Thoughts from a week in Burgundy, by Sam Clarke
WORRYING ABOUT THE HARVEST
The default position for a winemaker is to worry. Constantly aware that their lives are at the mercy of the weather, nothing is taken for granted, and many hours are spent monitoring weather forecasts with fingers crossed. There has been too much warmth and not enough rain, causing loss of sleep. The dry period of July continued into August and some vines are showing visible signs of water stress.
Temperatures hit 90 degrees and both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are further forward than would have been expected a month ago (see right). The predicted harvest date has moved two weeks earlier with 4 to 6th September being most people's prediction.
Thankfully some rain has arrived which has restarted the maturation process and brought the vines to where the growers would like them to be at this stage: showing a perfect balance of sugar, acid and ripeness, i.e. total phenolic ripeness. Vines are fragile things at the best of times and Pinot Noir is one of the most precious of all. It does not like extremes so too dry can almost be as bad as too wet. With happier growers ready to pick, quiet optimistic whispers are beginning to emerge from the Côte d’Or!
Despite the water stress in some cases the vines are in a healthy state as illustrated by the leaves below.
And finally a photo of one of the most beautiful Cabottes that I have come across. These are ancient cabins that in an era before cars, offered a place of shelter for the vigneron in the event of a storm. When the vineyards were planted, the land was cleared of rocks and stones and these were brought to the top of the hill to form the cabotte. This one sits at the top of the Dessus les Gollardes vineyard in Savigny-les-Beaune and is entirely of dry stone wall construction, moving from a height of around five foot six at the entrance to over six foot at the centre.
Aside from the weather, Cyprien Arlaud is worrying about the implications of the success of Burgundy over the past ten years. Blessed with a run of great vintages and the quality of wine making practices, Burgundy has received more praise and attention than it is used to. Prices of certain domaines have moved drastically, and prices and availability of land continue in one direction. It was noted earlier in the year that Charles van Canneyt (Hudelot-Noellat) could make more money from his Richebourg and Romanée-St-Vivant if he were to do away with the bother of winemaking, and just sell off the juice to the various negociants looking to buy quality grapes from the prestigious Grand Crus. Thankfully he chooses not to!
This is very much at the core of Cyprien's preoccupations as this climate makes it all too easy to sell wine at high prices, purely on the name of the vineyard, and not on the quality of the wine. This could result in those new to Burgundy, the very people that need to be inspired, parting with large amounts of money for under performing bottles and a return to the cliché of Burgundy from a generation ago.
The answer? The continued focus on the domaine, over the vineyard. Buy Bourgogne Pinot from a good producer ahead of say Gevrey-Chambertin from the unknown; even if the Bourgogne costs more. For example, Bourgogne Rouge and Bourgogne Blanc cost £80 to £100 a bottle from Coche-Dury.
Cyprien acknowledges the responsibility to continue to show his wines whenever possible, and to preach the doctrine that not all Morey-St-Denis' are the same. Bordeaux has shown that once the market has a perception about an area, it takes a long time to shift that idea. Top producers are arguably making the finest wines ever to have been produced in Burgundy but it is still very possible to buy expensive, unexciting wine.
The 2014s are something that the Burgundians are certainly not worried about. They are now safely in barrel and for both red and white there is a universal consensus that the quality is very high, with some suggesting that it is the best vintage since 2005. We will make judgements about this from October onwards when we will be making a series of visits before the offering in January.