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Bordeaux 2013: Philippe Dhalluin, Mouton-Rothschild

In the third of my face-to-face reports on the Bordeaux 2013 harvest, I made the very short trip – it is only a few minutes on foot, never mind by car – from Château Pontet-Canet to Château Mouton-Rothschild. Within a few minutes of my arrival I spotted the very suave Philippe Dhalluin, carrying an air of contented nonchalance, walking up to greet me. I thought this was supposed to have been a difficult vintage? He could he at least have the decency to look a little more stressed, I thought.

We first took a tour of the new facilities at Mouton-Rothschild; these are, no bones about it, very impressive indeed. A selection of wooden and steel fermentation vessels, with access on two layers, spotless, high-tech but also traditional. I have some photographs, including the remarkable wooden vats with their glass inserts giving a window in on the fermenting wine within, but I will save these for a forthcoming overhaul of my Mouton-Rothschild profile, due in the next month or two. No wonder Philippe is so relaxed, I concluded, with such marvellous facilities at his disposal.

With our little tour done we secreted ourselves within a tasting room, where I took a first look at the 2011s (report to follow). As we tasted, I also quizzed Philippe on the 2013 vintage.

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

Philippe Dhalluin: Spring was awful and very cold, at least 2ºC below average for the time of year. The only pleasant month was March, which was not so bad. We had a difficult flowering; this was during the week of Vinexpo. We had a lot of coulure (this was mid-June by the way – Chris). The most affected variety was Merlot, as is usual in this case. Certain plots were very badly affected, although which was hit worst depended on the character of the plots in question.

Philippe Dhalluin, Château Mouton-Rothschild, October 2013

Then the weather improved, and towards the end of June and in July it was warmer, more so than in 2010. But during August it was not so sunny; the weather was good, dry, but not what we hoped for. And in September we were lacking the sunshine we needed to get perfect maturity. It became humid, as we had some rain followed by warm weather; the temperatures exceeded 30ºC in a wet atmosphere, and so we got hit by botrytis. As a consequence we started harvesting the reds on Monday 30th September. We had already finished the whites the previous week, by the way.

We literally threw everybody out into the vines to get picking because of the threat of rot, even office staff. We have some organic vines here as a trial, and these were the first to be harvested. At one point we had between 500 and 600 pickers in the vineyard. We feed them all, and so we can keep a track of the numbers of workers by how many meals we serve – on October 9th we fed lunch to 695 people (NB – these figures relate to all the Rothschild properties, so include Clerc-Milon and d’Armailhac as well as Mouton-Rothschild). The rate of picking was very high – on one day we managed 25 hectares. The last fruit to be picked was the Petit Verdot at Château d’Armailhac, which was Monday October 14th.

We used optical sorting in this vintage, this performed fairly well but it was not perfect in its selection. As is the case elsewhere, we have harvested a smaller volume than usual this year, approximately 60% of normal. The wines have a lot of colour, and except in certain plots, it is the Cabernet Sauvignon that will count in this vintage (mirroring the words of Paul Pontallier here). We will be able to make a good but not an exceptional wine, at least at level of the 2008. People will see that when they come to taste next year.

My thanks to Philippe for his time, and his report on 2013. I left after about an hour, and made another short journey north, this time into St Estèphe, and to Château Calon-Ségur.

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.

Bordeaux 2013: Jean-Michel Comme, Pontet-Canet

In the second of my face-to-face reports on the Bordeaux 2013 harvest, I drove up from Château Margaux and arrived just on time at Château Pontet-Canet, where I had an appointment with Jean-Michel Comme.

No sooner had I arrived than Jean-Michel (pictured below) appeared. We headed into the chai and upstairs, where he had a half bottle of the 2011 ready to go. After tasting, I got around to the 2013 vintage.

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

Jean-Michel: This has been a small harvest, and many vats are empty. The yields are low, 15 hl/ha approximately, this is less than half what we had last year, when it was 34 hl/ha. People will say this is low because of biodynamics, but everybody has low yields this year; we are perhaps slightly lower than others, but the low yield is universal and due to the vintage, not biodynamics. We have managed the vineyard in the same manner as usual. We allow the natural balance of the vines to determine the yields, we never try to reduce the crop, for example we don’t green harvest. We don’t cut the shoots, and we don’t deleaf. All the potential that comes from the vine goes to the wine.

This has been a more difficult year, the main problem was coulure, but in the end I am confident in the quality. It is difficult to say this after such a complicated vintage, as people will think it is a joke, but I will present the wine with confidence in spring. The wine is still on skins at present, but I can tell it is not a wine of low quality.

Jean-Michel Comme, Château Pontet-Canet, October 2013

Nothing in the world comes for free though – if you want to produce the best wine in the world, you have to take harsh decisions and follow them. Biodynamics is very significant for our success. Under biodynamics the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon improved quickly, but the Merlots followed more slowly. You can see this in the Cabernet Sauvignon this year. Even a few days after the véraison the berries are good to taste. Also, after instituting biodynamics, I have noticed that the difference in ripening of the Merlots and the Cabernets is much less than it used to be.

I am very satisfied with what we achieved this year, especially when it comes to biodynamics as we have proved that we can do it. This is the third difficult year in a row, and we have had no significant loss of crop compared to other estates. We used 2.75 kg/ha of copper sulphate, a reduction from last year’s figure which was 4 kg/ha, and we are allowed 6 kg/ha. In 2011 we used 2 kg/ha though. These figures are all official, we are certified and have recently been inspected and signed off. It is important to reduce copper use where possible as I expect in the future the permitted quantity per hectare will reduce, to 5 kg/ha, then 4 kg/ha, and perhaps based on any one year rather than the current system where the figure may be averaged over five years, which means you can use more than 6 kg/ha in a year at present. We are well prepared for any reductions coming our way.

The 2013 vintage will be aged in the new cement vats which have replaced our eggs (subscribers can read more on Jean-Michel Comme’s own vat-design in my Pontet-Canet profile), so there will be less wood influence on the wine. This is a nice idea, but nice ideas aren’t always good ideas. We will see how it goes. If it is a good idea, we will develop it, but if not then we will ditch it.

My thanks to Jean-Michel for his time, and his report on 2013. I left after about 30 minutes in his company, and made the very short journey across to Château Mouton-Rothschild.

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.