This year’s excessive weather conditions kept us on our toes like never before. During the first few months we were buffeted between hope and anxiety: the warmest winter on record since 1900, record precipitation in the first half of the season and constant disease pressure in the vineyard, an unexpected window of warm weather for flowering, really fine, prolonged weather towards the end of June and every indication of great quality, and finally, the driest summer in 25 years causing beneficial water shortages, while leaving parts of the vineyard desperately dry. Who would have given this vintage any credit before rain saved the day 13 and 14 September?
Continuous work in the vineyard and the devoted efforts of our teams, not forgetting Nature’s eventual benevolence, 2016, aligning quality and quantity, will be etched in our memories for many years to come as a legendary vintage.
A WARM AND RAINY SIX MONTHS TO START
Heavy, excess rain was the hallmark of the first months of the season across the entire Bordeaux region, replenishing water tables largely usurped during last year’s lengthy, dry Indian summer. With the wet weather came exceptionally mild temperatures, around 2.5°C above seasonal averages. Budburst was good and even across all our vineyards in these favourable conditions, albeit slightly earlier than 2015, 27 March at Château La Garde and 28 March at Château de Ricaud.
As a result, the foliage grew rapidly in the prolonged mild, damp conditions, which in turn rapidly created significant disease pressure. 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 to vineyard management in the run up to flowering. Despite these challenges, all our estates counted their lucky stars to have escaped any of the brutal weather, such as severe hail and frost, that seriously damaged other French regions.
The first signs of flowering appeared at the start of June, relishing a brief window of warm, rain-free weather. Even flowering went well in all our estates, on left and right banks alike.
A VERY SUNNY, DRY SUMMER
The weather changed dramatically 18 June, seemingly set in for the long haul. A prolonged spell of good weather settled in across the whole of Bordeaux all the way through until harvest-time, accompanied by a significant rain deficit compared to the 30-year average. Fruit set followed at the end of June through July in glorious sunny weather with temperatures never too high and very cool nights. This day/night temperature variation promoted the development of phenolic compounds (tannins and colour) in the fruit.
We saw the first signs of veraison on 26 July at Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac and 31 July at Château Le Boscq, its timing linked to the available water supplies in the soils. The vines were increasingly under pressure during the very sunny, hot and virtually dry month of August. Apart from the heatwave conditions sustained 24-28 August, diurnal temperature variation continued to work its magic, although ripening slowed in the very dry weather.
The grapes struggled to swell, and at this stage we anticipated ripening could be halted if the dry weather were to continue any longer. In the vineyard, at the start of September, all eyes focused on the heavens, hoping for rain to give that vital burst of energy to the vines.
SEPTEMBER WEATHER FINALLY ON SIDE
Milder weather in September thankfully tempered the onslaught of a bone-dry August. The weather came to our aid 13 and 14 September, bringing heavy downpours to a vineyard much in need. Of varying intensity depending on locality, with 18mm at Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, and 38 – 45mm in Médoc and Graves, the rain reinvigorated the vines just when it mattered. Despite the storms, no untoward damage was caused.
The Indian summer set in, characterised by abundant sunshine and a decline in average temperatures, with cool mornings and nights. The vines remained healthy in these conditions, which benefited as much the dry white grapes as assisting ripening in the reds.
HARVESTING AT A LEISURELY PACE
We adopted an “à la carte”, highly selective approach to harvesting on all our estates, with frequent breaks.
This was a luxury only made possible by the kind weather. And with warm weather holding out until the end of October, each grape variety and parcel were harvested at optimum ripeness, amid excellent conditions.
In order to retain the natural acidity and freshness of the Sauvignon blanc and Semillon, we decided to commence harvesting early. The first Sauvignons were picked 6 September at Château La Garde, and the last Semillons brought in at Château de Ricaud 27 September, which is pretty average for this late-ripening terroir. Freshness and balance are the signature of these white wines, which mirror the typical character of the terroir to great effect.
Even though the odd parcel of young, early-ripening Merlot was picked towards the end of September, the harvest didn’t really get underway until 3-5 October on the Left Bank. Picking at Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac in Saint-Emilion didn’t commence until 10 October, which was unprecedented for the château. Superb Cabernets and Petit Verdots were able to put the finishing touches to ripening at a leisurely pace. There was no point rushing the harvest for fear of facing the consequences of a slightly harsh edge to the pronounced tannic structure. Harvesting lasted from 12-25 October.
The first tastings reveal rich tannins, concentration and lovely balance in the reds. The Merlots and Cabernets will continue to refine their balance in barrique over forthcoming months. The blends already show every indication of the quality of a great vintage.