I sped away from my meeting with Thomas Duroux at Palmer and for once the Rocade was my friend; I hit Bordeaux’s somewhat infamous ring road late afternoon, and I was concerned that rush-hour traffic may have already been building. Happily it wasn’t the case, and there were no delays. As a result I arrived at Château Haut-Brion just in time, not bad for the last appointment on a day which had seen me kick off in Margaux at 9am before then heading all the way up to St Estèphe via Pauillac, before heading down to Pessac via Margaux again.
I parked up and entered; my appointment was with Turid Hoel Alcaras, who manages public relations for Domaines Clarence Dillon, owners of both Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. I had to wait a few minutes while she bade farewell to a visiting wine merchant from Hungary and we then made our way upstairs to the Haut-Brion tasting room. With a lot of wines from the 2011 vintage to taste (this was the year that they started with Quintus, and so there were nine wines to get through) the talk naturally focused on this vintage. As the hour drew to a close, however, I asked Turid how the 2013 vintage had gone at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion.
Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.
Turid: This has been a really complicated vintage. Early on it was wet and cool, and we didn’t really have a spring as such. This interfered with the flowering, reducing yields. Thereafter, however, we had a nice summer, we were fortunate as we were not hit by the hail unlike many other growers in the region (Turid is talking about all Bordeaux here – there wasn’t a particular problem with hail in Pessac-Léognan). We did have some thunderstorms though, although not enough to do any damage.
We often begin harvesting the white varieties in August, but this year we started in September, so this is a little later than is usual. The red varieties we began picking in later September, again we usually start earlier than this (Haut-Brion’s position south of Bordeaux, plus it’s urban mesoclimate, gives it a ripening advantage and picking dates are often earlier than you might expect here, and potential alcohols tend to be higher too).
The humidity complicated things towards the end (this would appear to be a euphemism for advancing botrytis rot) and so we then rushed towards a quick finish, with everything picked by October 11th. The pickers were working seven days a week, even picking on a Sunday – they were very tired by the time it was all over!
The Merlots are nice (notably, this differs to every other report I have heard) but it is too early to say regarding the Cabernets. What we can say is that the volumes are very low (unfortunately I couldn’t draw any figures on yields from Turid, but it seems the volume picked here is likely to be 30 hl/ha or less, matching other figures up and down the left bank). The whites are good too, the Sauvignon Blanc was particularly nice at picking, although more sorting was required for the Semillon. The wines are all still undergoing second fermentations at present, and so we haven’t had a chance to really look at them yet.
I thanked Turid for her time and I followed my visit with a short walk around the vineyard of Haut-Brion in order to take some photographs. I then hopped in my car and headed south, passing through Barsac, to see what was going on there. Being late in the day the region was deserted, and looking at the vineyards of Climens and other nearby properties all the harvesting had finished, the vines more-or-less picked clean. By all accounts there has been success in Sauternes this year, with at least one large-volume high-quality botrytis-rich picking at the beginning of the harvest. I look forward to tasting the wines next year.
I should perhaps have popped in to see the affable Jean-Pierre Meslier at Raymond-Lafon, but the light was now fading fast, and instead I crossed the Garonne at Cadillac and made my way over to my hotel in Libourne. I needed to catch up on some sleep before my 9am appointment at Cheval Blanc tomorrow morning.
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.