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Bordeaux 2012 Harvest

I thought today I would post a few comments on the Bordeaux 2012 harvest, and “harvest reports” in general, to complement my rather hurried “Lafite Picks” post made yesterday. I’ve made a few visits in the last 24 hours, and tasted a lot of berries on the vine. I’ve tasted some 2012 musts and also some 2012 wine (white wine only, at this stage!).

None of which really allows any comment on the state of the 2012 vintage. We all know there is a lot of hype around Bordeaux, especially around the top 250-or-so cru classé (or similar level) châteaux. I’m not here to promulgate any overly positive message that the Bordelais might want to put out. But I can talk about what I have seen in the last few days, and what that might mean. But on the whole, speaking bluntly, it is too early to say anything on the quality of the 2012 vintage. And even where I can comment, my thoughts can’t be extrapolated across the whole region.

Bordeaux 2012 harvest

Firstly, on the whole, the white grapes for dry wines have all been picked. Other than on a few “nursery” or “library” vines (some château keep a row of all the local varieties, and sometimes more exotic varieties too, just for show) I haven’t seen any white grapes anywhere. And the white fermentations are on the whole well underway. Yesterday I tasted 2012 barrel samples at Château Brown in Pessac-Léognan, including Sauvignon Blanc (the fermentation begun in steel then transferred to barrel, with 13º potential and still 4 g/l residual sugar – shown above), Semillon (managed as per the Sauvignon Blanc) and an experimental batch of Semillon (fermented in stainless steel with oven-treated oak staves within). The last sample may sound unappealing, but it had such delicious fruit and vibrant acidity it was in fact the most delectable of the three samples. But all tasted good. So there is a potential for quality in the dry whites in 2012 I think, especially from those estates who delay harvesting and look for maturity most of all, so along with Brown that means Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut Lafitte. But more than this I can’t say. Nevertheless, it may be that just as the dry whites in the difficult-for-reds 2011 vintage were a success, the same may be true in 2012.

Bordeaux 2012 harvest

Reds are another story. First of all, most fruit remains on the vine. Yes, as I posted yesterday, some have started picking, always Merlot at this stage. But this is a vintage that is running close to the bone. Touring a vineyard with a Derenoncourt consultant today he advised waiting until next week to start one plot of Merlot, and waiting another week after that for a second plot. Thus on some estates harvest will not really get underway for another week or so yet. And then the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon will have to come in. Certainly, tasting the grapes off the vine, they on the whole remain green. The pips are green and covered in adherent flesh, rather than the drier, more brown mature pips. Some skins still taste thick and unripe. And some grapes – the Cabernets especially – still taste overtly green. Many estates will be holding off for several weeks yet. This is going to be a very late harvest!

Some have sent out the pickers though, such as Beychevelle and Lafite, as I stated earlier this week. Another is Sociando-Mallet, who I visited today. The reception area was a hive of activity, with crate after crate of grapes coming through, the fruit going across the twin sorting tables before destemming. I tasted some fresh 2012 Merlot must, still more grape juice than wine. The slightly disconcerting character I found here was an overt greenness to the wine, which along with the Merlot fruit character also had vegetal notes of celery. If I had tasted it blind I might have guessed we were in the Loire. A Loire co-operative, to be more precise. Let’s hope the Cabernet (like the bunch pictured above, in the vineyards of Château Serilhan in St Estèphe) and other later picked fruit shows better.

So, I will look forward to tasting the whites at the primeurs. As for the reds, I will cross my fingers. The Bordelais need more dry and warm weather for several more weeks yet. This harvest could even run into November – it woudn’t be the first time.

4 Responses to “Bordeaux 2012 Harvest”

  1. Hi Chris

    What is the reason for such greenness so late in the season? The stat from the Merignac weather station of meteo France would suggest good conditions from August onwards in the bordelais with little amount of rain and plenty of sunshine hours… is the delay due to a late flowering or the weather stats are not providing meaningful explanation?

    Would be grateful if you could also comment on the rive droite… due to their merlot based wine and terroir prone to earlier ripening, do you also taste some green in the fruit at that stage?


    PS: love your website and always tune in to see what is happening back home.

  2. Thanks for the comments and questions David. The greeneness issue is easy to answer – the weather since August has been good. But up to that point, including much of July, the weather was coolder than usual and wet. This stretched right back to the flowering which was uneven as a result. But it was the lack of good weather through to July that has retarded progress, pushing the harvest deep into October.

    On the right bank (specifically, St Emilion), things are better. Some estates have been bringing in the Merlot since Monday (maybe earlier, but definitely at least Monday). The fruit I tasted today was ripe, and the must/wine was sweet and ripe, very diffeerent and not at all green.

  3. “Coolder” is a very novel but apt word to describe the conditions, Chris ;-) . It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t cool, but definitely coolder. Great invention!


    Just pulling your leg. Keep up the good work.

  4. Then so is “greeneness” I think. I won’t edit it now!