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There are few places where terroir truly affects production but Château Haut-Bailly is definitely one of those. Château Haut-Bailly has a distinctive style that harmoniously combines classicism with modernity, elegance, finesse and softness with structure. The silky smoothness of the tannins echoes the elegant yet complex aromas.
Château Haut-Bailly has great ageing potential and consistently wins praise from experts who agree that it offers complex pleasure and a richness that is neither aggressive nor ostentatious. These are natural qualities which Haut-Bailly is determined to keep.
Each year the team at Château Haut-Bailly works hard at developing the quality of the wines without interfering with nature. Since 1998, thanks to even more stringent selection controls, the wine has gained a greater depth and precision.
The leaves fell late due to the relatively mild autumn, postponing pruning into December. The winter of 2003 will be remembered for its fresh, dry weather with no severe frost (one week of - 10°C in February). A relatively mild month of March with very dry weather into April made budding a little late (green tips appeared on March 16 for the Merlot, March 25 for the Cabernets). Spared by the frost end April (-1°C on 8/04), growth spurted early May after heavy rainfall, of no consequence at this time of year. Attack by parasites remained weak which allowed the first spraying initially programmed to be postponed.
The Merlots began flowering the week of May 16, i.e. 10 days earlier than usual. Rather cool, rainy weather in the first week caused some coulure in certain parcels. Flowering of the Cabernet francs and Sauvignons (May 20 through June 8) suffered less from these conditions.
The summer of 2003 will remain branded in our memory for the exceptionally high temperatures recorded. The growth cycle (closing of the bunches June 25 for the Merlot and June 30 for the Cabernets) began very early with the first week of the heatwave during Vinexpo (June 20-29). Light de-leafing was carried out by some thirty seasonal workers, June 16 through July 14, just plucking out the middle buds on one side of the row. No further de-leafing was undertaken to ensure the grapes had maximum protection from the sun. The véraison (colour-change) in 2003 was early and uniform, around July 20 for the most forward varieties of our old vines and August 10 for the last of the most backward Cabernet Sauvignons. The extreme weather conditions in early August (max. temp. close to 42°C for about ten days) are exceptional for this region. However, the vines did not suffer any violent hydric stress thanks to isolated storms mid-July and mid-August (60 mm rainfall on July 15, 10 mm on August 16 and 45 mm on August 19).
The harvest, fairly well spread so that each parcel could be picked at perfect maturity, started three weeks ahead of average. The young Merlot vines were harvested on Wednesday 3 and Thursday 4 September, the older Merlot parcels on Wednesday 10 and Thursday 11, the Cabernet francs in two days the following week and the Cabernet Sauvignon from 22 to 27 September.
At vatting, rather low acidity (characteristic of a hot summer) caused us to expect difficulty stabilizing the wine. Curiously, during alcoholic fermentation acid levels balanced themselves out probably due to redistribution of the acids (concentrated in the passerillized berries) during maceration.
The grape-berries, undersized and thick-skinned, quickly yielded deep-coloured juice, low in volume. Very ripe tannins, also concentrated in the skins, rapidly helped produce well-structured wines. Maceration, carried out gently over three weeks, gave rise to dense, fleshy substances enveloping powerful tannins. Malolactic fermentation was soon finished since there was little malic acid to be broken down.
Although we knew the Cabernets were capable of withstanding the intense heat, we were astonished to find the Merlots equally well-balanced, fresh, fruity, elegant and long. Generally speaking the wines are powerful, remarkably well-balanced and in our books a great success. On the other hand, as was expected due to the weather conditions, yield is extremely low this year, hardly more than 40 hl per ha (hectare).