It’s not just about the harvest, there are many factors that can influence a harvest, going right back to the growing season and harvest from the previous year:
- Autumn 2015 was, without doubt, the most beautiful Autumn I’ve ever witnessed in Burgundy; the skies were mainly clear and the visibility perfect – if you ever wanted to take pictures as the leaves of the vines turned red, orange and yellow, then that was the time to be there!
- In mid-October 2015 the temperatures plummeted; for any joggers amongst you (me!) hats and gloves were needed in the cold, almost frosty evenings – this lasted for about 10 days – there were even occasional snowflakes in Gevrey-Chambertin, more-so in the Hautes Côtes. But the weather quickly returned to nights of 2-6 degrees and days of 8-15 degrees – also in November and December! ‘Unseasonable’ doesn’t really cover it – the horse (right) was sweating away in the vines in November – his owner told me he’d never seen such a growth of weeds at this time of year. That would be a subject for 2016 too.
- In the first two weeks of December it was possible to work in the vines wearing just t-shirts – at least in the mid-afternoon. Vines that had seemed dormant a couple of weeks before, were starting to weep when pruned – clearly not what the wine doctor ordered!
- January offered no real winter respite until the middle of the month when, for about 1 week, there were a few snowflakes and temperatures as low as about -7°C in Chablis – but one week later we were back to 12-14°C – which is more like April! At least it looked like it would be nice weather for the visitors to Irancy’s Saint Vincent, 30-31 January! Oh-well – perhaps not – heavy rain and quite some gusts of wind too…
- February was more of the same, save for a couple of -2°C mornings
- March was largely as unremarkable as February
April: From one day – to the next…
- April could be a book in itself – this was not a good month in Burgundy. All seemed fine until the 14th when hail ripped through the northern-most vines of Beaujolais (Julienas) and onwards into Pouilly – significantly reducing the potential yields. This was something completely unexpected, as hail is usually a mid-summer danger. The same storm pummeled the Côte d’Or too – but only with rain – much of the flatter land in the Puligny/Meursault area was left in standing water – but essentially the Côte d’Or remained untroubled. The night of the 26-27th brought the defining weather feature of 2016: There was nothing special in the weather forecast, but most of Northern Burgundy was hit by a frost – in some places as low as -5°C. Young, less than 5cm long, shoots were burnt away. This is the single worst frost event in the Côte d’Or for most memories. 1991 is the only one that I remember – apparently 1981 was worse than 1991, but this year’s event was on an even wider scale. Often there was little obvious reason why some rows were touched and others not. Some vineyards were declared as losing 100% while others seemed hardly touched. In living memory, Montrachet had never more than been ‘nipped‘ by frost, but even here, about 70% could have been lost. Chablis was at the same time battling frost, but this is something they are always vigilant for – but outside those grand and premier cru slopes protected by candles, trace heating or water sprays – also there were losses here too. Frpom the frost damage perspective, clearly, when the pruning was done, and how many weeds were between the rows, had influenced the extent of the damage. Late pruners – with the smallest new growth were worst affected – those with vegetation between the vines were also worse affected as the frost could less easily depart. This was especially galling for all those bio/biodynamic/organic farmers – their vines were more touched than those that manage their vines chemically… Such was the extent of the frost that some producers were concerned as to whether they would even have anything to prune to allow grapes to grow in 2017!
- May. Whilst the Winter and Spring had been mild, the weather wasn’t really warm – because of this and the growth-delaying effects of the frost, the growth cycle varied between 2-3 weeks later than the average – and certainly the growth of the previous year. The cool and wet weather was to add to the ‘disease pressure’ – mildew is always a problem if it’s wet leading up to and during the flowering. In 2015 I spotted my first flowers about the 20th of May – this year, everything was later, so there were to be no flowers in May 2016. The last day of May brought a massive hailstorm that ran through Courgis, Préhy and Chichée in Chablis – where the vines were touched was devastation.
- June. Another month that was far from settled, or for that matter warm – 18-20°C was the norm – many growers could not spray against mildew because of the rain. By (presumably) an act of God, the weather became stable during the flowering – mid-month – I estimated that the flowering was perhaps 90% done when a windy, wet storm arrived on the 24th. Summer actually arrived around the 22-23 June with the temperatures for the first time this year coming close to 30°C. But the storm of the 24th dumped a lot of rain – but not before it had hailed parts of the crus in Beaujolais – Morgon and Fleurie took the brunt here. Parts of this storm actually did let loose some hail in the Côte d’Or too – one grower telling me that they had completely lost the fruit in their small parcel of Lavaux St.Jacques – others in Lavaux said they were not affected. It seems that small hail events were going unreported in the context the 2016 weather.
- By July, everyone was spraying, and spraying again against mildew – by this stage the producers had already made more treatments than in the whole of 2015. In most people’s memory, the mildew pressure had never been so high – indeed in Chablis and Champagne – more of their harvest was lost to mildew than even hail. Many, many Organic and Biodynamic producers decided it was ‘synthetic or nothing’ and chose to abandon their principles so that something would remain to be harvested. Given the explosion of weed growth in this vintage – much herbicide was sprayed by people who traditionally don’t. Again unreported, highly localized hail hit in Chassagne on the 13th – but damage was unremarkable in the context of the vintage. Eventually by the middle of July, though, there was some heat and weather stability – this meant that people had more opportunity to try and tame the weeds that were growing in the vines – I and many others had never seen such a growth of weeds.
- In the context of the vintage, August, save for one important facet, was remarkably unremarkable. The weather was reasonably stable, warm and dry – the maturity of the grapes speeded up a little – things were looking no more than 10 days later than an average year for harvesting, though still 4 weeks later than 2015! And the important facet? This stable, warm, sometimes hot, largely dry weather had really saved everyone in the Côte d’Or from a mildew melt-down.
- September 5th brought some respite from a couple of hot weeks – and I mean hot – the end of August had regularly breached the 35°C mark. This day brought 5-20mm of rain and a step-change in temperature – 16°C was nearer the mark. Santenay in south got the 5mm, Nuits and further north got the 20mm. The grape maturity had been moving along briskly, but the hot weather brought the danger of the vines shutting down. The rain, and a slow increase in temperature back up the late 20s°C was as close to perfection as any vigneron could have hoped or prayed for.
- September 13th saw the pickers of cremant producer Louis Picamelot in the vines.
- September 14th saw the pickers of Domaine Hubert Lamy picking their first grapes in Saint Aubin.
- September 16th saw Lafon starting to pick – the last couple of days have brought some (apparently) welcome rain; approaching 40mm in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune.
- September 20th was the start for Thomas Bouley in Volnay, and onwards it continued. The last grapes of the Còte d’Or were picked by the 10th of October, one month later than in 2015. Save for a little weekend rain on Saturday the 1st October, and a little morning chill, this was as benign and comfortable a harvest as I’ve seen due to the friendly weather.
- October. By the end of the first week in October, save a little later-maturing Hautes Côtes, the harvest for 2016 was over. A harvest of benevolent weather and only one day of rain – otherwise cool and sunny.