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a few days in the côtes: sun, rain, mildew, coccinelle and damn volkswagens

I’m typing this during my last few hours in Beaune, whilst in the background the traditional lament of the ‘pipes of pan do Abba’ waft from that Saturday market. I’ve had a nice couple of days tasting at some new addresses, and also some car-related issues while I’ve been here. I’ll give you a laugh about the car later…

But, to the vines, and what an incredibly challenging year!
What began as an early starting, and very dry year, has morphed into a very wet one – so far – and the potential for an August harvest has long-since evaporated – actually a little breeze and evaporation would figure in most vignerons’ dreams. Unfortunately a lot of the wet weather arrived during flowering so things are far from uniform. Coulure / millerandange are the obvious results of this, but mildew is rearing its ugly head too.

Anecdotally, no-one has seen so much mildew at this time of year since at least 1993, possibly longer. People are tirelessly spraying then seeing their treatments washed away again (10mm of rain is the rough rule of thumb – after which you assume that your previous efforts have been wasted) and so once more having to treat. For those bio/organic practitioners, most have already made about 10 treatments in 2012 – the majority of them only did 7 or 8 treatments in the whole of 2011! Herein lies another issue – for some types of organic/bio certification, the amount (of active content) you may spray has a maximum over a 3 year period above which you will lose your certification – some are already using their allocations for 2013!

The valley of Savigny is a traditional conduit for wet weather from the west; impacting Pernand, Aloxe and Ladoix too. There are parcels here that are really suffering. One (nameless!) vigneron told me

“We physically cannot do more in terms of spraying. Part of me almost wishes that we could get a dose of hail so we can finally wash our hands of it. Then we can simply blame the hail for having no harvest!”

Interestingly, for those that say Corton shouldn’t be a grand cru, the better exposed vines here are very clean with small millerandes that still have the potential for very high quality – if the mildew remains at bay…

Of-course, all the parcels are different – low lying ones are clearly impacted the most, as noted before, in particular it is the organic/bio producers that have the biggest problems. I spoke to another vigneron this morning (profiled in this site) and asked if he’d made his 10th treatment yet – he smiled and said “No, but then I’m not bio – it’s only five for me so far and I have a little mildew but far and away less than many of my neighbours.”
Clearly in some parts of the Côtes, it will need a ‘vigneron’s vintage’ for there to be anything to harvest at all…

Coccinelle. I reported the abundance of these pretty creatures at the last harvest, and, in private, was roundly criticised by some wine-makers for ‘unprofessional scare-mongering’ – that was my interpretation anyway! For the last months I’ve been tasting the wines, hyper sensitively looking for pyrazines and largely aiming to convince myself that there was nothing there. I have to say at some excellent addresses this week I have encountered, with 100% certainty, wines that are dead-ringers for the tainted 2004s. It hurts me to say it, but now it is clear to me that all the 2011 reds I buy, will only be the result of tasting post bottling…

Damn Volkswagens. Now something to make you laugh.
I hired a car for this trip – my own was indisposed. A nice looking Passat Diesel with a big rear compartment for my purchases! At one domain in Volnay I loaded the car and stood around chatting with the vigneron. I closed the door of the luggage compartment but realised the key was in there with the wine. “No-problem, I’ll retrieve it” was my thought – but the car was completely locked… How can any car, where doors have been opened for loading, simply choose to lock itself?
I called ‘Europcar emergency’ but of-course it was 6pm and no-one would be with me before morning! Fortunately a friend collected me and deposited me in Beaune. Next day at 9:00 a.m. the ‘recovery service’ arrived. After confirmatory telephone calls with VW/Audi it was clear – they could do nothing, the only solution was to smash the window and retrieve the key. Unbelievable on so many levels – I won’t be buying a VW Passat!

Finally, just to show that it’s not always raining!

4 responses to “a few days in the côtes: sun, rain, mildew, coccinelle and damn volkswagens”

  1. JT

    Ok, perhaps now 2011 and 2012 prices will come down!

  2. Roelof Ligtmans

    Hello JT,

    as regards your reaction:
    1) as vignerons have MORE work, it is not very logical that prices should come down, they should rather increase to keep in line with increased cost of production; and
    2) this early attack of mildew does not mean anything with regard to the 2012 vintage quality; if anything, by reducing volumes it may increase quality – if kept in check. And you know what, high quality, small volumes, that is not an environment for price drops…

    Disclaimer: being a wine grower myself, I have no vested interest in price decreases whatsoever ;<)

    In the Côte Chalonnaise growing conditions, while challenging, have perhaps not been quite so dramatic. Most organic growers have sprayed 6-7 times, generally keeping their vines in fairly good shape.

    Oh, and by the way, you will be pleasantly surprised by the 2011 wines, I guess. Bill's ongoing story about pyrazines can not be confirmed south of Santenay.

  3. Ian Westcott

    Hi Bill
    Interested to read your report. Sad to hear that the weather still continues to be so “shitty” it will need a miracle over the next 2 1/2 months to get anything worthwhile.

    The remarks on the cocinelle issues to me , based on my recent two weeks ( 30+ Domaines) tasting tour, seem a bit alarmist and I think that rather than risking to tarnish the reputation of the whole vintage ( which at the Domaines I visited was better and more homogenous ( also I didn’t detect the pyrazines taint ) than I was expecting – not a great vintage but one that will give pleasure in the short to medium term i.e. to me certainly better than 2007 and 2000) you should maybe name names of Domaines where you are convinced there are taint issues.

    Best regards
    Ian

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