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21st Century Vintages

Pinot Noir grapes in BurgundyDavid and Lynne Hammond of Bringing Burgundy to You have over the last eleven years taken visitors on wine tasting tours, introducing them to Burgundy's independent, family winegrowers. Here they discuss the annual vintages and the highs and lows brought about by nature.


Lynne and David Hammond have seen the seasons come and go, observed the precious vines in the vineyards, met and talked to the winegrowers as they work on the land and in their cellars. This contact with winegrowers in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits and Côte Chalonnaise areas has enabled them to compare the different vintages first hand from 2002 through to 2015. Burgundy’s two grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respond differently to the climatic conditions, and with nature and nurture each year brings its own
unique aromas and tastes. The beauty of Burgundy is that inevitably
you will find an appellation or vintage to enjoy.

Will the 2015 vintage be the equal of 2005?

The 2005 vintage is widely considered to be the best for decades. Will 2015 be its equal? Here is what Claude Chevalier, President of the BIVB (Burgundy Wine Trade Body) and Burgundian winegrower says; "We have an excellent year, that I compare with 2005. This 2015 vintage will, in my mind, enter the annals of history".

Hot weather but the right type of August rain

With the harvest finished, the consensus is that grape quality is superb while yields are down again. However the shortfall differs markedly across the region with, on balance, Côte de Nuits suffering more than Côte de Beaune. Some appellations report up to 30% reduction while others are close to normal. A living example of Burgundy’s remarkable micro-climate. The Mâconnais being further south lacked rain and consequently yields will suffer more.

Much of June, all of July and early August were very hot with temperatures regularly in the mid to upper 30s. We had drought conditions and growers in early August were reporting small berries with little juice. And then it rained! Late August saw high temperatures but increased rainfall – steady rain,not short, sharp storms.Weather conditions were ideal in the first 10 days of September, the start date of the harvest for most growers

Now with vinification underway and good, healthy grapes reports are coming in of excellent colour for the reds with good acidity and a freshness in the whites.

Where has all the wine gone?

2015 is likely to produce exceptional wine, but lower yields of recent years still mean that for many winegrowers stocks are low. It comes as a surprise, perhaps, that vintages such as 2013 are already limited and 2014 is appearing in restaurants and for tastings. Fortunately, 2014, was a year with closer to average yields, which may help mitigate the very low yields of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 - to a small extent.

Although 50% of Burgundy wine is sold within France the historic UK export market has seen a remarkable drop in quantity from 20 million bottles in 2011 down to 11 million in 2014. The BIVB believes the cause is the rise in price of Chablis and Mâcon wines (the two most popular in quantity for the UK market) above the symbolic £10 mark. However, overall price increases have averaged out at 5% - not a particularly significant figure. Fortunately, other export markets notably the USA and Asia are taking up the slack resulting in an overall small 4% fall in export volumes.Overseas, Burgundy retains its high quality image.

2013 a year of challenges, heartache but also success

Meursault ©BIVB Gadenne2013 has been a challenging year for the wine growers of Burgundy. Despite the gloomy predictions expressed by many commentators – not all of whom have actually talked with winegrowers, incidentally - our conversations can best be summed up as yields down again, but quality good.

Overall, the weather has had a major impact. The cold, wet spring resulted in not all the berries “setting” on the vines reducing the number of grapes on the bunch. The hail was devastating, but in a localised area. The storm in late July covered a wider area, around 25kms, and at 17 minutes lasted longer than normal. It was horrendous for the Appellations of Monthélie, Volnay, Pommard, Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Chorey-lès-Beaune and parts of Pernand Vergelesses. But neighbouring Appellations, for example, Meursault in the south and Ladoix in the north escaped the hail.

The cold, wet start to summer meant that the harvest, starting in the first week of October, was the latest since the 1980s. This brought its own challenges of low sugar levels but good acidity. Colour for the reds is good.

In Chablis, Daniel-Etienne Defaix describes the vintage as one to forget quickly. Not from a quality point of view but his old vines produced just 25% of average yields. He felt growers, such as himself, whose vineyards comprise mainly old vines suffered more with low yields – older vines tend to produce less anyway, and this year’s weather reduced yields significantly.

In the Côte-de-Nuits, Alain Noëllat of Domaine Michel Noëllat is “satisfied” with the 2013s. We saw the grapes at harvest and they were of excellent quality. Yields, again, are low but the colour extraction is excellent and the wines appear to be well balanced. Fabienne Bony, Domaine Jean-Pierre Bony, in Nuits-Saint-Georges was more concerned with the lateness of the harvest but considered the quality of her grapes to be very good.

Conversely, small Domaines such as Chantal and Michel Martin in Chorey – who as a organic producer have very low yields anyway - were hit with the worst of all worlds and lost around 80% of their crop as their Appellations are mainly Chorey-lès-Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune and Beaune 1er Cru.

In the Côte-de-Beaune it can be described as a tale of two villages. Domaine Dujardin, who for the third year running lost most of his Monthélie 1er Cru red was utterly devastated – but he will still make wonderful Monthélie and Auxey Duresses whites, for example. Literally across the road Alain Coche at Domaine Coche-Bizouard is very pleased with their Meursault and Puligny Montrachet Appellations.

Further south, in Côte Chalonnaise, Rully, Domaine Michel Briday has mixed views on his Rully whites but considers his Bouzeron Aligoté to be exceptional. Rully reds escaped the hail and with good weather for July, August and September will be very pleasant wines.

Lastly in the Mâconnais, Domaine de La Feuillarde is telling the same story of poor spring weather, low yields but good quality.

It is interesting to reflect on a comment too, from Nadine Marcillet in the Hautes-Côtes, that every day she receives numerous phone calls from bulk- wine négociants asking to buy wine! “We’ll take whatever you’ve got” they say!

So, what does all this mean to the Burgundy-lover? Three consecutive years of low yields will impact on the range of wines available to the general buyer. Wines will be released for sale sooner than growers would like. For example, 2012 reds will be available in many Domaines before Christmas and other recent vintages such as 2010 and 2011 are often virtually sold out. We have not yet seen evidence of significant price rises in the Domaines although we can’t speak of what might happen in the retail market.

2013 is a year to sort the men (and women) from the boys. Good, consistent work in the vineyard resulted in good quality grapes at harvest. Good grapes, well-sorted in the vineyard or winery with good winegrowers mean good wines. So, 2013 is a year to rely on winemakers you know or come recommended from sources you respect.

What is sure is that there will be less wine available for general tastings in Burgundy, and for some of the smaller Domaines life will be tough. But good Burgundy growers are resilient.

2011 a surprising vintage

Following a hot, dry spring we experienced a cold, wet period in July and early August with hail in Rully which destroyed up to 100% of their crop. The weather changed again from mid-August resulting in an early, elongated harvest from the end of August to the middle of September. This is the 3rd harvest that has begun in August in the past decade. Burgundy producers are content with the vintage, but again yields are down.

Initial tastings of Pinot Noir from the barrel and wines just bottled indicate that the maturity is not that pronounced and the acidity is low, giving medium body.

However, the fruit is very expressive, with good colour and tender and delicate tannins. It is a pure wine to drink for pleasure and with food and is comparable also to the 2007s which are wonderful to drink now. This vintage will not show its true colours for two to three years, perhaps. The 2011 yields were down on 2009 but slightly up on 2010.

For the Chardonnays, the style is the same but uncertainty remains linked to the maturing in barrels which is more important for the whites than reds. Domaines working in traditional Burgundy ways such as long maturing on the lees have achieved a very good balanced wine and not over-ripe compared to the 2009s. Feedback is that the whites need to be cellared longer before truly appreciating their nuances.

In conclusion the reds to drink young, and whites to be cellared.

2010 A Classic vintage

The year got off to a bad start with adverse weather conditions: Firstly we suffered a severe frost with temperatures dropping to minus 20 degrees C in December 2009. Many vines of the lower slopes and particularly in the Côte de Nuits were damaged as the sap froze and the vines did not re-grow. Many producers thought that the potential yield for 2010 was already severely reduced that night.

Secondly the flowering in June 2010 was not uniform, with some seeds shattering and others flourishing within the same bunch. Later during the season you could observe the uneven ripening of the bunches of grapes, some quite swollen and some minute in size. Thus the yield was reduced further.

Finally at the harvest, sorting was essential with a further 5-15% having to be discarded. In total winegrowers were anticipating 20-25% less in 2010 and in some areas between 30-40%.

Fortunately by the beginning of September, the indication was that 2010 would turn out to be one the most classic Burgundy vintages for 15 years. This is credit to the producers who managed the vagaries of the weather so well. Fate also nudged them in the right direction, helped by low yields without which the year would have been more complicated.

From the beginning of September after a mediocre August, analyses showed an equal balance of sugars and acidity. As often occurs in Burgundy we had a sunny September without too much heat, which allowed the grapes to ripen and retain their acidity and also, due to the small quantities, to ripen quickly. Today it is clear that success of the vintage was due to the professionalism of the producers, and also due to the natural, almost miraculous regeneration of the vine several times within the year. The whites were well balanced, rich, but fresh and concentrated due to the low yields. The quality reds are aromatic with silky tannins.

Despite the challenges of nature Burgundy has produced, in all its regions, a classic vintage - pure, harmonious, rich with ageing potential.

2009 Dreams to Reality

The idyllic weather conditions for 2009 had everyone hoping for an exceptional vintage, and it was, although there is great diversity in the wines across the region. The problem as usual is with those winegrowers who failed to control their yield. Initially everyone was taken up in the excitement of the fantastic weather conditions that were perfect in Burgundy from the 20th July onwards. Everyone was anticipating a repeat of 2005, which had exceptional overall quality, whereas 2009 presented itself as a totally different style, potentially massive in the best cuvées, but elsewhere infinitely more diverse. Throughout the whole of Burgundy the weather conditions were the same, everywhere we found healthy grapes in all grape varieties, good to very good ripeness and rather less acidity than 2005.

The red wines express themselves with lots of richness, meaty textures, silky tannins, very elegant, with less acidity and very approachable. Would they age? Evidently yes! For ageing, it is time to challenge the concept that a red wine must be hard, acidic and tannic and hardly drinkable when. Burgundy’s history is full of similar vintages rich in alcohol, soft tannins, suave without harshness, which have aged magnificently.

The whites are equally expressive, aromatic, rich and full. As they don’t have the structure of tannins and with less acidity, it will be necessary to vinifie these wines in a style that keeps their freshness. The final results will depend on viticultural practices, minerality of certain terroirs, quality of vegetal matter and with the length of barrel maturing. A Meursault grower, who normally specialises in long barrel maturing of 16-18 months for his white wines, took stock in early 2010. For the 2009 vintage he very nearly bottled his wines earlier than normal, worried by their limpness, but he finally decided to let them mature longer on their lees. One year later the wines regained their pure aromas and freshness.

This vintage is therefore potentially great in both colours, but why is it also so diverse? As often is the case it is the yields, which were abundant in 2009. “We hadn’t seen it coming,” reported a highly respected oenologist. “After the storms in mid July the grapes were never really deflated”. One winegrower in Chablis explained that in spite of a poor flowering all that did flower produced excellent grapes.

Nature is no doubt a bit responsible but we think above all that a good number of winegrowers, after a low yields in 2008, felt that with the start of the good weather that it was a time to top up and increase capacity in the cellars with a vintage already receiving good press even before the first bunches of grapes were picked. We did not see many teams in the July vineyards doing their usual first sort with a green harvest and 2009 is the most significant Burgundy production in terms of yields in the last 20 years, after 1999. These impressions are sure to be confirmed by the time we reach serious bottle tastings. However the trick for 2009 is to buy from growers who did control yields and did not rush to bottle.

To drink tomorrow or in 50 years? Burgundy history is full in these vintages with lower acidity and that have been able to cross the decades. We don’t see why this will not be the same for the best of the 2009 reds, which, by their relative softness could equally be drunk young. This applies also to the best whites.

2009 is the most significant Burgundy production in the last 20 years after 1999 in terms of it’s yield.

2008 A sublime surprise

In 2008 the harvest began at its “usual” time (although later than the last 5 years) around the 20th September. Small yields but good, healthy grapes. All our winegrowers were very content. A lot of work had been done in the vineyards, careful nurturing with some green harvesting and also judicious sorting at the time of harvest. Many of our clients commented on the number of grapes, particularly in the Côte de Nuits, were still on the vines in October and November – this was due to their immaturity at the time of the harvest. Also a good year for the Burgundy Crémants which required higher levels of acidity at the time of picking.

After several tastings throughout 2009 it is fair to say that the 2008 wines are superior to those in 2007, particularly for the whites. For the reds the Côte de Nuits is slightly better off than the Côte de Beaune and the Côte Chalonnaise, but with this delicate vintage it will be the competences of each winegrower that will make the difference. The 2008 reds are well-coloured have a good structure, body and a subtleness that will enable them to be drunk younger. However the best appellations are capable of ageing for 10-15 years.

But it is the whites that are the stars and have given us all the best surprises especially for the winegrowers who avoided rushing to harvest. We are not talking of a great vintage but of a very good one. The whites have precise aromas, full of fruit, harmonious, elegant and fine. These are well-structured wines with excellent balance. After the ups and downs of the first nine 21st-century vintages, the winegrowers and oenologists redoubled their efforts and took great care to produce a fantastic range of wines. Bravo!

2007 The year of challenge

What a challenging year for the winegrower! Only time will tell. The weather could not have been so diverse during the year. We had a lovely warm March and April where the vines were galloping away and bursting into bud a month early. Could this year be a repeat of 2003 – an early harvest again? But no, we had an awful summer, cold and rainy with much rot in the vineyards. The harvest eventually started at the end of August and was very protracted finishing at the end of September with low yields. The grapes were maturing at different times in different parts of the Côtes. For many winegrowers it was stop-start, stop-start. However many growers were very pleased with the quality of the grapes at harvest and with good winemaking the 2007 vintage could turn out to be good.

2006 a good year for chardonnay

2006 is summarised as “Le millésime de plasir” a “Vintage of pleasure”. Voluptuous, supple and rich, 2006 are a treat for burgundy wine lovers and even as young wines they are very agreeable to drink. The whites are of equal quality throughout the whole of Burgundy and there are some unexpected surprises from the reds. Thus the 2006 is noted as a “Grand Millésime” for the chardonnay and a “Petit Millésime” for the pinot noir.

The reds: The harvest had hardly finished when some winegrowers pronounced that the weather conditions in 2006 had had an adverse affect of the pinot noirs After all wet conditions are precarious for the fragile pinot noir. However, several months and a few thousand bottles later everything had changed. Although not a great year, a satisfactory year. The pinots are gourmet wines: voluptuous, fruity with a deep and silky texture and well structured. So what happened? It is simply down to the work in the vineyards – debudding, green harvest and smaller yields, strict sorting at harvest time in the vineyards and at the winery. With the elimination of un-ripe or rotten grapes and resulting wines were higher in quality than expected.

The whites: The chardonnays are a real success and the quality is spread throughout all of the winegrowing areas. Those winegrowers that waited and acted at the right moment in the nurturing and tending of their vines and who picked at just the right moment of maturity were highly rewarded. (There had been concern for winegrowers who may have waited too late with over-ripe berries.) For good winegrowers their patience has paid off and now it is us who benefit from these beautiful wines. Tastings during the summer of 2007 pronounced a very promising vintage year. The whites have a rich texture are unctuous, fruity with flattering aromas of peach and apricot. A very good year for Chardonnay.

2005 "Grand MillÉsime” - The best ever vintage?

The greatest reds and very good whites – this is the reaction to the 2005 vintages. Better than 2002? Yes! This applies to all the wine growing areas in Burgundy from Chablis in the north through the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and the southern Mâconnais.

As we reported before the weather conditions were just perfect. Winegrowers had thought that the heat wave during the summer could block the grapes maturation as was in 1976, but the soft rainfall later in the season re-established the balance. Weather conditions were favourable throughout the whole year, dry and largely sunny, with just the right amount of rain and favourable northerly winds. The only shadow was the devastating hailstorm in the south of the Côte de Beaune - Maranges, Santenay and the tip of Chassagne Montrachet in the third week of July. The vines were stripped of their leaves and the grapes punctured and splattered by walnut-sized hailstones. Much of the crop was irretrievable.

 

The first grapes were picked on the 1st September in the Côte Chalonnaise and the rest of the region resumed their normal picking rhythm commencing between the 10th and 15th September. For example, the Hospices de Beaune received its first grapes on the 14th. The sugar content indicated potential alcoholic levels between 12 and 13,5 degrees, but still well balanced with a good level of tannins.

What constitutes a “Grand Millésime” a “Great Vintage”?

A wine named a Great Vintage reveals itself concentrated and balanced. It is generally from, but not necessarily, low yields and early ripening. In all cases it has come from perfect healthy and rot-free grapes.

After the unusual year of 2003 and a trying 2004 it was great to see smiles on the winegrowers faces during the 2005 harvest and now they are grinning like a cat that has found the cream! A wine merchant from Meursault, Fabien Cipriano, reports that many French and overseas clients are coming to Burgundy just to buy the 2005 vintages. Why?

These great reds are silky, rich, elegant, and perfectly typical of what one would expect from classic Burgundy to lay down. The whites are full in the mouth, generous, with notes of ripe fruits and with coated minerality. Really top-notch.

Find some space in you cellar now- and let them continue to mature and develop into the best wine of the millennium (so far)!

Some of the first 2005 that we have tasted include two reds – a stunning rich and silky Rully 1er Cru Les Pieres from Domaine Michel Briday, spicey and concentrated Santenay 1er Cru Les Graviers from Domaine Borgeot and a Monthélie white from Domaine Bouzerand-Dujardin which is rounded and delicate with a touch of toastiness.

2004

This year was comparable to that of 15 years ago where the winegrowers had immense problems with mildew, oïdium and rotting grapes – it could have been devastating. However, later, producers were extremely surprised at the eventual quality, particularly in the Côte de Nuits.

 

Following a normal Spring, the vines were full of buds and set for a large crop. This was good news considering the tough climatic conditions the vines had to endure the previous summer. However August proved to be poor, dismal, rainy and cold for the time of year and mildew was a problem for many growers. Many winegrowers decided to control their yield and reduced the number of bunches on the vines.

 

The 2004 Chardonnay is fresh and fine flavoured, with a good balance between minerality and richness. There were thunderous hailstorms in Volnay, which destroyed a significant number of grapes. As we approached the end of August winegrowers were increasingly gloomy, but the vintage was saved by a wonderful sunny September, where temperatures were above average. Smiles began to appear on their faces and the swift ripening of the grapes and the dry weather kept the grapes in good condition. Now we are talking about a good vintage year!

 

Post script: The pinot noirs for 2004 are just opening up now and we are finding them very fine and elegant – a typical Burgundy style so unlike 2003. Reported by Lynne, January 2008.

2003

2003 was the year of the heatwave, where at night time the temperature was still 25 degrees. Indeed we remember driving home after 10.00pm one evening through Beaune and the temperature read 32 degrees in our car! Winegrowers had no living memory of these difficult weather conditions; you would have to go back over 200 years to find similar records. In addition there were severe, late frosts in April which affected many vineyards We saw temperatures of –7 in Chablis and –5 in Meursault, this was followed by heavy hail on Friday 13 th June, then the temperatures started to rise on 10th July reaching initially 30 degrees in Beaune, then 42 degrees at its peak in August. As we toured the vineyards in August we could see the grapes withering in the heat. On the high slopes they resembled raisins. Due to the fast ripening of the grapes the harvest took place a month early in mid-August. In the Côte Chalonnaise the harvest started on August 13th and in the Côte de Beaune August 15th – never heard of before! Those winegrowers that had machine harvesters benefited from the “cooler” conditions at night, while the pickers had to struggle through day-time temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees!

 

With the combination of difficult growing conditions the amount of yield per hectare was greatly reduced, many winegrowers harvesting 50% less than normal. However the wines were packed full of fruit and deep in colour, the reds resembled New World Pinots. The debate on the balance of this years wines is still out today, winegrowers watching with interest how the wines are maturing in the bottle. Initially the view was that the whites should be drunk quite young, however in a recent article by Bourgogne Aujourd’hui (Jan 2006) the wines found in the south of the Côte de Beaune - Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Saint Aubin are maturing extremely well and are resulting in some superb wines. As for the reds in those appellations, which are big and characteristic of the year, the quantity produced is so small that it will be difficult to find them, not least lay them down!

 

As a guide though 2003 whites can be kept up to 4 years and the reds 5, winegrowers suggest that if you have 2002 and 2003 in your cellar, drink the 2003 first.

2002

2002 proved to be a good year for Burgundy wines and definitely a great year for the Chardonnay. The climatic conditions made for healthy grapes; a warm and sunny summer with an occasional rainstorm and a sunny but fresh September for the harvest with soft northerly winds. On the nose the wines are elegant and aromatic with aromas of flowers and fresh fruit, good minerality and freshness to make a complex bouquet. In the mouth they are exemplary: smooth, full and well rounded, powerful in some cases. These wines will continue to develop and are good for laying down.
 

2002 is the year for the Côte de Nuits, in particular Gevrey-Chambertin and in the northern Côte de Beaune villages of Aloxe, Ladoix and Savigny. For both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the Hautes Côtes de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Nuits have also produced good quality wines, where their alcohol levels were slightly higher than usual. These you will find very fruity with soft tannins. 20 kilometres south in the Côte Chalonnaise the whites were perfumed and well balanced and the reds often similar to the 1999 vintage. The Mercurey reds were ruby in colour, ripe and silky in the mouth.

 

The regional and Village Pinot Noirs also ripened well, in most cases, produced charming, deeply-coloured wines with flower and fruit aromas (a cocktail of red and black fruits). In the mouth they had good balance, depth, body, assertive but gentle tannins, and good length. A quality wine that should best drunk when it is at least 3 years old.

 

Post script: The 2002 vintages have evolved and matured and it is a real treat to start appreciating the older-style of pinot noirs now reports Lynne, January 2008.

 

If you would like any further information, contact David and Lynne by e.mail:
david@bringingburgundytoyou.com

Also see: How Burgundy Wine is Made