The sun is shining today after some much needed rain which fell in short sharp bursts since last weekend (21/22 Sept). Its Sunday (29 Sept) and no-one is rushing to harvest. Gone are the days where the stress impelled producers to harvest in a rush over a few days that ran on from each other. For the past two or three years, harvest happens on particular days and then there is a break of a day or two whilst patient winegrowers waits for the next plots to be ripe (this photo is Château Coutet in St Emilion Grand Cru).
Most today, be it right or left bank have finished the Merlot and waiting for the Cabernet Franc and then at the end, the Cabernet Sauvignon will be the last over the finishing line. (As the soil on the right bank is warmer, and the the predominant grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, is later ripening compared with Merlot, both banks harvest at about the same time (hence the need for 1000s of pickers, many Portuguese and Spanish).
It is unusual for everyone to pray for rain at harvest-time but it has been dry since the spring and the vines ate parched.
The process of ripening of the grapes is like doing a marathon for the vines. With the periods of extreme heat up to the early 40s at times, the vines slowed down their metabolism in order to endure the extreme temperatures. By slowing down they preserve water loss and reduce the risk of suffering too much or even potentially dieing. The vines are pretty resistant plants with their deep roots that can go down several metres in search if water. (Its the baby ones that have not yet had time to grow deep roots that have suffered – for them watering us allowed until their third birthday when their grapes can go into the adult wine.)
This recent rain (which continued off and on all week) has given the thirsty vines a nice cool drink to enable them to cross the finishing line and complete the ripening process. What these dry summer conditions do enable, which is exceptionally important, and marks the really good years (like 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016) is the super concentration that results from this lack of water (hydric stress). What happens is that the vine.
This year it’s the vines on the limestone plateau that are reaching ripeness before those on the lower clay slopes. With their limestone resevor of freshness even during the hottest peaks of temperature, the lucky vines on the top of the hill their ropening discontinued progressively wwithout a blip. Those vines further down the slopes in the dried out clay soils, were affected more by the extreme heat and their ripening slowed down considerably.
So far the grapes are plentiful and healthy, there us so far no rot at all. If there is one ‘bėmole’ it was the cool perod of flowering which has caused uuneven ripening some 110 days later. Some grape bunches on the same vine are due to be ripe one week after its neighbouring bunches. Of course now they are all black it is difficult to tell which is early and which late.
We are tasting the juice from the vats which is derply coloured within only minutes of contact with the skins’ full of white peach aromas and freshly picked cherry and blackcurrant – and grapes! Sugar levels are high but there is still freshness. Attention is being paid to the overworked yeasts this year as they might struggle in the high alcohol. It is the yeast that make the alcohol as a byproduct of their multiplication, eating the mass of sugar which eventually over 14 degrees or more may kill them. This year many are introducing additional yeasts in the middle of fermentation that can function in more alcoholic conditions. To avoid the fermentation getting stuck and the risk of attracting less savoury bacteria to the sugary target.
So we are not at the home base yet but it is in sight and 2019 promises to be a very good vintage if not a great one. It is a 9 after all and will follow 89 and 09 and be known too perhaps for its sensuality and elegance in futur decades to come ….