I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 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:
- October 2018
The hot and dry summer of 2018 rolled on into October. Of-course the temperatures slowly decreased, but rain was still a relatively rare occurrence – half a day here or there. The end of October brought the shock of some snowflakes in the last two or three days of the month, but it was another in the sequence of vintages where the leaves clung onto the vines (image, right – Pommard – 11 October 2018) slowly changing into their Autumn colours. The sky was blue and the views were long for much of the month, allowing easy access in the vineyards for removing dead vines and drilling the holes for their replacements. Most domaines replant in the Spring, a small group prefer to plant in the Autumn. The lack of any real storms or strong wind until the grey weekend of the 27th October meant that the colours of the vine leaves could be enjoyed well into the Autumn – most were already lost in 2017 by this time..
- November 2018
On the first day of the month the sun and respectable temperatures returned. The snowflakes of the end of October were completely forgotten as the horses returned to the vines to plough. The middle of the month became more typical, with the arrival of days with cloudy fog, though still dry for the time of year.
- December 2018
December brought intermittent cold and rain – actually quite some rain in the first week – though all was dry again by the middle of the month. Very little in the way of freezing temperatures.
- January and February 2019
At last, frozen mornings – it’s like winter! The end of the month and start of Febuary saw some repeated snowfalls – very picturesque – the snow rarely lasted more than a few days, but there were also repeated mornings of frosts. From about the 10th February came more and more sunshine – that last two weeks of the month regularly broke 15°C and was mainly sunny – two days reached 20°C and some of the vines (right) were starting to ‘weep!’ This warmth also persuaded some insects to already take to the wing. Now you might well expect that this would be a bad thing – too much sun, too early – but the vigneron(ne)s could get into the vines and plough or prune as the soil was becoming quite dry but with continued overnight frosts, despite the warmth of the afternoons, the vines were not yet stirring or weeping when pruned. The melting of the frost in the mornings and the re-freezing in the night actually helped to break-up and aerate the ground – particularly where there was appreciable clay. It was good for the soil, but, of-course, it was also quite dry.
- March 2019
So warm, like February again – at this stage the harvest could be over by mid-August!
- April 2019
This was another year where frost raised its head in April and the bales of straw were lit. Aspersion (water sprays) and candles were in evidence in Chablis where temperatures reached -4.5°C – and on multiple nights too. The Côte de Beaune was touched in the chardonnay but the Côte de Nuits largely seemed to have escaped damage. There was an exceptionally rare coming together of winemakers in the villages of the Côte d’Or; for instance many vignerons lit their straw and candles in Echézeaux at 4am on the 17th April, and by 9am they were barbecuing sausages and drinking together – for a short time even Aubert de Villaine joined this early morning fest.View this post on Instagram
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One vigneron from Vosne confided “I got home at 11am, and honestly, I was drunk! I told my wife that I needed some sleep – and I didn’t wake up until 3pm!” Another vigneronne told me “Yes I was at that BBQ in Echézeaux this year too. In 2018 there were more people with fires than was the case in 2017 – I joined a bit of a ‘fire-party’ in Chambolle Feuselottes with the team of Mugneret-Gibourg in 2017, but not many others did it that year…”
Vigneron(ne)s in the northern Mâconnais reported up to 11 nights of sub-zero temperatures in April – so half a harvest (volume) is commonplace in this region’s 2019s and the producers are more inclined to blame the frost than any later problems with flowering or summer heat. On the other hand, the southern part of the Mâconnais – so mainly around the rocks of Vergisson and Solutré (St.Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé) report very little frost-related losses. As for the Beaujolais, there was some frost in the bottom of Chénas, and producers reported some frost in the southern Pierres Dorées too – mainly affecting the whites – but practically none elsewhere. Prior to the arrival of the frosty April, much of Burgundy was 10 ahead of the average growth in the vines. April stopped that dead!
- May 2019
May began with a little more frost in Chablis – their candles were, once more, fully employed. May was uncharacteristically cool – practically cold – more bales of hay were burned and often questionably, as the temperatures stayed positive! There was warm weather in May, but it only came at the end of the month, too late for the flowering which was 99.9% in June. On the positive side, there was a reasonable amount of rain in the month – water that would be required in the summer!
- June 2019
June started warmer, windier and rainy – which was a shame because the flowering also started at this time. Chardonnay usually flowers first, followed by the pinot. The Chalonnaise was the more precocious, with flowering mainly over by the 10th – Bouzeron excepted – whereas the Côte de Beaune was about mid-flowering (typically where the 100 days to harvest calculations are made), with the Côte de Nuits reaching this mark a few days later. By the weekend of 22-23 June most of Burgundy had finished their flowering – patches in Bouzeron and Chablis excepted. One vigneron from the southern Mâconnais described the flowering as alternately too hot then too cold and that only the later flowering areas (like Milly) had good flowering. There had also been a week of warm weather that prompted the vines to grow much faster – temperatures close to 40°C arrived for the last week of the month, prompting many domaines to alter their work schedules, by starting their days in the vines between 5-6am and finishing at lunchtime!
- July 2019
On the 4th July the northern Mâconnais was hit with hail – not much of a hit on quantity – but as one vigneron noted, it wasn’t good for the plants. Some of Savigny, Corton and Pernand had some small impacts from the hail too. Already by the middle of the month it was very dry here, younger vines with the first signs of hydric stress – the bottom leaves starting to become yellowed. Otherwise the vines were largely in rude health, though a little powdery mildew in some places, oïdium in others, could be found in some chardonnay plots. The heat over 40°C had passed and we were now in the midst of ‘normal’ summer temperatures – 30-35°C. Rain would have been a welcome present for the growers, something which would have increased the speed of maturity and probably brought the harvest date forward to early September – but the rain didn’t come. There were some early signs of veraison by the 20th July, but more generally it was at least a week later. The last treatments and the last haircuts for the vines were largely completed in the third week of July – then all was calm in the vines – though the grapes still looked very tiny.
- August 2019
August started calmly – and still dry. The third week of August brought a few days of storms that lashed France and brought hail (20th August) to the southern Beaujolais. The crus were spared, but not the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages of the south and Pierres Dorées where losses of 50% or more were commonplace. Most of Northern Burgundy, however, remained dry – indeed parched – they had seen practically no rain since early June. Quite a number of producers had decided to plough less in the summer, hoping to hold onto what little moisture remained in the soil.
Save for a few early-ripening plots of young vines, there was to be no August harvest in 2019.
- September 2019
And so it began. The first wave of domaines harvesting their whites usually happens in and around Meursault – it was no different this year. The likes of Lafon and Roulot began harvesting 06-07 September. The weather had cooled to about 20°C – ideal for the early pickers – who were all reporting lower yields in whites (25-40% less), citing, frost plus a combination of poor flowering and dryness for very small grapes with less juice. The harvesting of the reds came almost 1 week later when temperatures had returned to nearer 30°C. The reds too were down in volume (about 20%) and again poor flowering combined with the dry weather were the suggested reasons. On the 11th September, Erwan Faiveley summarised his actions “Our harvest started on Monday in the Côte de Beaune and Mercurey villages, not yet the Givry or the Mercurey 1ers. The whites in Côte de Beaune that were frosted – Bourgogne and Puligny villages, for example – were also harvested, bringing in about 20 hl/ha, but our Bâtard delivered 35-40 hl/ha so we can be very happy with that. One or two vines in the Côte de Nuits are already harvested, including the old vines of Chambolle Fuées. Tomorrow we start in Chablis where we had a welcome few millimetres of rain at the weekend – and there will be Mazis tomorrow too!” Monday 16th brought a wave of Côte de Nuits producers beginning their harvest. Owners in the Mâconnais were reporting harvests of half the size that they experienced in 2018, it was not to be much more in Chablis. Sunday the 22nd brought rain – lots of it in some places. It dried very quickly and probably made no difference to the grapes, but the weather remained changeable afterwards. As we reached this 4th week of September there was still much work to do in the Hautes Côtes, the Côte de Nuits and still some more in Chablis and Beaujolais but most of the Côte d’Or and Chalonnaise was already done – except for Bouzeron – the aligoté is often the very last of the vines to be harvested.