2003 Vintage Report by Domaine de La Romanée-Conti
In Burgundy, it is not always true that exceptionally stressful climatic conditions can create wines of high quality. Yet, it is what happened in 2003 : despite very abnormal temperatures, this year seems to offer great wines, of which, at the time of devatting, we are only beginning to discover the depth.
The 2002/2003 winter was one of the rainiest in the last ten years. This is very important to underline, because the humidity in the deep soil had certainly an effect on the good condition of the vineyards during the summer.
The bud burst was extremely early, followed by a very cold period at the end of April, which caused some frost in the lower areas and, everywhere, a lot of coulure (flower abortion). In May we already knew that the quantities would be reduced and that the harvest would be early as the vegetation was almost three weeks in advance.
From April 20th, a north wind set in with the following effects : almost no rain until the harvest, fresh nights and mornings in May and June, luminous and warm afternoons, all the ingredients that are necessary for making a great vintage, and most important : an extremely early and rapid flowering. Surprisingly enough in such favourable circumstances, we could observe coulure due to the heat that we had experienced at the time of the flowering. As a result, millerandage was significant at the nouaison (berry set) : the yield would be even more reduced than expected.
It is true that the "chief cook" who, in heaven above, prepared the climatic conditions of the year, overdid it when he put the saucepan on the stove : it is regrettable, we must admit, because the vineyards suffered : some of the grapes which were exposed to sunshine "roasted" and younger vineyards nearly dried up and lost their leaves... But the deeply-rooted older vineyards, in great majority, showed their amazing resistance to drought and extracted an exceptional juice from the suffering that was imposed by the sky in 2003.
While in August indeed the glaciers were melting, the rivers running dry, the crops roasting and the livestock trying to survive, the vineyards received the scorching heat with "philosophy". Sometimes, in the evening, they seemed unusually exhausted after facing the exceptionally hot afternoons, but every following morning they would revive and be ready for photosynthesis.
Whereas we hardly dared go out because of the heat, we were filled with wonder at seeing that the vines had retained all the benefits of the smallest supply of water, of the night freshness, of the morning dew, of the two or three storms that broke in July and August, although they did not bring much rain. Each drop of rain was beneficial and in late August, at the time of the harvest, the vineyards showed very green leaves as well as perfectly ripe grapes.
We started the harvest on August 25th ; the sanitary condition of the grapes was exceptional : not a single rotten berry, small berries as described above, ultra-ripe grapes, sometimes slightly "figgy". The only advice necessary for the pickers was to tell them to remove the few "roasted" grapes and above all not to leave anything behind, the yield was so tiny. The picking took place in the mornings only, because the temperatures were still very high in the afternoon.
Here are the approximate yields :
Romanée-Conti ................... about 16 hl/ha
La Tâche ............................. about 14,5 hl/ha
Richebourg ......................... about 17 hl/ha
Romanée-St-Vivant ............ about 21 hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux .............. about 13 hl/ha
Echezeaux .......................... about 18 hl/ha
Average for the reds ........... 16,6 hl/ha
Montrachet ......................... about 33 hl/ha
Contrary to what we had feared, the vinifications went well, without any problems. It was of course essential to let the grapes cool down, because they remained warm in spite of the morning picking. This was achieved at the Domaine and fermentations were rich and harmonious, even though, in view of the high polyphenol contents of the grapes, we did not look for long vatings.
Devatting is ending. La Tâche is being barrelled today. It is too early to determine the characteristics of the vintage and its quality level. What we can say today : 2003 will not resemble any other year. Considering the extraordinary colours and the fruity and flowery fragrances that we can smell in the winery, this vintage should rank among the exceptional ones.
In a year, that will remain memorable for its precocity and unusually scorching heat, everybody is asking the same question : shall we prepare for a radical and irreversible climatic evolution ? Dr Lavalle, the author of one of the most famous books on Burgundy wines : "Histoire et statistiques de la vigne et des grands vins de la Côte d'Or" that was published in 1855, had already the same concern and his reply was NO , using as an argument the evolution of the harvest dates since 1366... In 1420, for instance, the harvest began on August 26th in Nuits-St-Georges ! Cyclic evolutions, YES, climatic changes, NO !