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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.