars produced by photosynthesis to the fruit (this did not happen in 2015 due to rain in mid August but did in 2005, 2009 and 2010 and 2016!). This is good news but conditions are so dry that the ripening process has slowed down.
Cool Nights (so no real ‘canicule’ heatwave this year) – The nights however have stayed cool , which helps develop complex aromas and freshness. The perfect combination and what is hoped for, for a great year.
The flowering (start June) was slow, a little damp but no real rain (so the yield of the sensitive Merlot particularly was reduced at this stage a little). The long flowering period has meant that the harvest date will not be earlier than usual despite the heat.
Mildew has been a problem this year due to the wet spring which has attacked both leaf and grape. The yield seemed quite abundant but the mildew has done an early ‘green harvest’ – scorching a few grapes which have shrivelled and fallen off. Hence not a lot of green harvest done this year – nature did it naturally!
Slowing Down – With no rain for months, the water table filled in the Spring is now getting low. A little rain would help the young vines but also the older vines which seem to be in a ‘dazed’ state at the moment and need some water to get their mechanisms going again. Like us, without water our mechanism slows down. The vines are in the middle stages of a long marathon and need a good drink of water to make it successfully to the end! The berries are small with so far a high skin to pulp ratio.
Cabernet Franc here in St Emilion still in mid-Veraison. At mid veraison you can count 55 days to ripeness. For these late bunches, they will be too late and not be ripe in time.
First analysis have been done of the Merlot in the Medoc and the skins are ripening well (physiological ripeness) but the ripening of the inside of the grape (technological ripeness) is at this stage lagging a little behind due to the sluggishness of the vines – sugars are there but need more time to build up (potential alcohol is currently 10.3% -normal for this time of year). The sun is eating up the malic acid so this could be a problem. Wines need acidity, freshness. Particularly the Merlot, which can give cooked, stewed prune flavours very quickly when there is not the freshness.
White wine harvest in Entre Deux Mer started today (29 August) for the Sauvignon Blanc int he Entre Deux Mers.
No Mildew here on the Merlot at biodynamic Fonroque, St Emilion last week (see below) at the end of Veraison! They always harvest one week before their neighbours as their grapes are ripe one week before (August 19)
Since Sunday 28th August the thermostat has been turned down at last and the temperatures have been more normal for this time of year at around 25°C – 29°C – still hot during the day but cold mornings.
The last sprayings are being done for ‘verre de grappe’ (grapeworm/ fruit fly) which is prevalent this year and the last spraying for the Mildew.
Harvest at the earliest will be end September in the hotter areas such as Pomerol and St Emilion bordering with Pomerol where gravel makes the environment pretty warm. Similar for the Medoc and Graves but they have the fresh ocean breezes to keep things cool! Harvest will not start for most until end of first week of October due to the slowing down.
So all is looking good as everyone prepares for la rentrée here in Bordeaux. Of course 2015 was the star (hopefully 2016 will not be too much in its shadow).
‘Black harvest’ – Here at Lafite Rothschild yesterday a small team of workers were removing excess bunches of grapes on the Merlot vines infront of the chateau, in a very late attempt (normally called ‘green harvest’ and done between mid-veraison start of August and end veraison) to concentrate what is left in this last month of ripening.
Should not pick too late this year to make the most of the freshness that is there in ripe grapes, not super-ripe!