September 13th 2016
There can be no better time to visit a wine producing region than in glorious sunshine just 2 weeks before the harvest, following 6 weeks of equally warm weather. We found vineyards in perfect health and the winegrowers in high spirits last week as Johnny Goedhuis and I toured the rolling slopes of the Côte d’Or.
It is fair to say all the growers, and in particular those in the Côte de Beaune, needed a bit of good weather. In the spring of this year they were the victims of the most ruthless frost many growers have seen in a lifetime, and one that they all hope they will never witness again. To put it in context Jean Marc Boillot said he lost 100% of his Bâtard Montrachet and will not be able to pick a single berry in 2016… It is not uncommon to hear of 90% losses in certain vineyards in Meursault, Volnay and Pommard as well as others. So the vignerons of the Bourgogne deserve the good fortune of the past two months, affording them the potential to make some superb wines from the little fruit they have remaining. Let’s hope this good weather continues of the next 4 weeks to allow them to pick in ideal conditions.
Whilst it is always good to consider the future vintage, our main purpose was to gain a sneak preview of the 2015 vintage in advance of our comprehensive tastings and visits in November, which is due to be released in January next year. It is fair to say there has been a certain amount of hype surrounding the 2015 vintage, for the reds in particular. We were not disappointed, there really are some spectacular wines throughout the Côtes. One of the most exciting things about the red wines, is that they not only have a delicious ripeness of fruit, but the majority of wines have all maintained a real impression of appellation integrity. In other words, whilst the sun shone and produced superbly ripe fruit, it was not to excess and the grapes preserved a real freshness. The tannins are extraordinarily silky and fine, allowing each wine to express its true characteristics and origins. What also surprised us last week was the excellent quality of the whites. They are riper and broader than the very classical 2014s, but there is an appeal factor to them which ensures they will certainly provide delicious drinking a little ahead of the 14s, and in our opinion should not be overlooked.
Commercially the growers have a major problem. They know they have a spectacular vintage on their hands, which would in normal circumstances justify a price increase on the 2014s. In addition, they have the impending economic issue of a 50% crop in 2016. For some growers, particularly in the Côte de Beaune, this is fourth vintage in five where yields have been severely hit by either frost or hail. Rumours are that for some estates, particularly for a young grower starting up, their financial position is precarious and it will be imperative that 2017 provides a healthy and abundant harvest. They need to balance their own financial position with the market situation. Prices for great Burgundy have risen over the past few years and the post-Brexit fall in sterling will have a further impact on prices. We had long discussions with all our growers; it is a genuine concern for them and they really do not know which way they will go. Prices for UK clients will inevitably rise if the exchange rate remains as it is today, and certainly the ex-cellars price of most red wines will be raised, but we left with the impression that the growers wish to be as reasonable as possible. The Burgundians always look to the long-term and avoid short-term exploitation where possible, so common sense will prevail.
Most importantly of all, 2015 is a glorious vintage and I can’t wait to return in the first 2 weeks in November to visit all our wonderful domaines and these delicious wines again.
David Roberts MW