Last year it was relatively easy to make some broad-brush descriptions of the vintage. This year it really isn’t so easy.
- The growing season has delivered very little consistency in terms of yield – it’s very low but not consistently-so. Poor weather at flowering was the starting point, followed by frosts, constant rain, then later came occasional hail and the concomitant disease pressure that made life harder, day by day. The only ‘given’ was that the Côte de Nuits suffered less than the Côte de Beaune. Some parcels have come close to delivering a ‘normal’ yield, while neighbouring vines have offered nothing – for example Jean-Marc Roulot has 50% less volume in 2012 and decided not to bother harvesting 45 small parcels! Meursault certainly suffered, with most of the renowned domaines harvesting near to 20 hl/ha. Biodynamic practitioners were particularly made to suffer, but not just them – the grapes of Camus (for instance) in Charmes-Chambertin, and they have a lot, were almost wiped out.
- Despite the vigneron’s many trials and tribulations during April to early July, the second half of July and August was just about perfect for ripening those few grapes that avoided the attention of botrytis, mildew, oïdium, hail and sunburn. But when to harvest? A few domaines in the Côte de Nuits, mirrored by the great white villages of the Côte de Beaune, chose to get everything in by Friday 21st – before the rain was forecast to arrive – whereas some others (a smaller group) hadn’t even started by Friday 28th (actually the day Clos de Tart started). Laurent Ponsot, always on the edge, begins his harvest today. Harvesting temperatures have not been particularly high, so only those grapes harvested in the mid-afternoon sun (still rarely above 20°C) really benefited from cooling. But what of those grapes…?
- The whites from the Côte de Beaune often needed triage to remove a little botrytis (sometimes a lot!) and to remove the split, dried grapes which had been hit by hail. The skins were reasonably thick, showing plenty of flavour, and there was good maturity too. Fermentations have started quite quickly but there seems no reduction. Probably not the freshness of 2008/2010 but it is very early to be definitive, particularly as the lab results are currently all over the graph-paper!
- The reds: except in one dimension, almost always exceed expectations – at least those expectations that were set by the mid-summer commentaries – the one dimension where expectations were fulfilled was the yield; on average 40% down. Some vineyards in the Côte de Beaune were below 10 hl/ha, the Côte de Nuits generally had more opportunity to reach 30+ hl/ha. The grape size was rarely a match for the tiny caviar-like 2010s, indeed young-vine bunches were pretty large, the older vines contributing much finer clusters. I have to say that the grapes (from many villages) that passed over our triage table were very clean indeed, just behind 2011 in terms of botrytis but with less unripe material to weed-out. Only one parcel from Santenay had botrytis similar to 2007 – still, much better than 2004 – yet others from Santenay were very clean and impressive. So, overall cleanliness was close to that of 2011, but with much better maturity – many from 2011 were chaptalised, that won’t really be needed in 2012 – we had to throw very little away at the home domaine (fortunately! as there was little enough to start with) other than those grapes that had been marked by the hail (click on the example above – also with a little botrytis in evidence). The skins are thick and flavourful too – there will be many very good wines in 2012, just a paucity of bottles…
- Fauna: there was little wildlife on the triage table this year – a rare ladybird, a few earwigs (plenty of those in Gevrey last year) and spiders – perhaps a few more stink bugs than usual.
Almost the last throes of harvesting for the ‘home-team’ was in Le Chambertin (only some Hautes Côtes left to pick next week) you can’t actually see the (three) courtiers fighting for their cases in the pics below (thanks Outi!) but they almost were – one of their customers told me ‘well they certainly earned their commission that day’! Those Chambertin grapes needed a little triage, but had very good ripeness, hopefully not too-much ripeness as overall the clusters were a little less ‘tight’ than the other grapes we triaged – with skins that were a little more fragile than the average – but the lab-numbers look good, so let’s see. The reds I triaged last week are now extracting their colour nicely but only just beginning to ferment. They seem to offer balance and length (as best as one can currently tell) with pHs in the region 3.3-3.5. Let’s see how they develop.