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This second wine from the legendary 1855 Premier Cru Classé was renamed Le Clarence de Haut-Brion starting with the 2007 vintage, a tribute to Clarence Dillon, who acquired the estate in 1935. Earlier vintages - up to the beginning of the 20th century – carry the name Château Bahans Haut-Brion.
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!
The 2011 vintage is not easy to handle.
Smith Haut Lafitte not only makes great white and red wine from Bordeaux in Pessac Léognan, they are also at the cutting edge of technology. They were one of the first Bordeaux wine producers to begin using optical sorting, which came in handy with the difficult 2011 Bordeaux harvest. Fabien Teitgen, long-time general manager, joined us for a long detailed conversation about what happened at Smith Haut Lafitte for the 2011 Bordeaux vintage.
“In my opinion, 2011 is balanced with a low pH and a medium alcohol level. So for those who picked at the right time, their wines will be balanced, with good concentration and good freshness. This vintage is not so easy to handle. »
Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe, began its 2011 Bordeaux harvest on Monday, September 5.
Jean Guillaume Prats told us that 2011 set a modern record for an early start to their harvest at Château Cos d’Estournel. He added: “It was the second earliest harvest on record. To find an earlier date, we had to go back to 1893! » Although the precise date to begin 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 region, the massive 2011 Bordeaux storm hit the northern Médoc, any hope of waiting has gone out the window. “We had initially planned to start around September 9, with the young vines. After the storm, we gave ourselves time over the weekend to assess the situation and make the appropriate decision: wait and see how it will evolve in the coming days depending on the weather. We are “lucky” that this vintage is extremely early. The damage in terms of phenolic maturity of the grapes should be very minor. If it was a later year, like 2008, 2009 or 2010, the effects would be much worse.
" said Prats
The day starts before sunrise
Château Haut Brion and Château La Mission Haut Brion began harvesting their young Merlot vines on August 29. It’s early for the First Growth domain. To give you an idea of when Haut Brion started picking its young Merlot vines in 2010, September 8. In this vintage, the harvest continued until October 9.
Between the two properties of Pessac Léognan, with red and white grapes to pick, they have a busy schedule. Harvesters begin their day working on the grapes for their Bordeaux white wine, often starting their day before sunrise.
Jean-Philippe Delmas explains why they harvest early in the morning: “The goal of picking white grapes early in the morning is to ensure that the fruit stays fresh. This helps the berries retain their unique, fresh flavors. This year, we picked our white grapes between 7 a.m. and noon. The reason is that at this time of the day, the skin is dry. There is nothing left of the dew of the night. »
Château Lafite Rothschild began harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon from their northernmost plots, located not far from Château Cos d’Estournel, on Friday September 2. 2011. This is one of the first harvests recorded for the property. You will read quotes from many Bordeaux wine producers that 2011 Bordeaux, for many châteaux, will be their earliest harvest on record since 1893! However, producers located in certain districts of Bordeaux have brought forward their harvest calendars even earlier than expected.
Due to the enormous deluge and rain in the northern Médoc, centered near the border of Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, to avoid possible rot problems, many châteaux in this vicinity decided to start picking sooner than they had originally planned. The most notable property is the famous Premier Cru, Château Lafite Rothschild. It is possible that the storm, which dropped half an inch of massive rain in a twenty-minute period, caused flooding in Lafite Rothschild's cellars.
“With our 2011 harvest, we harvested earlier because the cultivation of the vines was earlier than usual, due to the very hot spring. But the ripening weather conditions in summer were cool and cool, so the wine is of a cooler style than a late vintage. The pleasant weather conditions at the end of August and September were very good for phenolic maturity.” Fabien Teitgen from Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
Bordeaux 2011 /The earliest harvest recorded since 1893