August holidays have been cut short as wine producers return to start the harvest of whites, rosé and cremants. Early Reds to start next week (start September – 2 weeks early).
Curiously as with all vintages that end with a zero in Bordeaux – this vintage 2020 promises good things. It has been hot for all of July and August and with the water table still full from the Spring (it is hard to remember with these dry conditions now, the intermittent sun and rain then that made mildew so prevalent this year), the vines have not suffered here in Bordeaux despite the temperatures being in the mid 30s for most of the summer (not as in Burgundy where the harvest approaches its end with shrivelled grapes and blocked ripening).
This is for several reasons thanks to the maritime climate here there is always a fresh breeze compared with a continental climate of the Northern Rhone for example or Burgundy (or the Mediterranean climate which in addition has a hot drying wind to contend with). In addition to full water tables due to the wet spring fortunately here around 25mm of rain (before that we had no rain at all for at least 6 weeks) has fallen since August 15th to give the vines a drink before the final sprint to harvest. The nights have offered a respite to the vines too and that is important too for the aromatic profile of the eventual wine. Yes I know it will be the 4th ‘truly great’ in this decade (2015, 2016, 2018) – thanks to global warming.
Grapes are ripening; the skins thinning, sugars increasing, acidity falling – quite significantly already. Botrytis rot is a risk as always at this time of year particularly where grape bunches are large and not well spaced out. Like fruit in a fruit bowl, the rotten ones are quick to affect its neighbour. Yield for those that survived the incessant mildew, is good this year.
The risk of ‘Verre de grape’ (grape butterfly) is here as usual with the little caterpillars eating into the grapes and causing rot. Many producers use sexual confusion capsules (female pheromones which confuse the usual mating) or there are organic biological control treatments Bacillus Thuringiensis. All treatments have now stopped in the vines (around 3 weeks before harvest) and it is very calm.
We are two weeks ahead at least and the hotter appellations of Pomerol, Graves and the gravel corner of St Emilion (mature vines already at 12.5 alcohol) are set to start harvesting reds start September . It is the younger vines that are set to go first (and these are the ones that have suffered the most due to shallow roots). Each syndicate sends out bulletins with the analysis of representative vineyards in different terroir of the appellation. The measurements are total acidity, malic acidity, sugars (to give potential alcohol) and a new one which is technological ripeness that is ripeness of the skins (for Merlot it needs to be between 18 and 20 – on the gravels of St Emilion it is already at 17 – the Medoc would be similar). Producers will then do their analysis of juice from their different plots themselves as the grapes ripen more.
Dry White Harveting (sauvignon blanc and semillon) last week of August. The dry whites in the Graves, Pessac Leognan and Sauternes area are being harvested at the moment and reds for rosé and grapes for the region’s sparkling wine – Crémant. They both need high levels of acidity.
More updates to follow.