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The 2016 vintage
Dourthe vineyards
Harvest 2019    |    Harvest 2018    |    Harvest 2017    |    Harvest 2016    |    Harvest 2015


Chapter 1

On the eve of the harvest
September 6th 2016

While summer weather still prevails in Bordeaux, on the eve of the 2016 harvest the pressure is on in the Dourthe vineyards, a year that will be remembered notably for its contrasting weather conditions. Frédéric Bonnaffous, Director of Dourthe Estates, takes us through the key stages.

Chapter 2

The Merlot harvest now underway following the stress-free dry whites
29 September 2016

As the white wines slowly ferment in our cellars, tensions are running high in the Dourthe vineyards at the very start of the red grape harvest at our chateaux.

Chapter 3

A late harvest for great quality Merlot
19 october 2016

“Who would believe it’s autumn in the middle of October 2016! Exceptional sunny weather and warm temperatures even today provide the backdrop for late, calm and steadily paced harvesting. More importantly, these remarkable conditions have created grapes of excellent quality, with great potential that we now will ensure can shine.” Patrick Jestin

A warm and rainy start to the year

Heavy rainfall was the hallmark of the first months of the year across the entire Bordeaux region, with rainfall well above average until April. The much-needed downpours helped replenish the water table, which was largely usurped during last year’s lengthy, dry Indian summer. With the wet weather came exceptionally mild temperatures, and France’s mildest winter on record since 1900, with temperatures on average 2.5°C above the mean for the season.

In these favourable conditions, budburst began slightly earlier than the previous year on both the left bank (27 March at Chateau La Garde) and the right (28 March at Chateau de Ricaud). Good, even bunch setting appeared across all our vineyards.

As a result, the foliage grew rapidly in the prolonged mild, damp conditions, which in turn soon created significant disease pressure in the vines. Extensive work carried out in the vineyards since the previous harvest, including temporary cover planting tailored to each plot, once again proved its worth at regulating water levels in the soils.

Vine health was well under control, requiring an extremely watchful eye and a methodical approach in the vineyard in the run up to flowering.

Having got through these setbacks, all our estates counted their lucky stars to have escaped any of the serious weather incidents such as frost and hail that seriously damaged other vineyards across France.

Hot, sunny summer, and the driest in 25 years

The first signs of flowering appeared at the start of June and continued to the rhythm of the different grape varieties and soil types. Flowering went according to plan in every way across all our estates, on the left and right banks alike.

The weather took a major turn on 18 June. Good weather settled for the long haul across the whole of Bordeaux and in fact still continues today, accompanied by a significant shortfall of rain compared to the 30-year average.

Fruit set at the end of June and through July took place in glorious sunny weather with temperatures never excessively high and very cool nights. This day/night temperature variation favours the synthesis of phenolic compounds in the fruit.

The first signs of veraison appeared 26 July at Chateau. Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac and 31 July at Chateau Le Boscq. Veraison tends to vary depending on available water supplies to the vine, which became increasingly in demand during the very sunny, hot and virtually dry month of August. Diurnal temperature variation continued to work its magic, notwithstanding the heatwave conditions sustained from 24-28 August.

These dry conditions slowed ripening in the vine, with the bunches struggling to gain in volume in these conditions.

The start of September...

Rain is much needed to support the vine as the red grapes undergo ripening de la petitesse des baies. Volumes are set to be down, given the relatively small berries.

Harvest dates are later than last year:

For the whites on our estates, we began picking the early Sauvignons on 6 September at Chateau La Garde, and we will continue during the second week of September with Dourthe N°1 and Dourthe La Grande Cuvée. We will have to wait longer for the Semillons.

− In the case of the reds, the next few days will be crucial and we have no plans for our early-ripening Merlots until the end of September.

To be continued...
Frédéric Bonnaffous.

“September weather on our side”

“September more than made up for a bone-dry August. Tempered from the outset by cooler temperatures, the weather came to our aid 13 and 14 September, bringing rain to a vineyard much in need.

Varying in intensity depending on locality – with 18mm at Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac-Saint Emilion Grand Cru, and 38 - 45mm in Médoc and Graves – rain revived the vines just when it mattered. Despite the storms, no untoward damage was caused.

The rain gave way to an Indian summer that still lingers today, characterised by abundant sunshine and a fall in average temperatures with chilly mornings and nights. Conditions like these promote healthy conditions in the vines, and benefit both the dry whites and also ripening in the reds. We are now all set to start the promising red harvest…”

Dry whites: the promise of lovely balance by FRÉDÉRIC BONNAFFOUS

“Again this year, our quest for balance and freshness, the hallmark of our wines, will have a huge impact on harvesting dates for each parcel.

The early-ripening Sauvignons on clay-limestone at Chateau La Garde (Pessac-Léognan) and on the clay soils at Chateau Rahoul (Graves) were picked 6-12 September in the cool of the morning. I always focus on preserving the acidity to prevent the wines becoming too heavy. On the later-ripening right bank, at Chateau de Ricaud the Sauvignon was fully ripe by 13 September, while the Sauvignon blanc for Dourthe N°1 and Dourthe La Grande Cuvee was ripe by week commencing 19 September, where harvesting has only just finished. After good even bunch set and good flowering, volumes are good, with similar acidity levels to 2015 and well-balanced musts, and around 12/13% potential alcohol. Aromas are typical of the different terroirs.

“The Semillons are looking very promising and really reaped the benefits of the first two weeks in September. The predominant varietal at Chateau Rahoul, it brought a close to the white grape harvest on the left bank on 26 September, while the last remaining parcels on the right bank were harvested 27 September at Chateau de Ricaud. With good acidity and just the right potential alcohol, this should bring lovely balance to the wines…”

“In the starting blocks for the Merlot”

“With no respite after the whites, we are just starting to harvest the reds. Merlot has without a shadow of a doubt thrived in the great weather. The grape bunches are consistent, with lovely concentrated colour and tannins.They also have good potential aromas, intensified by cooler temperatures over the last two weeks.

A few blocks of young vines were picked 27 September at Chateau La Garde (Pessac-Léognan) and Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac (Saint-Emilion), and 28 September at Chateau Reysson (Haut-Médoc), Chateau Belgrave (Haut-Médoc) and at Chateau Pey La Tour on the right bank. Harvesting will step up a gear next week as the weather continues to hold. The vines are in good health so we are in no rush and are only picking the parcels or micro-parcels when they are ripe.”

To be continued…

“Ideal weather creating Merlot grapes of great potential”

“We were under no pressure to harvest the Merlot. The excellent health of the vines meant we could wait. This year, the high tannic concentration has therefore benefited from the lasting Indian summer during the first two weeks of October to slowly complete ripening.

The harvest really started between 3-5 October on the Left Bank - at Châteaux Belgrave and Reysson in Haut-Médoc, Le Boscq in Saint-Estèphe, La Garde in Pessac-Léognan and Rahoul in Graves - though we had to wait until 10 October to start picking at Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac in Saint-Emilion - a first for the château!

Harvesting is carried selectively “à la carte” at all our properties, with frequent pauses. Harvesting the Merlot for some of our chateaux came to a close towards the end of last week (14 October for Chateaux Belgrave, Reysson, La Garde, de Ricaud, Pey La Tour and 15 October for Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac.).

In every case, the Merlot is beautifully ripe, rich in tannins and highly coloured. Lovely balance is characterised by relatively low levels of malic acidity but higher pH levels than in 2014.

Volumes are also looking good. The first tastings revealed very good to magnificent quality Merlot across all our estates, and it’s not over yet!”

Heading for record finishing dates?

“The Petit Verdot ripened as expected on the early-ripening gravel soils. Harvesting took place 12 October at Chateau La Garde and Chateau Le Boscq. Watch this space for the other chateaux…

As to the Cabernets… They have continued and still continue to ripen slowly but surely. There was absolutely no point rushing to harvest for fear of being penalised with a slightly harsh edge to the pronounced tannic structure. Only the early-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon at Chateau Rahoul and Cabernet Franc at Chateau Reysson arrived in the winery 8 and 11 October respectively.

We start this week the Cabernet Franc at Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac and Cabernet Sauvignon in the remaining Dourthe vineyards, which include extensive plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank. The Indian summer is drawing to a close but since the weather is still mild and the vines in perfect health, just like with the Merlot, we are in a position to wait for optimum ripeness before harvesting.”

To be continued…

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