2016 The Harvest Insight…

Update 26.10.2016(18.10.2016)billn

From left to right; perfectly ripe chardonnay, pinot beurot (gris) and pinot noir. In the hot, early harvest of 2015, the pinot gris was rarely ripe at (pinot) harvest time. But in this vintage it has kept pace with the chardonnay and pinot noir.
The grapes, above, from Beaune Les Avaux, harvested 24-Sept-2016…

Of-course there is the vintage summary, which can be seen elsewhere in this report.

There is also the harvest diary which can be seen here.

With this page I like to offer you some insight into what was actually harvested, and the initial inferences we might make of the potential qualities of the 2016 vintage. From the outside perspective, there are a few important aspects to 2016:

  • 2016 was a ‘late‘ vintage – usually that implies some pragmatism on the part of the producer, between obtaining full ripeness or getting a decent yield. But 2016 had very good harvest weather – hardly any rain but plenty of cool mornings and afternoon sunshine. Ripeness in 2016 could be delivered without the worry of losing crop to rot, hence, the vintage timing is something of a non-event in 2016. One producer suggested to me that average maturity is between that of 2010 and 2011.
  • 2016 was not just a ‘small‘ vintage, but small in terms of quantity, not the quality of the harvested grapes – indeed 2016 was the ‘lowest yielding‘ vintage since 2003. 2016, together with 2003 and 1991 are the three lowest yielding vintages in the last 30 years. But it is amazing how many people choose to conflate that word – ‘small‘ – even when talking only about yields, with quality, or rather low quality. In 2016 the low yields may have even boosted quality due to some increase in concentration. The grapes I triaged, from across the Côte d’Or (and beyond) were, robust, ripe, tasty, with good sanitary standard and balanced analytics. With a few exceptions from the Côte de Nuits, the incidence of millerandes was relatively low – probably the September rain increased the berry size – but remember a ‘small’ vintage for quantity but not a small vintage for quality – I have very high expectations – but good luck trying to find some! Early tastings of the red musts show a clarity and balance that reminds of 2010. Let’s see how they show in another 12 months.
  • Because of the nature of the frost, mainly affecting the higher and lower-lying vines, there is a significantly disproportionate effect across the crus – Bourgognes and Villages wines are the most affected – less-so the 1er and grand cru vineyards.
  • The only real issue in triage was the dried berries, part due to sun-burn, part due to the drying mildew, that clung limpet-like to the clusters. Hard work to remove for reds, but not an issue for the whites as those grapes were pressed in 2-3 hours and the dried material discarded before it could make its mark.

dsc00844-1Whilst not anything to do with quality, the incurable vine disease, Esca (Esca foudroyant), has taken a higher toll this year than in most vintages – and plenty of vines could be seen (right) where a seemingly healthy plant, laden with fruit, in only a few days turns dry and brown.

These cadavers stand in stark contrast to the green that surrounds them. This is as much a problem in the Beaujolais as it is in the Côte d’Or and Chablis – and in certain parcels in 2016, the mortality approached 10%! Now 10% is not unheard of in the sauvignons of Saint Bris as this variety is one of the most susceptible to esca, but it definitely is for pinot and chardonnay.

I visited the region early on in the harvest phase, and despite some hail, their enthusiasm was high. I actually had a few tons of Morgon to triage myself. Afterwards I kept in touch with a few producers, and their current status is:

dsc01143The quality of the grapes (Morgon, right) was really very good – not surprising, given ideal ripening conditions – just like the rest of Burgundy. “The 2016s will rely more on elegance than power, and show a perfect balance between acidity, fruit and structure … between freshness and delicacy” says Bertrand Chatelet, director of Sicarex (grape and wine research institute based in Beaujolais Villefranche-sur-Saône) – I assume that Bertrand is invoking the bigger, indeed massive 2015 wines for his comparison. The grapes I triaged were certainly ripe and robust with only a little rot to triage – they left a very good impression.

It’s important to temper the good news of the condition of the grapes with reference to the quantity of the grapes. The hail which arrived 27 May affected approximately 2,200 hectares of vines in the Beaujolais appellation, damage reaching 50% or more in those crus. Putting a little (easier to appreciate) context onto that statement; Fleurie delivered somewhere between half to 3/4 of a normal yield, Moulin-à-Vent the same, Morgon 3/4, and poor old Chiroubles only 1/4 of a normal crop…

dsc01085There was hail here too, but much earlier – the end of April – and ripped through Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Veran. There were no grapes to damage at this time, but the hail was very effective in stripping the young shoots from the branches of the vines. Both of those appellations delivered only 1/2 of a normal crop – and that’s more than many expected.

But in the rest of the appellations of the Mâconnais – those Mâcon-Hyphen appellations – it seems that the volume is described as ‘good!

There were contrasting fortunes in the Chalonnaise. Mercurey, had a difficult time, it was extensively frosted, causing the loss of about 70-80% of the potential crop. On the other hand, Rully escaped much of the frost, indeed many producers made more wine in 2016 than in 2015 – of-course, nobody said it would be easy, there was a high pressure from mildew during the early summer and once things dried up, came a little oïdium, but the two challenges were less severe than in some other places, so largely the producers kept to their organic principles.

Côte de Beaune
Starting our journey in Maranges and Santenay, things look pretty good. Here there was (virtually no frost or hail. The yields look pretty good and so did the grape qualities. It was only as you reached the end of Santenay, almost in Chassagne – the Santenay Clos Tavannes – that the frost started to take a grip. From here and across much of Chassagne, yields are very low – even the mid-slope vines such as those in Caillerets, lost about half their production – much more was lost on the flat. Likewise in Puligny, the flat of Bâtard was as frosted as the slope of Montrachet – Caroline l’Estimé of Domaine Jean-Noel Gagnard considered herself lucky to have harvested 1.5 barrels worth of Bâtard – she said a proper yield is 6 barrels – and there’s no living memory of Montrachet losing over 80% to frost.

dsc01488In Montrachet, such were the losses that a number of producers have banded together to make a single cuvée; Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Guy Amiot, Domaine Lamy-Pillot and Domaine Fleurot have blended together all of their grapes harvested in Montrachet – or maybe I should say Le Montrachet, as their parcels are all on the Chassagne side. It is Leflaive who made the first pressing and begin the vinification – but from 1.25 hectares of Montrachet there is only ~2.5 barrels. Customs (douane) rules are complicated and archaic, and they make life very difficult if the domaines want to sell their shared product – but let’s see. I asked Frédéric Drouhin what he thought about this development, and how the yields were in their large ‘Laguiche section‘ of Montrachet; “I think what this group is doing is just great and I am sure there will be many consumers desperate to try for a bottle. This reminds me an old idea we had with other producers of Montrachet: to blend some production of all producers of Montrachet to make about 3 or 4 barrels. Very sadly it did not work because not everyone wanted to participate in this unique wine. Regarding our Montrachet it is not easy to summarise in just one figure. We have the chance to grow 2.06 hectares and the situation differs throughout the vineyards. We have old vines, young vines… The frost clearly affected the potential production as did the drought during the summer. We also took the decision to harvest later rather than sooner, because we thought even if we have the potential degree we did not get enough flavors in our grapes, so by postponing the harvest we lost more volume but hopefully we gained in quality. I cannot give you precisely how much “we lost” for each parcel but it’s between 30 and 70%

Moving onto Meursault, and it is very much a question of ‘where were the vines?’ The large area of villages vines on the flat between Meursault and the Route Nationale were devastated – 70-90% losses are common – and that included the flat lower slopes of Meursault 1er Les Charmes. But on the slopes, the other 1ers and villages did much better – 30-40 hl/ha have been recorded – and that’s not a bad yield in any vintage there. Of-course that assumes that you don’t arrive to harvest your grapes to find that somebody got there before you – there was one case in Meursault Narvaux this year, where somebody picked and stole the equivalent of 3-4 barrels worth of fruit!

dsc06476Volnay was a similar story to Meursault – the flat of the land approaching the Route Nationale, home of the bourgognes and the lower-lying villages-rated vines, was decimated by the frost. To varying degrees, the higher slopes also suffered, but it was to be those Clos in the middle of the village, surrounded by houses – something of a Volnay speciality – that survived almost unscathed. Here the quality and quantity were good. Like very many pinot areas, there was quite a lot of dried fruit to triage – a mix of sun-burn and dried mildew (right).

The mid-slope yield improvement noted in the previous villages was less evident in Pommard and Beaune – many were the 1er cru vineyards yielding 5-10 hl/ha – one frightening statistic for many parcels in this area is that from 2012-2016 (5 vintages) the sum total of each years’ yield, does not add up to what was made in 2009!

In 2016, Savigny’s vines, in the long valley that follows the A6 Autoroute to Paris, looked more like they were still in winter, despite calendar assuring us that it was July. Together with Marsannay and Chorey-lès-Beaune, Savigny was one of the villages worst affected by frost in 2016.

Pernand, like Savigny, was very hard hit but Aloxe and Ladoix generally mirrored what seen on the hill of Corton in general; both the upper and lower slopes were frost-affected, but the mid-slopes delivered reasonable yields.

Côte de Nuits
With the exception of Marsannay that lost about 80% of its whole (normal) production to the frost, the yields were not bad – Chambolle was certainly lower than the average, but for all the famous villages of the Côte de Nuits, it was again the flat areas near the Route Nationale took most of the hits. The effect of the frost was variable on the higher slopes but the vines fared better in the middle – it really is a ‘by producer’ effect, so I’ll cover that in my individual producer reports.

dsc01086Chablis also experienced the frost; it rained here for most of that day, but then the sky cleared and the temperature was already -1°C at 10pm. The vigneron(ne)s of Chablis are old hands at dealing with frost, but this year it was seen in more places than normal – in some parts there was even a little snow to add to the ice on the next day. Then on May 13th came the hail, it was localised around Courgis and Prehy – AOC Villages Chablis – but hundreds of hectares were lost. Then came the mildew – it could be seen on the grapes before the leaves – some older heads likened it to 1956 or 1961. One producer noted that “the mildew was like in text-books this year, I’ve never seen it like that before. In fact it was so bad that most people stopped organics to cope, only 1 organic producer remained in the grand crus this year.

The last ‘full vintage’ in Chablis was 2011, this year the average losses per domaine are 50-80% – but where producers avoided the hail, and were prepared for frost, things were not so bad – which is not to say not stressful – but good yields were recorded in most grand crus, and even up to the maximum allowed in some places. Like most places, the grapes that made it to the harvest needed not too much triage – but only two days after everyone had finished their harvest – there was another frost!

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