2015 Harvest report - The vineyards celebrate their inscription to the Unesco World Heritage list.
This harvest does not resemble any other one: the berries are small and compact with no sign of millerandage and their skins are tight and full of anthocyanins and ripe tannins. There is average quantity and the early and ultra-fast flowering ensured an exceptionally homogeneous and complete maturity, without ever reaching over-maturity.
As always, we are delighted - but perhaps even more so this year as the vintage is most impressive - to give our thoughts on the harvest and to highlight the most important elements that created this exceptional vintage. If we send this report later than usual, it is because the vintage was so outstanding and amazing in every way that we preferred to wait until we had a clear idea of the wines after the fermentations in barrels: Nature has indeed taken to the extreme all the factors that are necessary to make great wines, but without ever going beyond the balance point.
Let us remember first that 2015 was marked by a great moment full of emotion for Burgundy: last July 4th in Bonn/Germany, the 21-member countries of the Unesco World Heritage Committee announced the inscription of the "Climats du Vignoble de Bourgogne" to the World Heritage list. The Committee recognized that it is in Burgundy that was born, that developed and prospered a viticulture rooted in a long history that represents a model for all the terroir-based viticultures all over the world and that created a Culture that one has to respect and preserve in order to pass it on to the next generations.
It was as if the vineyards had wanted to celebrate this prestigious distinction in being more beautiful than ever throughout the year and in being also more generous by giving us some of the most beautiful grapes ever produced. Still today, at the time of this writing, they show their most beautiful autumnal dress and their leaves that summer has left intact are glittering like never before with shades of fawn, purple and gold announcing their coming dormancy. These colors are also at the origin of this name of Côte d'Or that it bears now for eternity.
Winter was mild: the lowest recorded temperature was -6° C around February 12th and the heavy rains provided a reserve of water that was very useful as we experienced a dry season.
This trend of hot and dry weather first announced itself in the mild and dry spring, except for two episodes of violent rains on May 1st and June 15th that arrived at the right time to bring humidity to the vineyards.
This dry and hot weather accompanied by a persistent friendly North Wind had a determining impact on the harvest in creating the conditions for an early, very rapid and homogeneous flowering. We could also observe some "coulure", but almost no millerandage.
July was hot and dry, even scorching between July 2nd and 8th with night temperatures of 30° C. During the whole month only 14mm of rain were recorded. Heat was such some days that the evolution of the grapes was stopped. But we could see berries beginning to change color (veraison) in Romanee-Conti and in Corton as of July 27th.
The first two weeks of August were humid and mild, without any heat peaks. The vineyards breathed again and ripened quietly. Mid-veraison occurred around August 9th and we knew then that the harvest would take place in early September.
During the second fortnight of August, the North wind set in with beautiful dry weather and unseasonably high temperatures, especially at the end of the month when we went through a three-day heatwave.
All along, the vineyards remained perfectly green, healthy and connected to all the astral and telluric forces that give life to them. They liked the dry weather in 2015. The July heat-waves stopped their evolution at least twice, but each time these were counterbalanced by stormy episodes that brought the needed humidity. As a result, the evolution of the vineyards was nearly ideal and thanks to these exceptional weather conditions, 2015 was a rather easy vintage for the vigneron. We could always intervene in the right place at the right moment, whatever the work to be done: compost supply, manual work, work of the soil or phytosanitary treatments.
But nothing is perfect and the treatments, although exceptionally few, were essential at a time when there was a cloud on the horizon: oidium. This fungus that thrives during cold and damp nights took advantage of the rare rainy episodes of the spring to develop in the area of Nuits-St-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Echezeaux.
This attack forced us to be very vigilant, even if the dry weather and the North Wind were of great help in eradicating this fungus. Our wineyards manager, Nicolas Jacob, and his team triumphantly managed a situation that was complicated by the fact that the sulphur that we use against oidium loses its efficiency above the 30° temperature we often experienced in 2015.
At harvest time the grapes were in excellent sanitary condition, rather compact, but average in quantity. The skins of the berries were extraordinarily thick and full of anthocyanins. These had been forged by the sun whose intensity went so far as to burn some of them, and the slaps of the successive storms. No botrytis at all. But the most remarkable fact, which was also linked to the early and rapid flowering, was the level of maturity of the grapes. From this homogeneous flowering resulted a homogeneous and extreme maturity without ever reaching over maturity as in 2003. We noticed this balance in the analysis of the grape must at harvest time and today in the wines, the acidities being in perfect balance with the tannins and the rather high alcohol level.
We started the harvest in Montrachet on September 4th. The weather was dry and mild. The Chardonnay vineyards ripened very fast due to the very hot days of the second part of August and the very fast consecutive increase of sugar content led us to harvest this vineyard first. As a result, the grapes were ripe, of the highest quality and superbly golden predicting a very great white wine. This was also confirmed by the first tastings of the wine that is finishing its malolactic fermentations in barrels.
On September 5th we harvested the Corton and noticed that our pre-harvest impressions were right i.e. the Pinot Noir grapes that we picked were in perfect sanitary condition and very ripe. Thanks to the resistance of the grapes, there was no trace of botrytis, even on the second generation grapes (verjus) that we left on the vines and that waited until the end of October to ripen and make the dabbler vignerons happy!
After a day off, on Sunday 6th, we started the harvest in Vosne-Romanée on Monday 7th. Our instructions to the harvesters were as simple as ever since there was no botrytis and only the burnt berries were to be removed from the clusters that had been the most exposed to the sun. There were also some "figgy" berries, i.e ultra-ripe, but we had of course to keep them.
The beautiful, dry and mild weather lasted until September 12th, a day of heavy rains, but we were already in the Echezeaux, the last vineyard harvested that we finished on the 14th.
Here are the harvest dates and approximate yields:
Romanée-Conti: September 10 22 hl/ha
La Tâche: September 7-8 25 hl/ha
Richebourg: September 8-9 24 hl/ha
Romanée-St-Vivant: September 9-10-11 26 hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux: September 11-12 30 hl/ha
Echezeaux: September 12-14 25 hl/ha
Corton: September 5 22 hl/ha
Montrachet: September 4 30 hl/ha
The phenolic maturity was fully completed and we chose to make the vinifications with the whole clusters, i.e. without destemming. Such vinifications are always a challenge. These were masterfully carried out by Bernard Noblet and his team.
Fermentations were rich, powerful and extremely long (21 to 23 days depending on the wine) due to the important polyphenol contents and the richness of sugar. Many small berries, whose skins were exceptionally resistant, released their juice only at the end of fermentations and even, for some of them, only under the force of the wine press.
The wines were put into vats with a little sugar which continued its fermentation in barrels bringing more suppleness and smoothness to the wines. Still today, in the silence of the cellar, we can hear the barrels whispering the song of the wine coming to life.
The wines have deep purple colors. On the nose, there is fruit and tannins are ample in the mouth. There is no trace of over-maturity as in 2003, but all the opulence and richness of extreme maturity.
The typical characteristics of the finished wines take shape: power and balance for the Richebourg, strength with a note of liquorice for La Tâche, elegancy and length in the mouth for the Romanée-Conti that is already above all the others.
2014 Harvest Report / Never more than this year have the two great rules of the game been confirmed: risk-taking is obligatory and what we can call "luck", but which may simply be the smile that the vineyards give to the respectful and loving "vigneron".
How could we fail to mention first the splendor of the mosaic of "climats", this work of art that stretches out in front of us in the autumnal sun? During this short and magic moment, the vineyards, relieved of their fruit, dazzle us with the splendid beauty of the leaves that have turned in a few days to sumptuous shades of gold and copper, as if they wanted to recognize the attention and the care they received throughout the year.
The villages of the Côte are buzzing with activity. In the wineries the "vignerons" are busy with the fermenting vats. Everywhere opulent honeyed scents emanate from the streets and houses announcing the birth of a great vintage.
Yet, the boisterous, mischievous and quick-tempered gods that govern us had not an easy season in store for us...This play, full of twists and turns, can be divided into three acts:
After a damp and exceptionally mild winter, which made the first work of the soil difficult, spring was one of the most beautiful and dry we have known for a long time. The vineyards benefited from outstanding climatic conditions and grew in peace. Very rarely have we seen such healthy leaves and such a balanced growth of the vines. Diseases were nearly absent and the phytosanitary treatments were kept to the minimum.Flowering was extremely early, quite spread out due to the cold nights, but complete. We observed "millerandage" especially in the older vineyards, but almost no "coulure" this year.
This first luminous act ended on June 28th, when very violent storms brought hail to a great part of the area and caused devastating damage in some places like Beaune, Pommard and Volnay. Vosne-Romanée or the Chassagne and Puligny sectors were not so much affected.
Immediately after those storms, a short heat wave resulted in "scalding" phenomenons in the vineyards: the berries that were the most exposed to the burning sun "roasted" and dried. Many of them fell by themselves, but it was necessary to eliminate the remaining berries during the harvest. This light natural thinning was finally not a problem in this year of abundant yields.
From July, the second act of this play brought all that a "vigneron" does not want: out of season cold, a significant lack of sun, much rain (more than 100mm in July), humidity and traces of botrytis as soon as early August.
In addition, as the work of the soil was stopped from August 1st, when "veraison" started, the grass benefited from these favorable conditions to develop in the vineyards and became difficult to control.
Happily, the advance gained by the vineyards in the springtime, although slower in July and August, allowed the grapes to reach reasonable maturity in late August, despite the fact that the "veraison" process lasted the whole month of August. This had the effect of accentuating the differences of maturity between the berries as we had already noticed at flowering time.
Everything was ready for the third act that, from late August, totally reversed the imposed direction of the two preceding months.
Such was the situation in September, when arrived all the best a "vigneron" can wish for his vineyards: North wind, dry and sunny weather, moderate heat... the maturation accelerated and almost exploded as the vineyards were making the most of the water reserves accumulated in July and August. The Chardonnays, especially, progressed very rapidly. The Pinots were not so rapid and that is the reason why, before setting the harvest dates, it was necessary to take into account the unusual cold of July and August and to be patient. We had to wait much more than 100 days after the flowering to be able to taste the fine and concentrated aromas of the grapes that prove their full maturity.
The last anger of the gods: a storm, fortunately with no hail or heavy rains, hit Burgundy on September 19th. We witnessed a rare phenomenon occurring only a few times in a century: the outstanding resistance of the grapes. After that stormy episode, we were aware of it as never before. We feared an explosion of botrytis the next morning, as the storm brought hot and humid conditions, but there was in fact no attack of rot neither in the Chardonnays nor in the Pinots. This can certainly be explained by the thickness of the grape skins, which were strengthened by the difficult climatic conditions the vineyards had to face, but also by other factors, more mysterious and not easy to analyze. Our "climats" have their own logic and secrets!
The vineyards could make the most of the wonderful windy, dry and sunny week that followed, allowing the grapes to concentrate and fully ripen.
This makes us understand that the unravelling of the play, i.e. the adventure that we have lived for 6 or 7 months during the vegetative cycle of the vineyards, is unpredictable, whether for the best or for the worst.
Rainy episodes, for instance, that worry the "vigneron" when they happen, may in fact be a delight for the vineyards as they will use the water reserves to accelerate the photosynthesis process and the full maturity of the grapes.
An attack of botrytis can bring the worst, in other words an explosion of the mushroom that can be very rapid in favorable conditions, but also help the vineyards to ripen more easily and completely thanks to the reduction in quantity that it will cause. As a result, the grapes will be of better quality.
In the same way this year, the excessive growth of grass that was the consequence of rainy conditions and that we feared not to be able to control, acted as a buffer that regulated the water supply to the vineyards and certainly played a part in their resistance to botrytis.
The same is true of course when conditions are favorable. The vineyards never forget anything. So, it is obvious that the exceptional spring had an essential influence on the health of the vineyards throughout the growing season, on their resistance and on the quality of maturity at the end of the season.
We started the harvest on September 16th on a beautiful hot day and stopped them on the afternoon of the 19th because of the storm. We started again on the 20th, accompanied, until the end, by perfect harvest weather: luminous, dry and temperate.
The vineyards were harvested in the following order:
Corton: September 16
La Tâche: September 17, 18 & 19
Richebourg: September 20 & 21
Romanée-Conti: September 19 (morning)
Romanée-St-Vivant: September 21, 22 & 23
Grands-Echezeaux: September 23 & 24
Echezeaux: September 24, 25 & 26
Montrachet: September 22
As always our team of around 80 pickers, all with consummate experience in selective picking, worked attentively, brilliantly directed by our vineyard manager Nicolas Jacob. They eliminated the dried botrytis of August, the berries that had been hit by hail in late June or the "scalded" ones that were dried as well, leaving aside the large berries that were not ripe enough - these would be picked in a later second passage, as we are used to doing.
The grapes that filed past on the sorting table were of wonderful structure, color and taste. In addition, we rediscovered what we had not seen since 2009: a good quantity, one of those which give smiles to the "vigneron" and the amateur!
The Montrachet area had also been lightly hailed at the end of June. At the harvest, the hailed berries had dried and most of them had fallen. On September 15th, the grapes could be considered as ripe, but they were so healthy, that we preferred to wait a little longer.
On September 22nd, the grapes that we harvested were golden-colored, in perfect sanitary condition and ripe. The sugar levels and acidity were in perfect balance. This was a moment of great intensity! We were alone; there was nobody around us, but the crows! In regards to quantity, it is also satisfactory.
The general consensus is that 2014 should produce great white wines in Burgundy.
Vinifications are in progress under the calm and careful supervision of Bernard Noblet and his team. They take place in tranquility, even though there are many more vats this year, more than we have had since 2009. The rises in temperature are harmonious and the color of the red wines stands out. The first devattings show these dark red colors that are always the sign of great maturity. The balance, notably in what concerns the acidity, is excellent.
It is of course too early to give a definitive opinion. We have to wait until the malo-lactic fermentations are over, but we are very optimistic about the future quality of the 2014 vintage.
Once again, the new adventure that we lived in 2014 proves that it is through difficult seasons with "ups and downs" that our Burgundian vines, the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay, produce wines of the highest quality. The "vigneron" has to manage the anguish and anxiety that are usual.
Never more than this year have the two great rules of the game been confirmed: risk-taking is obligatory and what we can call "luck", but which may simply be the smile that the vineyards give to the respectful and loving "vigneron".
2013 Harvest Report
In my previous harvest reports, I often compared the changeable weather conditions that govern the birth of a vintage by referring to "ups and downs", "a chaotic course". I sometimes used the words "fight" or "adversity ". No year more than 2013 deserves to be described in this manner. We will remember it as a year when we often navigated in stormy weather, without knowing until the last moment what the weather gods had in store for us. But we clung to whatever could save us from the wreck. We finally arrived safely and the same gods that seemed to be attached to our loss would have certainly been angry to be deprived of great wines which, in spite of or because of their blows, have just been locked up in our cellars!
The beginning of the Spring was gloomy. May was disastrous due to exceptionally low temperatures, a lot of rain (almost 350 mm in 3 months - there were 250 mm for the same period in 2012 ... and that was already a great deal!) and consequently extremely rare sunny days. This resulted in lots of "coulure" by "filage" (undeveloped grapes) or abortion at flowering time. Flowering was very late: mid-flowering was reached on June 25th only, while it was on June 10th in 2012 and on May 19th in 2011.
This was the most difficult period. We had to fight every day and be vigilant constantly in order to intervene at the right time to win the battle against diseases like mildew that were threatening the vineyards. Our team was totally devoted to this work under the supervision of Nicolas Jacob. June, July and August were better with hot periods, even scorching days in July and August. We experienced heavy storms in July. The Côte de Beaune from Meursault to Aloxe-Corton was hit by severe hailstorms for the second consecutive year. Many vintners lost their whole crop. Fortunately, luck was on our side: the Côte de Nuits was spared.
The return of sunny days and the beautiful Summer that followed were of major importance. They compensated a little of the lack of heat and sun in Spring and permitted the vineyards to make up a little of the lost time and to ripen rapidly at the end of the season, as is often the case in Burgundy, where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can gain up to 1° per week.
2013 is however to be ranked among late years. If we consider the dates of the harvest, it is to be compared to 1978 or 1979. The quality of these two wonderful vintages shows the advantages a long growing season can have when the grapes « simmer » in the soft sun and benefits from a slow ripening, which gives complexity to the wines. Finally in late September, despite all those hazards, the 2013 crop looked very good both in Vosne-Romanée and Corton, reduced of course, but of good sanitary quality. There was a majority of small and not too compact grapes with a good proportion of millerand berries, in summary, all we need to make great wines. The Montrachet that was slightly hit by hail was more sensitive to botrytis.
By September 30th, our white and red grapes along the Côte de Beaune had reached maturity. The grapes of Côte de Nuits needed a few more days. In the meantime abundant rains arrived 'to confuse the issue" on the white wines sector in Côte de Beaune and set off an explosion of botrytis in the Chardonnays. As a consequence we harvested our Montrachet more rapidly than usual on October 2nd. The crop is very small, but we should obtain rich, opulent wines, made in the tradition of the Domaine's Montrachet.
Even if the Pinot Noir vineyards were not affected as much by botrytis, this mushroom progressed due to humidity and warmth which of course guided our harvest decisions.
On the 3rd, we decided to harvest the Corton. Unfortunately on the 5th and 6th abundant rains, sometimes stormy, caused the appearance and development of botrytis. We started picking on the 6th, as scheduled, fearing that the botrytis might explode. Fortunately, in the following days, nature came to our rescue. The weather turned exceptionally cold, almost winter like some days: the development of botrytis was stopped and we could end the harvest calmly with better, although still humid conditions.
At last the famous and long-desired "Burgundian miracle" set in. Between the beginning and the end of our harvest in Vosne-Romanée, despite humidity and cold, sugar contents rose in a level that we no longer expected. This was the proof that, even though conditions during the growing season were difficult, the grapes had kept on ripening. The small yields due to 'coulure 'had certainly much to do with it.
The vineyards were harvested in the following order:
- On October 2nd: Montrachet
There was much botrytis. A very selective sorting was necessary to keep only the "noble rot".
- On October 3rd: Corton
The sanitary condition was excellent. Beautiful small crop, fully ripened.
- On October 6th (afternoon) and 7th (morning): Grands-Echezeaux.
A piercing cold stopped the progression of botrytis.
Then, the harvest went on in dry, almost winter conditions:
- On October 7th (afternoon) and 8th &9th (mornings): La Tâche
- On October 8th (afternoon): Romanée-Conti
- On October 9th (afternoon) and 10th (morning): Richebourg
- On October 10th (afternoon) and 11th (all day): Romanée-St-Vivant
- On October 12th (all day) and 13th (morning): Echezeaux
All along the harvest, a severe sorting had to be done, which slowed down the pace of the pickers. But the harvest was all in all rather rapid, hardly a week in Vosne-Romanée, since the crop was very small, about the same as in 2012, i.e. a little more than half a normal crop.
Once again, the quality of the sorting will have been essential to the quality of the wine. Our harvesters, as well as our staff who put the last touches to the sorting, are, as you know, perfectly experienced in this work. Only the finest grapes ended up in vats. Bernard Noblet and his team could work in peace as vinifications were naturally easy. The grapes were harvested cold and maceration lasted for 5-6 days. After a slow start, fermentations progressed actively producing beautiful pink foam during the 'pigeage' (punching down of the cap). We have the confirmation that the yields are very low, but the wines have beautiful dark colours, fine aromas, with good acidity in the mouth and supple tannins. They are among the most balanced of these last years, but we have to wait for the malolactic fermentations to have a more definite opinion.
You will understand, that if I am late in sending you this report compared to past years, it is because the harvest was unusually late. The vinifications finished on November 4th after putting into barrels the last harvested wine, the Echezeaux. This had not happened for a long time!
Here are the approximate yields:
Romanée Conti ................. 18 hl/ha
La Tâche .......................... 19 hl/ha
Richebourg ....................... 17 hl/ha
Romanée-Saint-Vivant ..... 18hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux ............ 22 hl/ha
Echezeaux ........................ 16 hl/ha
Corton ............................. 20 hl/h
Montrachet ...................... 27 hl/ha