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Bordeaux Harvest 2011

Reports from Bordeaux from colleague Richard Bampfield MW indicate the fruit looks healthy on the vine, and that the weather is currently holding up despite a rather cool and wet summer.

It really has been an unusual growing season, with phenomenally early flowering consequent upon two fine growing seasons during 2009 and 2010 and an increasingly mild climate, yet complicated by cool, wet and windy summer weather. Now though the conditions overhead in Bordeaux sound more normal.

Why the interest, so long before the fruit is harvested (the harvest usually kicks off in September and runs through October)? Well, those dates don’t apply this year. All over France vignerons will be scratching out the dates in the record books (maybe) as this looks set to be one of the earliest harvests ever. This report from Decanter (strangely accompanied by a library picture of red grapes being picked – as if we weren’t sure what harvest might look like) indicates picking has begun in Bordeaux; whereas it is usually one of the Graves chateaux that gets things underway with their white grapes, this year Yquem is first off the blocks (no doubt for the dry Ygrec cuvée – the botrytis required for Yquem itself will be a little while coming yet!).

Predictions on quality based on harvest dates, or how healthy the fruit looks (or tastes) are ridiculous and say much about those making the comments in my opinion. I will leave others to make such ludicrous claims. Style – perhaps more important in these days of consistent success, where every fourth or fifth year we have a “Vintage of the Century” – is absolutely impossible to assess, and requires tasting. Put simply, there is still no way of knowing what the musts and wines of 2011 will tasted like….for the moment.

Nevertheless, having made that grand caveat, the conditions are currently ripe with potential…..this does not seem to be a washout vintage like 2007. There is currently nothing in the story of 2011 – despite that cooler summer weather (which may even be a benefit, depending on how it has affected the acidities) – that precludes it being a great vintage. It is going to be fascinating to watch how it all pans out. And if it does end up being of great quality, what effect will that have on the market? Can the jaw-dropping prices of 2009 and 2010 be sustained for 2011, even if the wines of of similarly high quality? Will the Bordelais Grands Crus have to build even more storage facilities, as they continue their programme of “price high, sell less, keep the rest”?

And, more importantly, when I visit Bordeaux in October, will I have missed the harvest altogether??!!

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