Compleate Bordeaux 2011 Vintage Report: 2011 is a dangerous vintage
“2011 is a dangerous vintage. We lived through draught, rain and a lot of sun, all in that order. The draught did not impact our vineyard very much, because we have different terroirs. With each terroir, we performed specific work in the vineyards and we were lucky in our choices. The entire Right Bank of Bordeaux seems to be a success so far and yes, this includes not just St. Emilion, but Pomerol as well. From my recent tastings, 2011 Bordeaux seems to be a mix of two Bordeaux vintages; 2007 for the smoothness and 2009 for the maturity and sucrosité” says Jean Luc Thunevin.
In 1989, Jean-Luc Thunevin and Murielle Andraud bought a small 0.6 hectare plot of vines with the dream of making great St. Emilion wine! The name of the estate is personal. Valandraud is a combination of its location and something more meaningful. The Val comes from Vallon de Fongaban. The second part, Andraud is Murielle’s maiden name.
Things have changed at the estate since its birth. With more land and more importantly, the Bordeaux wine of Valandraud is made entirely by Murielle. 2007 was the first vintage that allowed Murielle to call the shots for the wine making. This was a good move.
2009 Valandraud and 2010 Valandraud are two of the finest efforts from this unique, Bordeaux wine producer. The current 2011 vintage marks the 20th vintage for Valandraud as their first effort was the 1991 Valandraud.
Jean-Luc Thunevin: “We waited patiently, waited for our grapes to reach the right concentration before harvesting. We started on September 7 and managed to finish October 13. This is about two weeks earlier than usual. We normally start about September 20.
2011 Bordeaux is about sorting, sorting and more sorting. We sorted in the vineyards and in the cellars. Since the 2007 vintage, we have been using the Tribaie sorting machine, which allows helps us remove more of the bad grapes based on levels of sugar concentration in the berries. The machine performs densimetric sorting which is based on the desired levels of ripeness and sugar levels”.
The earliest harvest on record since 1893
Chateau Lafite Rothschild started to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon in their northern most parcels, located not far from Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Friday, September 2. 2011. This is on one of the earliest harvests on record for the property. You’ll be reading quotes from many Bordeaux wine producers that 2011 Bordeaux, for many chateaux will be their earliest harvest on record since 1893! However, growers situated in some parts of Bordeaux have moved up their time tables are harvesting even earlier than they previously expected.
Due to the massive, freak, hail and rain in barrage the Northern Medoc, centered near the Pauillac , St. Estephe border, to avoid possible problems with the onset rot, many chateau in that vicinity have decided to start picking earlier than they had originally planned on. The most notable property is the famed First Growth, Chateau Lafite Rothschild. It is possible that the storm, which dropped over a massive, half inch of rain in a twenty minute period caused some flooding to the cellars of Lafite Rothschild.
“With our 2011 harvest, we harvested earlier because the growing of the vines was earlier than usual, due to the very hot spring. But the weather conditions of maturation in summer were fresh and cool, so the wine is of a cooler style than a late vintage. The nice weather conditions at the end of August and September were very good for phenolic ripeness”. Fabien Teitgen from Château Smith haut Lafitte.
The 2011 vintage is not simple to handle.
Smith Haut Lafitte is not only making great white and red Bordeaux wine in Pessac Leognan, they are at the forefront with technology as well. They were one of first Bordeaux wine producers to begin using Optical Sorting, which came in handy with the difficult 2011 Bordeaux harvest. Fabien Teitgen, the long-time managing director joined us for a long, detailed conversation on what took place at Smith Haut Lafitte for the 2011 Bordeaux vintage.
“To my mind, 2011 is balanced with low pH and medium alcohol. So for those who picked at the right time, their wines will be balanced, with a good concentration and a good freshness. This vintage is not so simple to handle.”
Chateau Cos d’Estournel, St. Estephe, started their 2011 Bordeaux harvest, Monday, September 5.
Jean Guillaume Prats told us, 2011 set a modern day record for an early start to their harvest at Chateau Cos d’Estournel. He added, “This was the estates second earliest harvest on record. To find an earlier date, we needed to back to 1893!” While the specific date to start picking was not set in stone, the original plan was not to begin their Bordeaux harvest on September 5. But due to a ferocious storm that swept through the area, 2011 Bordeaux Harvest Massive Storm Slams the Northern Medoc, any hope of waiting went out the window. “We initially planned to start about September 9, with the young vines. After the storm, we gave ourselves the time over the weekend to assess the situation and make the appropriate decision: Waiting and see how it will develop in the days to come depending on weather. We are “lucky” this vintage is extremely early. The damages in terms of phenolic ripeness of the grapes should be very minor. If this was a later year, like 2008, 2009, or 2010, the effects would be much worse.
The day starts before the sun rises
Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion started harvesting their young vine Merlot, August 29. This is early for the First Growth estate. To give you an idea of how early, in 2010, Haut Brion started to pick their young Merlot vines, September 8. In that vintage, harvesting continued until October 9.
Between the two Pessac Leognan properties, with red and white grapes to pick, they have a busy schedule. The harvesters begin their day working on the grapes for their Bordeaux white wine, often starting their day before the sun rises.
Jean-Philippe Delmas explains why they harvest in the early morning: “The purpose of picking the white grapes early in the morning is to ensure the fruit remains cool. This helps the berries to retain their unique, fresh aromas. This year, we picked our white grapes between 7am and noon. The reason is, by that time of day, the skins are dry. None of the dew from the night is remaining.”
Since Patrick Maroteaux purchased Chateau Branaire Ducru in 1988, he has been on a mission to produce the best wine possible from this Fourth Growth estate. While 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2009 are all potential candidates for the best wine yet from Branaire Ducru, I’m willing to place a bet the 2010 turns out to be his strongest wine yet. What about 2011 Branaire? Where does the most recent vintage stand? Patrick Maroteaux fills us in. “We will produce a rather powerful and colorful vintage due to the low ratio between the juice and the skin. So far the tannins seem rather approachable and elegant. The complexity of the structure will probably not be at the same level as the 2009 and 2010 vintages. We can position the 2011 vintage in the category of the very serious wines. We now know for sure that this vintage will show a very interesting balance”.
The 2011 is a great year for Cabernet Sauvignon
Chateau Kirwan located in the Margaux appellation has been on a slow and steady course of improvement since the early 1990′s. In 1991, the estate brought in Michel Rolland as their consultant. Kirwan is managed by Sophie Schyler, who is ably assisted by their winemaker Philippe Delfaut. This is a Bordeaux property that strives to produce the best wine possible. Over the past several years, they restored the chateau and built a new barrel cellar. With the 2011 vintage aging in barrel at the moment, Philippe Delfaut candidly discussed the 2011 Bordeaux vintage and harvest.
“The first part of the season was very promising, with hot dry weather. Then the excessive heat and drought caused withering and scorching of the grapes, leading to reduced yield. Certain varieties such as the Petit Verdot suffered acutely from the drought. The Cabernet Sauvignon withered to a greater extent than the others. The 2011 is an extraordinary year. We are witnessing a heretofore unimaginable development. The alcohol content in the Cabernet Sauvignon is vastly higher than that of the Merlot!
There is no doubt: 2011 is a great year for Cabernet Sauvignon on the left bank. Although the Merlot and the Petit Verdot offer brilliant fruit, one must admit that the taste is somewhat lacking in depth. However, the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon reveal an incredible richness that has never before been achieved at Kirwan. The 2011 Bordeaux vintage is one of contrasts. It’s probably one of a kind!”
The 2011 will certainly be more nervous than the 2009 or the 2010 Bordeaux vintages
Chateau Palmer is on a roll. In fact, they’ve been on a roll since Thomas Duroux joined the team just in time for the 2004 Bordeaux vintage. To find out how Chateau Palmer handled the difficult 2011 Bordeaux vintage, we spoke with Thomas Duroux. Duroux as usual, offered great comments on what is taking place at their Margaux property.
“The first part of the growing season, from bud burst to flowering was very early in 2011. What made a big difference is the speed of the growth and ripening process between the flowering season and the picking. In 2003 for example, the time for this was shorter than normal. The result in certain circumstances cooked the wine’s aromas and produced dry tannins. At this stage we have “normal” alcohol levels: 13 to 13.5 for the merlot and we expect 12.5 for the cabernets. pH are a little lower than last year and the malic acid are low. That means that the final acidity will not be much lower after malo lactic fermentation. The 2011 will certainly be more nervous than the 2009 or the 2010 Bordeaux vintages”.
Complicated summer in Pomerol
With its clay soils and preference for Merlot grapes, Pomerol is usually the first of the major Bordeaux appellations to harvest. But that was not the case with every chateaux in this difficult Bordeaux vintage. Each chateau picks their fruit, at the time they think will allow them to produce the style of wine that offers the best representation of their terroir.
Jean-Michel Laportre of Chateau La Conseillante discussed their 2011 Bordeaux harvest and growing season while explaining what they are seeking to achieve with this tricky vintage.
“Maturity should be perfect. The main interest is that the weather is normally better at the beginning of September than at the end or in October. So, it’s less stressful and there’s less hurry to harvest with more chances to improve the maturity.
The spring very warm and dry. The summer was quite complicated. But the vines went through it quite well. They never really suffered from drought as the growing season began very early. They had the time to get in use with it. It would have been more dangerous if spring was very rainy, and summer very dry and hot. We suffered more in 2003 because of the hot weather. The heat took its toll more than drought. We’ll probably have a better balance than 2009 and 2010. This will be a more classic style for Bordeaux. Alcohol should be lower and acidity a bit higher. This will certainly help the freshness and taste to explode!”
The 2011 is a winemakers vintage.
Chateau Troplong Mondot produced one of the best St. Emilion wines in 2010. But that was a much easier vintage for their limestone and clay terroir. Troplong Mondot is a true family managed property. Christine Valette and Xavier Pariente have been on top of things for close to 15 years. MargauxPariente is now a full time member of the team as well. To find out what they were doing with the 2011 vintage, we spoke with Xavier Pariente.
“The 2011 Bordeaux vintage will be a typical Bordeaux vintage. It is classical, yet distinguished, fruity and well balanced. The characteristics of the 2011 vintage are those of a classical Bordeaux vintage. The wines display medium alcohol content with a good acidity allowing a good ageing of this vintage”.
Hubert de Bouard has been at Chateau Angelus in St. Emilion for 30 years. You’d think by this time, he would have seen it all. But that’s not the case. The 2011 Bordeaux growing season according to de Bouard is unprecedented with its unusual weather patterns. With two estates in St, Emilion, Angelus and Bellevue, plus properties in Lalande Pomerol, La Fleur de Bouard, along with a busy consulting practice, Hubert had his hands full this year
“In 2011, we experienced summer before the spring. The weather conditions this year were quite unprecedented. Spring was particularly sunny and hot, encouraging the vines to develop very early. The weather during summer was relatively uncertain. This meant we had to work on the vines constantly.
The 2011 is a winemakers vintage. More than ever, this year will reflect each winegrower’s keen perception and responsiveness”. Hubert de Bouard