November 29th 2019
There are so many reasons why I love Burgundy. One of its most endearing qualities is the honesty of the growers in the Côte d’Or. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and will openly tell you about the stresses and strains of the growing season. This was very much the case in 2018. Following three intensive weeks of tasting both reds and whites, I forgot how many times I heard:“It was a year of extremes. I won’t lie I had my worries, but 12 months on, the wines have grown up and truly blossomed…”
A new vintage is always a momentous occasion, marking the arrival of a new generation of wines that reflect a year in time. In 2018 there are some stunning wines. The reds are a delightful expression of the warm summer and most have a joyous autumnal fruit character. The tannins in the best wines reflect fully mature fruit and their fine structure ensures that they do not dominate. The same can be said for the acidity which is light in touch but uplifting in character. These are wines of individuality and balance.
As for the whites, growers in the Côte de Beaune were worried that the warm conditions, which so benefitted the reds, had the potential to be detrimental to the wines’ purity and quality. They had no reason to fear. 2018 is a year of healthy crops and, more importantly, abundant yields. In fact, it was this volume that made the finished wines such a success. Instead of overconcentrated flavours, the wines show enticing white floral fruits, attractive freshness and generosity. Most importantly, they are reflective of their appellational origin.
The 2018 growing season can be split into three parts. Firstly, the winter of 2017 and first three months of 2018, which were among the wettest on record in the region, with almost 20 inches of rain. Secondly, the all-important budburst in spring and flowering in May/June took place in ideal conditions. Vignerons throughout the Côte breathed a sigh of relief; they had escaped the much-feared frosts and risky temperature changes at flowering time that have been the scourge of so many vintages this past decade. Finally, weather conditions remained favourable (barring a solitary freak summer hailstorm in Nuits St Georges) and the region was on track for a normal sized crop, the likes of which many villages had not seen since 2009!
Following the extremely wet winter, the spring and summer months were exceptionally dry. It was at this point that the excess of winter rain came into play. Water tables were higher than normal and well-managed soils and vineyards had retained this vital commodity, allowing the vines access to moisture as and when needed and avoiding any hydric stress.
The other notable factor was a very hot summer with some days of extreme heat. However, unlike the notorious August of 2003, night time temperatures were crucially cool. Sugar levels did rise, but at a speed which allowed the tannins in the skins and seeds to reach maximum maturity and keep acidity levels balanced.
I am sure much will be made in the press about picking dates, for there was huge variation from domaine to domaine: not just from village to village but also from neighbour to neighbour. Some growers started as early as the 25th August while others waited until well into the third week of September. I think that an optimum picking date is a slight red herring. It ignores all the decisions growers make during the vine’s vegetative cycle such as the timing and extent of their pruning, rootstocks, vine clones, vigour and, critically, cultivation practices in the summer months. These all have a significant impact on the ripening process. Every Burgundian grower is different, each with their own firm convictions on the best way to craft fine, distinctive wines.
As everyone we visited happily remarked, the 2018 harvest took place in perfect conditions without a drop of rain. Sorting tables were redundant, and the grapes were some of the healthiest that had been seen for generations, destined to produce wonderfully delicious wines.
Now safely in barrel, it is clear that the 2018 reds are very successful with plenty of cellaring potential. Nicolas Potel is certain that it is his greatest ever vintage in over 30 years of winemaking.
The whites have also been blessed with both high volumes and great quality. My lasting memory of our trip was Jean Pillot’s comment, as we left his cellar in “: “Ah, but David, 1982 was the biggest vintage of them all and what a great year that was. I still have some in my cellar! If the 2018s can do the same, then we are in for a treat indeed!”