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


Chapter 1

Beginning of the white harvest
September 5th 2019

On 2nd September, the first grape bunches were cut at Château Rahoul, Graves, amid great weather conditions. Take a trip to the heart of our vineyards with Frédéric Bonnaffous, Director, Vignobles Dourthe.

Chapitre 2

Start of the reds
September 24th 2019

Vignobles Dourthe’s white grape harvest took place over the first three weeks of September, with the usual window between the first Sauvignon blanc grapes picked 1st September and the last Semillons on the 19th.

Chapitre 3

The red grape harvest follows without interruption
October 24th 2019

Calm has now been restored in the vineyard, with all efforts now turned to the winery to vinify the new vintage. But first let’s look back at the red grape harvest with Frederic Bonnaffous, Director, Vignobles Dourthe.

With a gentle start on 19th September in a few blocks of young Merlot, the harvest took on a steady rhythm in the vineyards from 23rd September to 11th October.

Chapitre 4

Entonnage des rouges
Decembre 19th 2019

While a year of great contrast characterised the vintage right through to the harvest (see previous chapters), everything came together to produce glorious fruit across the entire colour spectrum. Intermittent rain was welcomed with open arms from 20th September, bringing smiles all-around, and redressing sugar/acidity ratios in the grapes. The pristine fruit flourished in these conditions, swelling in just the right measure, despite occasional short volumes which still teeter on average yields.

Roller coaster weather for the first half of the year

After a relatively cool January (0.9°C lower than 10-year average), the soils heated up quickly in the mild temperatures of February and March, resulting in some cases in very early budbreak. The first buds appeared 11th March at Château Le Boscq, and 20th March at Château Reysson; the first leaves appeared 25th and 28th March at Chateaux Pey la Tour and La Garde respectively.

Further to good budburst, the spell of warm weather was only shortlived and cooler temperatures in following weeks and considerably slowed vegetative development.

«Up until mid-June ,the roller coaster weather fluctuated between spring and winter-like conditions. » comments Frédéric Bonnaffous « We even saw a few episodes of frost on 13/14th April, and again 5/6th May. Thankfully, only a few parcels of vines were affected, with very little damage. But there was definitely a general slowdown in development. Any head start we had at budburst was quickly lost. ».

Vine development varied depending on sector and even individual parcel. Flowering commenced from the end of May to mid-June, against a backdrop of changeable weather and vigorous growth (and from 27 May – 7 June at La Garde, depending on grape variety). The threat of coulure, which is not unusual in Merlot, intensified and affected all grape varieties to greater or lesser extent.

Vigilance and prevention

Firmly committed to an eco-responsible viticultural approach – every vineyard is Terra Vitis and HVE (level 3) certified – our work in the vineyard is focused on allowing each vine to find the correct balance with nature, with initiatives including managing cover planting, integrated soil management, canopy management and reducing inputs, tailored to the individual profile of each plot.
As a result of these preventative measures, our vines are meticulously monitored throughout the most critical growth period, and are able to withstand the onslaught of erratic weather conditions. As summer beckoned, the vines were in perfect health.

Heatwave summer, August conditions make the difference

On 17th June, conditions changed dramatically, bringing hot weather and a prolonged heatwave setting in from the start of August. In July, there were no fewer than 22 days in the shade where the thermometer tipped the 30°C mark. From 10th August, the weather took yet another radical turn, bringing cooler nights, and hot and sunny conditions during the day. A rainy weekend promoted clear, even veraison. Day/night temperature variations fluctuated between 10 - 15°C, creating ideal conditions for phenolic ripeness of the red-graped varieties. The white grapes in particular appreciate these cool nights which help to develop the aromas and preserve their natural acidity.

Excellent conditions for the start of the white grape harvest

On Monday September 2nd, 8am, the harvest commenced in the best possible conditions - great weather and great ripeness. Pickers’ baskets were filled with the first Sauvignon bunches at Château Rahoul, only to continue the process the next day at Château La Garde.

« We take particular care to preserve the acidity and aromatic complexity in the grapes, including handpicking in plastic trays to avoid crushing the bunches and early-morning harvesting to avoid the midday heat », explains Frederic Bonnaffous. « At Château La Garde, trials to keep the bunches in cold storage for the first 24 hours, and pressing under inert gas, proved very positive last year, which we will repeat this year. » On the slightly cooler soils at Château de Ricaud, we commenced harvesting around 5th September.

As to the red grapes, the weather forecast for the next few days is definitely looking up. The grapes are perfectly healthy and ripening well. It is still too soon to talk about quality, but the first berries tasted across the different parcels are already showing great promise.

To be continued!

Initial feedback from the winery: high quality whites!

Cool, calm and collected set the tone as we harvested the last Semillon grapes at Château La Garde on 17th September, together with the late-ripening Semillons at Château Rahoul on the morning of 19th September. By this time, the first parcels of Sauvignon blanc were about to complete fermentation in barrel.

Given the high temperatures at the start of September, we did everything possible to preserve the grapes’ acidity levels and aromas, including harvesting the fruit when ideally ripe and early in the morning; pressing under inert gas and cold settling. At Château La Garde, the grapes remained in cold storage for 24 hours before pressing.

The settled musts were then vinified at low temperature, either in stainless steel tanks as is the case at Château de Ricaud, or in barriques at Château Rahoul and Château La Garde. In addition, we have just completed our barrel collection at Château La Garde with a small foudre (wooden vat) vinifying our finest parcels of Sauvignon blanc.

«As soon as we tasted the berries on the vine we had a good indication of the quality of the vintage. Tasting the fermenting musts has only confirmed our initial impressions, with immense freshness, rich and complex aromas and lovely balance. 2019 should make its mark as a great vintage for dry white wines »reveals Frédéric Bonnaffous.

And on to the reds!

«As to the red grapes, we are feeling confident. Given the great sunny weather we had , significant day/night temperature variations of 10 - 15°C and perfectly healthy grapes on the eve of harvesting, it’s all systems go.»

The harvest should be in full swing this week across the majority of our vineyards. Picking began tentatively on the right bank on Wednesday 18th September, for once at Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac with a parcel of young Merlot on early-ripening terroirs. We continued picking the following day in the Médoc, at Château Belgrave, also on parcels of young Merlot grapes.

The weather conditions over the course of the next few daysshould be enough to put the finishing touches to ripening in the Merlots and progress ripening in the Petit Verdot and Cabernets grapes.

With our extremely quality-conscious approach with regards to the harvested fruit, we are committed to rigorous grape selection by eliminating any uneven bunches after veraison, and to selection on the vine during harvesting. In the winery, we employ a combination of mechanical, optical and/or densimetric sorting. In this way, only undamaged and perfectly ripe berries reach vinification stage.

Having scoured the vineyards over the last few days, Frédéric Bonnaffous notes that «the Merlot grapes are sweet, average in size, with marked acidity, richly-coloured skins and high tannins. At this stage, the Cabernets are still small with thick skins and high in phenolic compounds. A few rain showers would be beneficial to speed up ripening».

Stay tuned for the next release of our harvest report.

Welcome rain

After several weeks of hot, dry weather this summer, the grapes were still small by mid-September. We even noticed a pronounced slow-down in ripeness in some of the more vulnerable parcels. Frederic Bonnaffous explains: “We welcomed September rain with open arms. The rain boosted ripening, the skins became thinner as the berries ripened, with well-balanced sugar and acidity.”

Through our environmentally-conscious approach to protecting the vineyard throughout the year, the vines were in perfect health. We harvested with no major concerns. “It is vital to pick the grapes at just the right moment: neither too early, nor too late. We can adjust our schedule depending on the weather and characteristics of each parcel. Flexibility and adaptability were this year key to a successful harvest.”

Calm and collected

The weather alternated cool and warm conditions from April to June and evened out ripening in the different red grape varieties. “We harvested the grape varieties without interruption across the entire vineyard. We stepped it up in the second week with the Merlot and Cabernets arriving in the winery at the same time. We weren’t counting the hours but we were ready!” explains Frederic Bonnaffous. “So at Château Belgrave and Château le Boscq, we finished picking the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon on the same day. At Château Pey La Tour, we harvested the two grape varieties back to back.”

In the case of the sweet wines at Château de Ricaud, conditions were ideal for the vital noble rot to develop. Windy, sunny weather succeeded misty mornings. Botrytis was really consistent across the grapes, and we harvested in two sweeps, finishing 11th October and in so doing bringing the 2019 harvest to a close in the vineyards.

Great colour, great balance

The grape skins, ripened by autumn rain, rapidly released high-quality anthocyanins and tannins. After just a few days we were able to see dark, highly-coloured juices. We alternated between pumping over, plunging the cap and gentle rack and return to extract gently the tannins from the grapes.

 At the time of writing, the first vats of Merlot have already been racked. The wines are rich in colour and highly-scented. The Cabernets are ripe and concentrated, and show a high quality level. They are maturing quietly during post-fermentation maceration. “At Château Pey la Tour and Château de Ricaud, we trialled co-fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, with very encouraging results. Fermented together, the two grape varieties balance each other out perfectly, revealing concentrated tannins and rich aromatics.” enthuses Frederic Bonnaffous.

From the first few days, the wines have shown very attractive colours, and highly aromatic juices on tasting. “We are tasting very well-balanced wines, with well-controlled alcohol and good acidity. The tannins still require some time to mature. We are going to implement carefully controlled macerations to retain elegance and softness.

The next weeks will focus on racking and malolactic fermentation. Tune in for the next instalment at the end of December with the final chapter of the 2019 harvest, after transfer to barrel.

Red grape vinification proves a breeze

The grapes were harvested selectively in a 3-week stretch from 19th September to 11th October. After rigorous sorting, (optical systems in place at Belgrave, Reysson, La Garde and Rahoul; densimetric at Le Boscq and Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac and by machine at de Ricaud and Pey La Tour), ‘à la carte’ vinifications for each individual plot and subplot preserved the characteristics of each site.

In some cases, a few days of pre-fermentation cold maceration preceded fermentation. The juices rapidly gained in colour, testament to the ripe polyphenols. Further to this early stage, as the tannins and anthocyanins were released, cap-punching and light pumping over was employed to gently extract the tannins from the healthy, ripe fruit.

Fermentation was quick and straightforward across the board. After post-fermentation maceration softened the rich, aromatic juices, racking followed from 21st October to 8th November. Malolactic fermentation followed seamlessly, some in new barrels.

Customised ageing

Each one of our estates selects their coopers with care, in the quest for barrels that are perfectly matched to the character of the wines. In the barrel halls at Château Belgrave, Le Boscq or La Garde, as many as ten different coopers may work on a vintage, bringing their unique expertise to our wines, and in so doing enhancing their originality and complexity.

The last batches completed malolactic fermentation around mid-December. After a few days of well-deserved rest in the wineries, January and February will focus on transferring the wines to barrel. The Merlot and Cabernets will be aged separately on the fine lees for 12-14 months, depending on each individual batch, a third of which in new barrel. The future wines will be tasted regularly to closely monitor progress and fine-tune the ageing accordingly.

2019, a great vintage in the making

The white wines are defined by searing freshness, accompanied by notes of citrus and tropical fruits. At Château de Ricaud, the wines are vinified and aged in tank. At Château Rahoul and Château La Garde the wines are aged in barrique, then spend a further 8 months in the same barrels. The lees are stirred weekly, and already reveal expressive, concentrated, typical, complex character.

Loupiac wines reveal great quality, and are straightforward, fresh and fruity. Fermented in barrel, they will spend a further 12 months in barrique.

Tasting the reds before they are transferred to barrel has revealed lovely concentration and rich, fruity body. The Cabernets are unquestionably the stars of the vintage, bringing unparalleled complexity, consistency and intensity. The Merlots are more classic in style and are smooth, aromatic and reveal great all-round quality. Overall, the reds are characterised by fruit intensity, freshness and concentrated, silky tannins, which is already a very promising start!

Look out for our next update in early April for the 2019 en primeur tastings, which once again look set to promise wines of great, if not excellent quality, on a par with the great classic Bordeaux vintages.

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