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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.
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”.