2018 Harvest report - This might offer us a new 1947, a legendary vintage!
At the time of this writing, the harvest is over and, as every year, the great painter of the Autumn has settled in our vineyards. Every morning, we discover, a little more numerous and more intense, these trails of pure gold that his brush painted on the vineyards overnight. While in the wineries and in the cellars the tumultuous fermentation of the grapes is giving birth to the wine, the vineyards are preparing for their winter death in this invasive soft and quiet golden tide.
Now, as vineyards and the grape growers are finding peace again, it is important to look back at the turbulence and disorders that affected them throughout the year, and try to bring out the key-factors that contributed to the « building » of this 2018 vintage. A vintage which, as the preceding thousand or so, will be unique, with its own life, not resembling any other... The tasting of fermenting musts has already shown this.
This year again, according to our northern and continental climatic conditions, of which extreme variability we have to regard as normal, there was obviously a homeric struggle in the story that the winegrower lived with his vineyards from March to September... these six months were full of uproar and sometimes fury that must be read as an odyssey. The episodes that seemed in disorder became coherent when the wine, after finishing fermentation, came out of the wine press and suddenly translated them into aromas and tastes that were both familiar and totally new.
Within six months, the following events succeeded one another: the rapid, almost crazy, growth of vine shoots in the Spring, then the appearance of grapes, their fragrant flowering, their « véraison » in summer, their ripening thanks to the full attention of their mother, the vine, and lastly the relief of the harvest... and the peace that followed...
For the greatest part of these six months, we were under the impression that the weather conditions were dragging the vines and us into a crazy ride that we had never experienced so lively before. Even if the hostility of nature was evident and the obstacles in front of us well-known (mildew, heatwaves, storms, humidity and the resulting acceleration of vegetation) their virulence created a scenario that left us breathless at the time of the harvest, one of the most precocious of these last fifty years.
For those who still deny global warming, it is to be recalled that in the 70s the average harvest starting date was October 5th. The average date of these last ten years is September 15th. 2013 remains the only recent vintage that we harvested in early October, on a date that was considered as normal thirty years ago. Even if the progress of vine cultivation and especially of yield control can be part of the explanation, global warming is of course the main factor behind this increase in early ripening.
Winter was cold with negative temperatures in February and March and we had snow until early April. But, surprisingly, budburst occurred as soon as April 10th, in other words early, even if it was 15 days later than in 2017 (this trend was to reverse in summer and 2018 finally gained a short advance over 2017).
It rained a lot in March. Snow melted and important reserves of water formed in the soils and were useful for the rest of the year.
April was beautiful, but very hot with summerlike temperatures up to 33°C. Everything was going fast. By the end of March, pruning was hardly finished and canes hardly tied that disbudding was necessary. We were even obliged to lift vine-shoots up before ending disbudding, which is extremely rare. As a consequence the team had to work relentlessly, even on days off.
In April, vegetation kept on developing extremely quickly. Nicolas Jacob's vineyard team had great difficulty in keeping pace, but they held out despite the rainy and hot weather that brought storms and disrupted work, but also accelerated life around the vineyards - this mysterious and ardent life, result of the combined actions of fauna, mushrooms, bacteria and other microbes surrounding roots and feeding them to produce vine shoots, leaves and grapes with the exaggerated help, this year, of the sun, rain and winds... a bustling, but often discordant orchestra that finally found harmony in the wine, translator of the symbiosis of all those elements.
May and June humid conditions made it difficult to apply the necessary treatments. Rains were frequent until mid-June and in order to be able to treat and plough, it was important not to miss the very rare « windows » of fine weather that permitted the soils and the vineyards to dry.
The pressure of mildew was strong in Vosne-Romanée, the strongest we had known in recent years and the leaves and grapes there were severely « bitten » despite all the efforts we made to protect them. Fortunately, the Côte de Beaune, the Corton and even the sector immediately next to Flagey Echezeaux were almost completely spared.
Uneven rainfalls were another characteristic of the year. Benevolent gods watered the Côte de Beaune at the good times, for instance in August, whereas in Vosne-Romanée the few rainfalls came at wrong times, when the mildew spores were developing, encouraged by morning frosts. Despite all the attention, the quality of men and materials, the attack broke out and one morning we discovered that some grapes were beginning to dry and roast as if they had been attacked by an invisible fire.
The attack was contained, but it had a negative impact and in August, next to the grapes that were ripening, we noticed the dark stains of those that had roasted. At the time of the harvest, those dried parts would be removed. That is the role of sorting. It would be carried out with the greatest care in the few affected areas so that only healthy grapes should end up in the vats.
From mid-June, the trend completely changed. Without any warning, the North wind blew clouds away. Rains stopped and a dry, very dry season began with two heatwaves in August and spikes up to almost 40°C on some afternoons.
In the meantime, flowering occurred very early, in late May, a week ahead of 2017. It was rapid despite humidity and grapes were visibly getting bigger.
By August 15th, sugar contents were already very high, but phenolic maturity was not at the same level and it was essential to wait before harvesting until both maturities, that of sugar and that of phenolic elements (skins, seeds and stems) had converged in the harmony of a balanced maturity. This phenomena of « disconnection » that warm regions are used to, is rare in Burgundy. This element would be taken into account at the time of deciding on the harvest date.
We were amazed at the ability of the vineyard to resist heat. They did better than in 2003 thanks to the water reserves that had accumulated in Spring and to the few storms that brought some water that, even if in small quantity, was sufficient for photosynthesis to function and maintain the sap link between the vineyard and the grapes.
We were all the more surprised to see how the vineyards resisted in 2018 (and it was another important factor in the « building » of the vintage) as the North wind bringing beautiful, dry and warm weather kept on blowing every day from June onward. As a result, we had sun, but it also dried our vineyards. The latter however resisted all the more easily as over the years the biodynamic treatments have increased their autonomy to defend themselves against the excesses of nature.
From August 20th, as is normal at the end of the maturation cycle, the ripening of grapes accelerated. The grapes were magnificent and the berries that we tasted were sweet, juicy and some were « figgy » which is a sign of high ripeness. Skins were thick and black, but aromas were not yet up to our expectations.
The last week of August was hot, but bearable with seasonal temperatures. In a cloudless sky, full maturity was reached at last. On August 31st we began harvesting our Corton (Clos du Roi, Bressandes and Renardes ) - it has been the first time since 2003 that we began so early. Then on September 3rd, one day earlier than in 2017, the picking started in Vosne-Romanée in the following order: Richebourg, Romanée-st-Vivant, Romanée-Conti, Grands-Echezeaux to end with La Tâche on the 12th.
As for Montrachet, it benefited from exceptional climatic conditions: it was spared from diseases and the grapes ripened in a regular, complete and even perfect way. Harvesting took place on September 7th. It was beautiful with quantities that we had not seen for a long time.
The wine that has just finished fermentation is full of promises. It already shows both on the palate and in the nose the characteristic honey and this typical "gras-sec" contained by a delicate minerality that makes of the Montrachet a unique wine.
We will remember this harvest as luminous and almost ideal, due to the beautiful weather that we enjoyed, apart from a small storm on September 7th, on the eve of picking the Romanée-Conti. But we will also remember its difficulties due to the severe sorting in some vineyards and the impression we had to be constantly on « the razor's edge » because of heat and the extremely rapid progression of ripening that resulted.
We cannot help thinking of 2003, the last scorching and ultra-precocious vintage. But contrary to 2003, the heatwave was not so long and the few regular storms brought additional water to the vineyards, besides the Winter and Spring rains. That is the reason why we harvested very ripe grapes that were swollen with juice. Quality is great and quantity is good, without being exaggerated, especially in Vosne-Romanée where the vineyards were hit by mildew. We realized, even before fermentation, that what we had lost in quantity, had surely been gained in quality as far as the density and expression of the wine are concerned .
Vinifications were perfectly carried out by Alexandre Bernier and his team. Musts fermented in vats between 18/21 days. Their richness in sugar, increased by the figgy thick-skinned berries, was such that we had to keep them in assemblage vats for a few days to enable them to finish the fermentation of their sugars.
Everything is over now. I am writing in front of the still radiant vineyards. La Tâche has just been put into barrels. All the other wines have already been taken down to the cellars where, if one keeps silent, one can hear the barrels quietly babbling like babies in their cradles.
Our high percentage of old vines and the efforts we put up to keep their production in balance wih the vintage have resulted in reasonable, even low yields for the red wines in Vosne-Romanée: 18hl/ha for Romanée-Conti. They are more generous in Flagey: 32hl/ha for Grands-Echezeaux and a little more for Corton: 35hl/ha.
No need to be a great expert to be aware today that the vintage is exceptional as regards both red and white wines. It is too early to express a definite opinion about what will be the final characteristics of the wines, but we cannot help finding in them the fruit of 2015 and the extreme ripeness of 2003. This might offer us a new 1947, a legendary vintage if any... but let's remain cautious and content ourselves with the joy of this harvest that nothing in the Spring indicated as finally being so luminous and promising!
DRC ADDS CORTON-CHARLEMAGNE TO PORTFOLIO
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has leased a small parcel of Corton-Charlemagne from Domaine Bonneau-du-Martray, adding another famed white grand cru to its holdings.
As first reported in US publication Wine Spectator, Bonneau-du-Martray is looking to slightly lower its production and estate manager, Armand de Maigret, was seeking a partner to farm the small plot but who would also stick to its biodynamic principles.
Approached by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which also farms biodynamically, the choice seems to have made itself, with de Maigret adding that the domaine’s involvement with the appellation was “very good for Corton Charlemagne”.
The news was confirmed to the drinks business by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s UK agent, Corney & Barrow, where director Adam Brett-Smith said it was a chance for “Aubert [de Villaine] and the team to show their mettle on one of the great white wines of the world.”
The lease adds to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s very small white wine portfolio.
The domaine owns a slice, less than a hectare large, of Le Montrachet, which is one of if not the most renowned white grand cru terroir in Burgundy and, by extension, the world. The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet is likewise one of the most expensive and sought-after white wines in the market.
The addition of white wines from Corton Charlemagne also complements the domaine’s existing red production from the AOC, as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has leased several small plots in Corton from Domaine Prince Florent de Mérode since 2008.
The first vintage of Corton-Charlemagne that the domaine will release is expected to be the 2019.
Vintage Report 2016: A year of extremes that cannot be compared to any other one.
The calm has returned to the Côte after the din of the harvest, the clicking of secateurs and the songs of the pickers. The vigneron lives in his winery where the grapes are turning into wine, rumbling at the beginning and then singing softly. The wineries become the theater where the great concert of the year is playing.
Outside, the vineyards are slowly changing colors as if at night a painter was putting a touch of red here, of purple here and of gold there to create a bright and changing picture that we discover every morning.
The devattings have hardly finished or are close to the end. The wines settle down little by little in their barrels, in the cellars where they are going to live for the 18 months that are so important before the bottling.
The time has come to look back and try to understand the stages of this incredible scenario that took us from the perspective of a total defeat in Spring to a victory that ranks 2016 among the most perfect vintages of these last years.
When a vigneron meets a colleague, how does their conversation begin : "if only the frost in Spring (and sometimes hail as well) had not taken away such a great part of the crop, what an extraordinary vintage we would have got!"
In Spring the vigneron was like Ulysses in the Odyssey when the fury of Poseidon almost made his boat founder in the storm, but fortunately the gods were not all against him and a loving goddess saved him...
The season had not started very well. The winter was very mild without any of these periods of frost or snow that usually clean up the remaining bad miasma of the past year.
As a result, the budbreak was early and took place during a mild and humid weather that lasted during the whole Spring and even until mid-July. 516 mm of rain fell on the village of Vosne-Romanée between January and May! exceeding the total rainfall that had been recorded in the legendary year of 1910 when the harvest was almost totally lost. We were giving up hope that rain would ever stop !
In this context, with so few days without rain, it was very difficult to organize the necessary ploughing and the phytosanitary treatments. We had to take advantage of the short "windows" of dry weather and we knew that, if we missed them, we would be invaded by grass. Above all it was necessary to protect the vineyards from the development of mildew as it was reaching a level that we had never experienced before.
In the Spring we counted around 35 cycles or ''repiquages" of mildew while usually there are very few or even none as in 2015.
At the same time, as if nature had wanted to make us fall from Charybde into Scylla, at the end of April the North wind blew the clouds away and brought the sun which we were all expecting. But in fact it brought three days of strong morning frost and it was with sadness that we found early on the morning of April 27 that our vineyards of Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Echezeaux and Grands-Echezeaux had been devastated by frost. In the following days the young shoots became black, dry and began to fall. Fortunately the Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-St-Vivant and Corton were little or not at all affected by the frost.
The fear of mildew did not decrease. We were obliged to multiply treatments. This fight lasted until mid-july. It was led with total dedication and without any break (on week-ends if necessary) by Nicolas Jacob and his team, and always within our biodynamic practices, using only the two authorized products: copper, in small quantity, and sulphur.
Remaining faithful to the biologic options that we have chosen for more than 30 years now has the consequence of a loss in quantity, since the crop cannot be protected as much as with chemical products, but the gain in quality resulting from the concentration of the elements that constitute the grapes is far superior to the loss.
These conditions were of course not very favorable at the period of flowering. This started on June 9th, which was rather late compared to previous years, but above all it was spread out until June 25th, which made us fear an uneven ripening. This finally did not occur thanks to the heat which finally arrived.
And then, from July 15th, rain stopped and summer weather set in until the harvest and even after.
This dry and hot weather lasted thanks to its best ally, the North wind that kept on blowing almost all the time. Some days were hot, close to scorching, but the danger of real drought that was becoming apparent through some burnt berries that had been the most exposed to the sun was averted by the short rainstorm episodes around August 15th, then by two beneficial rains that arrived at the right time, in early September for the first one and from September 16th to 18th for the second one, only a few days before the harvest.
Rains provided relief to some of the vineyards whose ripening was beginning to be blocked by drought. They also caused the swelling of berries and a good balance between the increase of sugars and the phenolic maturity of stalks, pips and skins...
These ideal conditions also enabled the vineyards to recover after the Spring attacks. Those that had been affected by frost produced new shoots, allowing us to have wood to prune for next year and the hope of a normal crop in 2017.
The vigneron found himself believing in miracles when he remembered the state of the vineyards in late April, after the frost !
These same ideal conditions permitted the grapes to ripen very quickly. Once again, we realized how, at the end of the season in hot weather, our grape varieties could have an extremely rapid increase of potential sugar. At the same time we observed accumulations of anthocyanins and of tannins that were even superior to 2015.
Even though our analysis and tastings confirmed that the crop was already very ripe around September 15th, the outstanding sanitary condition of the grapes led us to take time and wait until the 22nd to harvest our Corton. Being situated in the Côte de Beaune these vineyards are always the first to ripen. We could also benefit from the last small rain.
On September 23rd, we began the harvest in Vosne-Romanee. The picking took place all along in beautiful weather until September 30th, when it ended in a festive atmosphere. The grapes were black, in perfect sanitary condition, full of juice and sugar, without any botytris for the second consecutive year, after 2015. No more fears! We could only hear the songs of the harvesters in the sun and the breathing of the earth that was warming up, while giving us joyfully the fruit that had been conceived.
Here are the harvest dates for each wine as well as the approximate yields:
Corton: September 22nd / 22hl/ha
Richebourg: September 23rd and 24th / 24hl/ha
Romanée-Conti: September 25th / 24hl/ha
La Tâche: September 24th and 25th / 31hl/ha
Romanée-St-Vivant: September 27th and 28th / 27hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux: September 29th / 7hl/ha
Echezeaux: September 9th / 6hl/ha
These yields are medium to normal in Romanée-Conti, La Tâche and Corton which were not affected by frost. They are somewhat inferior in Romanée-St-vivant and Richebourg where the northern part of each climat was slightly hit. They are from 6hl to 7hl/ha only in Grands-Echezeaux and Echezeux only, as could be expected, but finally these yields are rather a good surprise in comparison with the impression of absolute disaster we had in Spring. Moreover the few grapes we harvested were wonderful.
If Montrachet is not mentioned in the above list, it is because it was severely hit by frost. In the Spring we even thought we would have no crop at all. Eventually there were still a few grapes, but in tiny quantity. That is the reason why, with six other domaines owning half of the Montrachet vineyards situated in the village of Chassagne (the Montrachet of Puligny-Montrachet was not so badly damaged), we had the idea to launch what should be an interesting operation based on solidarity: the seven domaines (Amiot, Comte Lafon, Fleurot-Larose, Lamy-Pillot Leflaive, Petitjean and ourselves ) brought what they had harvested to be vinified at Domaine Leflaive. Two casks should be obtained, i.e. about 600 bottles. Each domaine will get back the number of bottles equivalent to the weight of the grapes it brought. Our aim is to have a common label and to put a certain number of bottles in a charity auction.
2016 was a year with two opposite faces: the one we saw in Spring when nature wanted to lay the vigneron low - but the latter of course resisted - and the other one we saw in summer when, on the contrary, the sun remained until the end to bless the vineyards as if it had wanted to help the vigneron win a well deserved victory. We could sum up by saying that nature wanted to overwhelm the vineyards, but decided to spare the grapes that it let ripen in the best possible conditions.
The Burgundian miracle does exist and the vigneron will keep 2016 in mind for a long time... !
But once again we have to look as a whole at the growing season from the budbreak to the harvest We were desperate in Spring and cursed the hostile nature that was directing all its negative forces against us. But today, with the harvest « at home » in the winery, we have to consider that the reserves of water accumulated during this humid period permitted the vineyards to go through, without damage, this period when drought was threatening. We fought against mildew and it left its mark, but we can look at it as a positive factor with regards to the final quality since some 10% of natural thinning reduced the number of bunches of grapes and contributed to concentrate the elements that make the quality of the grapes.
In the winery the grapes, that had just arrived from the vineyards, were perfectly healthy. Almost no sorting was necessary, only a very light destemming. The pre-fementation maceration of a few days was obtained naturally and the vinifications took place peacefully under the devoted guidance of Bernard Noblet and his team who were attentive day and night. The colour of the juice was black on the very first days of the vattings. Aromas that developped during fermentation were exceptionally fine and generous. The fermentation temperatures allowed the balanced extractions that we were looking for. Vattings lasted around 20 days on average.
At the time of this writing, most of the wines have been devatted. They show exceptionnaly profound colors. Behind the primary aromas and spicy characters, we can already perceive the high quality of the grand cru in an outstanding vintage. In the mouth the balance between the fruit, the acidity and the tannins should lead them towards a rare combination of richness and finesse.
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