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The call of faraway lands. As mysterious and intriguing as a lone adventurer returning from a solitary sail, Cos d’Estournel is slow to reveal itself. Little by little, it evokes stories of distant places, market stalls brimming with unfamiliar fruits, spices and wares, village festivities warmed by the joy of revelers and the setting sun, and sumptuous visions of ladies and their voluptuous curves. A myriad of scents, colors and tastes appeals to the senses. The Grand Vin of Cos d’Estournel is both demure and deliberately sensuous, a fascinating and elegant nectar.
The vineyard of Cos spreads around the château on 91 hectares.The Cabernet Sauvignon vines (60% of the vineyard) find the soil of their choice in the thin layers of gravely soil situated on the top and on the southern slopes of the hill. On the other hand, the Merlot vines (40% of the vineyard) excel on the eastern slopes and on the slopes where the Saint-Estephe limestone bed shows on the surface.
The percentage of Cabernet and Merlot varies from one vintage to another according to the year weather conditions, benefiting successively to the one or the other. Plantation is extremely dense (8000 to 10000 vines per hectare) and the average age of the vineyard is high (35 years old on the average) in order to enable the roots to extend excessively and to obtain a very slender yield per vine that will create the « Grand Goût »
Each vine grower is in charge of 45 000 vines on which they have got to undertake various labours every year. These cultural tasks are for most of them done manually. The harvest is of course manually picked too. And it is by hand that the grapes, once collected in special wooden baskets, will be strictly selected.
Jean Guillaume Prats / Château Cos d´Estournel/ Vintage 2012
2012 Cos d’Estournel marks the end of an era with the Prats families involvement with Chateau Cos d’Estournel. It’s the final vintage for the man who has become the face of St. Estephe estate. Jean Guillaume Prats will leave the property at end of the year for a position with LVMH as the CEO of Maison Estates and wines starting in February 2013. Next, year, we’ll be speaking with Aymeric de Gironde, who will replace Prats at Chateau Cos d’Estournel starting in January.
We caught up with Jean Guillaume Prats for our last interview with him on about the estate he helped build into one of the most famous, respected and expensive wines in the entire Bordeaux appellation.
FINE: Is the 2012 Cos d’Estournel vintage one of the latest harvests in the history of Cos?
Jean Guillaume Prats “We finished picking on October 16. That makes 2012 Cos d’Estournel one of the latest harvest in the history of Cos d’Estournel. It was more than 4 weeks later than last year.”
FINE: Having gone through the growing season and harvest, now that your vats are fermenting, what previous year does the 2012 Bordeaux vintage remind you of?
Jean Guillaume Prats: “Based on the weather conditions, in some ways, it’s a different version of 2003 with the excessive weather conditions over the summer and it also recalls 2002, for the great Indian summer in September.”
FINE: What was the most difficult or stressful part of the growing season this year?
Jean Guillaume Prats “The season had a spring that should not be remembered.”
FINE: Those are strong words! I imagine much of that has to do with the difficult flowering conditions. What special vineyard techniques did you perform this year?
Jean Guillaume Prats “It was important that we cut bunches at veraison time. This allowed us to keep the homogeneity within the grapes, which in turn helped us reach a level of harmonious phenolic ripeness.”
FINE: Did the drought and stress present you with any unique challenges?
Jean Guillaume Prats “No. That is because of the clay in our soil that we are fortunate to have under the gravel in the Cos d’Estournel vineyards.”
FINE: When we spoke earlier in the year, you were worried about the vintage. What happened to change your mind?
Jean Guillaume Prats “We were saved by a strong August and September. When you look at what could have been the scenario going back to June and July, it did not look good. Things turned much better than we previously anticipated.”
FINE: When did you start harvesting?
Jean Guillaume Prat: “We started to harvest Merlot September 27 and completed the picking for the 2012 Cos d’Estournel October 16.”
FINE: How did the October rains effect your harvesting?
Jean Guillaume Prats “We stopped harvesting for one week between the picking of the Merlot and Cabernet.”
FINE: Did you consider waiting longer to at any point before restarting your harvest?
Jean Guillame Prats “We are already close to mid-October. I am not sure what more we could have gained by waiting.”
FINE: Which grape variety gave you the most trouble this year?
Jean Guillaume Prats “The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were top. The Petit Verdot was disappointing this year.”
FINE: For the harvest, how many pickers did you employ?
Jean Guillaume Prats “It takes 130 pickers for the harvest.”
FINE: What are your yields with the 2012 Cos d’Estournel?
Jean Guillaume Prats “We will be at 30 hectoliters per hectare this year.”
FINE: What do you anticipate your alcohol levels will be for the 2012 Cos d’Estournel?
Jean Guillaume Prats “On average, we should reach 13.8% alcohol.”
2012 Bordeaux could be a year where the dry, white Bordeaux wines shine. The berries were picked in September, under optimum conditions. Most producers were done harvesting the white wine grapes by September 25. The same cannot be said for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. This has been a difficult year for the development of Botrytis, due in part to the cold nights. With November closing in, most of the top estates were still nervously waiting to harvest.
The 2012 Bordeaux vintage report.
The 2012 Bordeaux vintage is a year for vineyard management and workers. Call it a winemakers vintage, or change your tune and call it vineyard managers vintage. Either descriptor works perfectly. Wineries with the financial capacity to take the necessary measures in the vineyards during the season, coupled with the willingness to severely downgrade unripe grapes, will produce the best wines. Even then, it will be a difficult vintage with small quantities of wine. From start to finish, the 2012 Bordeaux vegetative season and harvest were stressful for the winemakers, the vines and with the grapes being vinified, the winemakers.
The 2012 Bordeaux vintage did not get off to a good start. After a cold winter and a wet spring, the April rains soaked the Bordeaux wine region. After the April rains, there were outbreaks of mildew, which required spraying. The month of May was warmer than April. Things calmed down a bit in June. All this resulted in late and uneven flowering. This resulted in small clusters of berries that ripened at different times, lowering quantities and requiring serious work in the vines and intensive sorting at harvest.
Although a growing season is never over until it is, uneven flowering never bodes well. Late flowering pushed back the entire vintage by 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the château. Generally speaking, late harvests are not generally a harbinger of good things to come.
If everything that happened up to the end of June didn't offer what happened next offered additional challenges with the 2012 Bordeaux vintage. After an average July, Bordeaux experienced a heat wave torrid weather and drought in August and September which stressed the vines, particularly the young vines. At one point, temperatures soared to 42 degrees Celsius, or 107 degrees! Other days crossed 100 degrees. It was extremely hot and dry. The vines stopped and the vintage was on track to be even later than expected. Towards the end of September, things improved with the much-hoped-for combination of warm days, cool nights and desperately needed rain, which helped nourish the vines. The first few days of October offered reasonably warm temperatures during the day, coupled with cooler weather at night for growers with Merlot ready to pick.
In the Médoc, you had to hurry and wait. Tom Petty could have exploded with “Waiting is The Hardest Part” because producers had to wait because Cabernet Sauvignon had difficulty maturing. It was already October. Conventional wisdom says that at one point there was little to gain by waiting and more to lose, so the 2012 Bordeaux harvest began to take place. Some estates began picking young Merlot in late September, but most held back until around October 1, and a few producers waited a week or more. Most growers brought in all their fruit by mid-October.
Pomerol is usually the first appellation to harvest, due to their Merlot dominated vines. It is interesting to note that the picking took place simultaneously on the left bank on October 1st. Many properties in Pessac Léognan started their harvest before Pomerol. Château Haut Brion began work on their young Merlot vines on September 17th and Château Haut Bailly was not far behind, with a start date of September 27th. Most castles were in the thick of things on October 4, although Domaine de Chevalier waited until October 8.
While the pleasant, cooler weather was initially forecast to continue, on October 8 things changed quickly when massive amounts of rain fell across the entire Bordeaux region. With accompanying temperatures in the mid-60s and higher in some areas, winemakers were concerned about the potential for Botrytis, due to the humid tropical conditions. At this point, the fruit had to be picked, regardless of the state of ripeness. Like last year with the 2011 Bordeaux vintage, maturation was uneven. It wasn't just the bunches that weren't ripening, individual grapes in bunches reached varying degrees of ripeness, making sorting more important than ever. Optical sorting was used more than ever with the 2012 Bordeaux harvest.