2013 marks a trio of difficult vintages in Bordeaux, but this year was the hardest of not just the past three, but the past 30 years believes one château owner.
Jean Christophe Mau at Château Brown
In a missive on the vintage sent to db early today, Chateau Brown’s Jean-Christophe Mau compared 2011, 2012 and 2013 – a triplet of tricky harvests – to previous sets of three tough years, such as 1971, 72 and 73, as well as the frosts of 1991, 1992 and 1993.
But, remarking on the notably challenging nature of this year, he noted, “What a difficult vintage this one was, coming after a decade or so when we had got used to things being on the easier side.”
Continuing, he wrote, “One thing is certain today: 2013 has been one of the hardest vintages, or perhaps even the most complicated, in the last 30 years.”
The “disastrous” spring was a primary cause for the problems, creating significant reductions in yield as well as delaying the vine’s vegetative cycle, with veraison occurring as late as 20 August for the Merlot.
Then, high levels of humidity in September “forced” Château Brown, which is based in Pessac-Léognan, to begin harvesting on 1 October, “earlier than we had hoped”.
While Mau said the Merlot grapes were in “very good condition”, patches of botrytis required “strict sorting in the vineyard and winery” and as a result, yields for Château Brown’s red grapes were down to 33hl/ha, around 25% down on the ten-year average.
“We should consider ourselves lucky, however, compared to those in Bordeaux who were hit by a deluge in June or those who suffered from the many hailstorms that ruined all or part of their harvests,” he added.
In terms of the resulting wines, Mau said the “main disappointment” will be “tannin quality” – which, he noted, “would have benefitted from at least another fortnight to finish off ripening.”
Concluding on the reds, he said, “The winemaking process is set to be a very technical, precise and delicate one. The key will be to extract the tannins gently and go for the roundness and fruity expression that can make this vintage a success.”
Similarly, Dourthe’s head winemaker Frédéric Bonnaffous recorded a yield reduction for red wines of 30-40% at the company’s Château Pey la Tour in Entre-Deux-Mers due to poor weather during flowering and fruit set.
As a result of the weather conditions during the growing season, he added, “We have never invested so much time on canopy managements as we have done this year.”
Meanwhile, like Mau, Dourthe’s president Patrick Jestin said that this year’s Merlot was lower than usual in tannins, noting that the wines from this grape were “a little less tannic than 2012” and “less dense in colour than last year”.
Speaking of the harvest, he recalled, “Harvesting began at most of our properties on 30 September. We had to be vigilant and react quickly. Often the best laid plans had to be adapted.
Continuing, he noted, “New sorting equipment at Belgrave, La Garde, Le Boscq, Pey la Tour and Rahoul and an increased workforce were extremely effective in eliminating Merlot affected by millerandage [uneven berry size].”
Finally, as reported by db in late September, the director of one of the First Growths was heard to say to colleagues that 2013 would be “the worst vintage of our career”.