The weather and its consequences
One of the characteristics of 2011 was an extremely dry spring. Based on the measured rainfall in April, May and June this was the driest spring since 1949.The experienced wine lover may say that since the vine must suffer, this lack of water was a positive development. Indeed, it would have been had not two days of intense heat (June 26 and 27) arrived at the end of spring.Because of this, the circulation system in the wooden parts of the vine was partially or totally damaged by dehydration. In several places, the circulation of sap was slowed down, and in some places stopped.
Even if flowering occurred nearly a month in advance, we began harvesting on almost the same dates as in 2010. Therefore, the vine had an extra month between June and the start of picking to produce optimal maturity. Happily, summer brought some rain which allowed the vine to continue its growth. August was much cooler, with even more rain than usual. With a dry September, we were able to harvest in optimal conditions. As for the white grapes in our Pessac vineyards, the dry conditions ended up hurting the Semillon more than the Sauvignon Blanc. Among the red grapes, the arid spring had little impact on the Merlot; the Cabernets were more sensitive to the dry spell but ultimately, the Cabernet Sauvignons suffered the most. During harvest it was not rare to see green, pink, red, or even shriveled grapes on the same vine.
We decided, as we did in the past, to proceed with a severe green harvest for the Merlot, as well as for the Cabernet Franc. By contrast, for Cabernet Sauvignon we opted for a “touching up” of the vines: cutting away only the very late-ripening bunches, favoring quality over quantity. Regarding yields, here too, Merlot successfully stood up to the year’s very demanding weather; the Cabernets - in particular Cabernet Sauvignon - produced yields that were among the lowest ever seen at our estates.
Harvests, vinifications and assemblages
Faced with such spring weather, the vineyard responded in a surprising way: there was great disparity among vine varietals, and even within a single strain , depending on the soil and rootstock; more surprising still, this variation could be found among grapes on the same bunch...
After analyzing the situation, our growers and our wine makers had to revise their methods to get the best from this vintage. An initial selection was done during hand harvesting. This was the longest picking ever done at the property: harvesters spent an extra-ordinary amount of time with each vine to gather only perfectly ripe grapes. Still, despite their best efforts, some inferior grapes made it to the next stage.
The second selection, at the doors of the vat house proved extremely useful, even essential.
At Château Quintus as at Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, the grapes were placed on sorting tables to manually remove unwanted elements. But here again, despite the greatest care, there was always the possibility of human fallibility and so a third, more exacting selection was necessary.Thus, at Château Quintus an “air knife” sorting machine was used after desteming to blow away anything that was not perfectly round in shape.
At Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion optical sorting machines have been used for the past three years, and these sort not only by shape but also by color.It is estimated that these successive sortings in the vineyard and at the vat house resulted in a loss of around 5 to 10% of the harvest.
But thanks to this process, the oenologist was able to work with homogenous grapes. After a vinification adapted to the quality of the grapes (which entailed shorter macerations than usual) it was time to make the assemblages.
In 2011, as always, the challenge is to create the most harmonious blend possible, with a tannic structure which is evident but does not overwhelm the wine.
We needed more than a month of almost daily tastings, before we found the best blends. Once again, to achieve the desired balance and harmony strict decisions were necessary; this led to a selection of less than 45% of the total harvest for the first wines at Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, and only 30% at Château Quintus.
For the past few years we have continually worked to reduce the vine’s vigor, and thus its yield, but we have also made ever stricter selections from harvest to the final assemblage. All of this with just one concern in mind: quality.
There are some who might argue that châteaux are producing only half as much first wine as they did 20 years ago; this is certainly true for us. However one thing is also certain: in the past ten years our properties have never produced such high-quality vintages!
Haut-Brion Blanc is as renowned as it is scarce, with only about 8,000 bottles available per vintage for a very demanding market. It is often regarded as the greatest white of Bordeaux, although Haut-Brion Blanc’s sibling, Laville Haut-Brion, sometimes equals and occasionally surpasses it. The white vineyards at Haut-Brion are planted to 63 percent Sémillon and 37 percent Sauvignon Blanc, a weighting that gives this wine its particularly plush combination of Sémillon-driven body and Sauvignon-influenced scent of musk. Haut-Brion Blanc ages beautifully.
White Bordeaux does not come much more layered and powerful than this. Strong oak roasted nut notes are evident on the nose but dissipate quickly on the palate. Taut yet shapely refreshing but rich. A large framed wine that manages to find harmony. Alongside exotic touches of stone fruit there are some wonderfully energising fruit characteristics of crystallised lemon rind, grapefruit and lime. Long, complex and very intense without being too weighty.
Château Haut-Brion’s tasting notes : Beautiful yellow colour with green highlights Intense fruity nose, especially white peach and apricot. Subtle truffle nuances come to the fore with aeration. Starts out very broad and opulent on the palate. Full-bodied and superbly balanced, powerful, and long. 42.1% Sauvignon 57.9% Sémillon Harvest from August 18 through 30.
Rainfall: 213 mm Total production Gironde: 5,46 million hl Number of days over 30°C/86°F: 18
Current vintage notes
One of the characteristics of 2011 was an extremely dry spring. Based on the measured rainfall in April, May and June this was the driest spring since 1949. Happily, summer brought some rain which allowed the vine to continue its growth. With a dry September, we were able to harvest in optimal conditions.