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Bordeaux 2013: Paul Pontallier, Margaux

In the first of my face-to-face reports on the Bordeaux 2013 harvest, I met up with Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux. We had a wide-ranging discussion, taking in not only the details of the most recent vintage, but also the new building works at Margaux, blending, the Margaux research programme and biodynamics. For the purpose of this post, I will restrict myself to the 2013 vintage.

I visited Paul on the morning of October 24th; there was plenty of activity in the chai, and once he had finished there we retired to the tasting room. Over a glass of 2010 Château Margaux (I took a note – I will publish it some other time) Paul told me his thoughts on 2013 so far.

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Paul: There were severe problems during flowering in spring. The Merlots suffered a lot of coulure, and as a consequence are very reduced in volume. In Merlot we have perhaps 13 to 14 hl/ha, a yield not seen since the 1984 vintage. The 2013 harvest is very limited in terms of volume, with about 20 hl/ha being what we harvested overall. This is the smallest harvest at Margaux for a long time, and it is on a par with the 2003, 1991 and 1961 vintages (I thought this an interesting statement, as it shows that small harvests go with controversial vintages such as 2003, difficult vintages such a 1991, and excellent vintages such as 1961).

Thereafter July and August were both dry and hot, and by the end of the summer I was expecting perhaps a great vintage. But more problems came in September, which was very humid, leading to a very rapid growth of botrytis. As a consequence, we harvested faster and earlier than we originally intended, working perhaps five or six days ahead of our intended schedule (another interesting statement I thought – this isn’t as large a difference as I had expected). We began picking on September 20th for the white varieties, finishing on the 28th. We began on September 30th for the reds, finishing on October 11th.

Paul Pontallier, Château Margaux, October 2013

On tasting the Merlots, I confess I find them disappointing. They are lean, and lack taste; it is not that they have any real defects, it is just that they lack grace. It is possible this year that we will have no Merlot at all in blend for the grand vin at Château Margaux. I have not yet made the decision, but I have real doubts.

As for the Cabernets and the Petit Verdot especially, these are much better, indeed they might be excellent, but they are at least very good. There are no vegetal flavours in the Cabernet Sauvignon, but in this our favourable terroir was important. I have seen on lesser soils some disasters, the fruit either half-green, or half-rotten. We have had to carry out a strict selection though, and will do again at blending; it will be expensive to do what is required in this vintage. But we will make a wine that will surprise people.

My thanks to Paul for his candid report on 2013. I left after about an hour in his company. Next stop, Château Pontet-Canet.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

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