2015 A Great Bordeaux Vintage?
After the complications of the past four years, Bordeaux has waited impatiently for a vintage such as 2015. Thanks to the unusually perfect climatic conditions, the Bordelaise had everything they required from bud-break to harvest and the sunshine and the dryness allowed little chance for disease to take hold of their vineyards. Such a level of enthusiasm, as much for the quality as for the excellent volume harvested, hadn’t been seen from the winemaking community for a long time. From Saint-Emilion to Saint-Estèphe passing by the Graves, smiles returned to faces. 2015 is assuredly a serene vintage.
Bordeaux 2015 Weather Report
An Ideal Spring – A particularity of this vintage is the remarkable weather they experienced from April to July. After a fairly standard winter with a small amount of rain, April saw an extended period of weather which already resembled summer (28°C on April 13th). A sunny month of June with a few sporadic periods of rain facilitated the growth of the boughs and the floral caps to fall which initiated a perfectly consistent and very quick flowering between May 25th and June 1st. This was followed by an excellent fruit-setting (the forming of the individual grapes after the flowering). When the first days of summer arrived, the vineyards looked in excellent condition. The bunches appeared to be perfect and were spaced at regular intervals with a good quantity of grapes per bunch and a satisfactory distribution on the vine.
An Exceptionally Hot and Dry Summer – 26 days with the mercury above 25°C is enough to make the Bordelaise fear the worst for the vine. However, even amongst the young vines planted in light soils (sandy and gravelly) there was an excellent resistance to the heatwave. The only shadow on the horizon was that this wave of heat around the end of June and beginning of July could provoke hydraulic stress which is relatively rare in Bordeaux.
During this period we had a period of 15 consecutive days at 30-35°C. The Veraison started and finished very early and the increase in the size of the berries was stunted. Certainly, pyzarine which produces the “green” aromas was inhibited by the heat but citrus remained. The concern was that come harvest time, there would just be “raisins secs” left to pick. By the end of July, there was a definite need for rain in order for the vineyards to continue its development. August came to the rescue. Some rainy periods (for example in Pomerol there was 20mm on August 4th, 28mm on August 8th, 18 mm on August 13th and 13mm on August 14th) liberated the development of the plant at the opportune moment. The intake of water allowed the berry to swell to some degree but they remained below the average weight we would expect. At the beginning of September, the vineyards were again in excellent condition with an early harvest expected. There was therefore cause for a degree of optimism around the Châteaux.
Harvest à la Carte!
Around the autumn equinox, rain whose quantity varied greatly from one area to another brought a cold shiver to the growers. July had seen a slow-down in the evolution of the vineyard and although beautiful, the month of August had not been sufficient to allow the vines to catch up to what we would normally expect at that stage. September and October saw relatively normal levels of sunshine and rainfall and the grapes were able to ripen in the best conditions. This slow and full maturity was made possible by the tremendous weather which allowed the growers to pick precisely when they wanted to. Everyone had the luxury of harvesting the parcels one after another. The picking for the reds stretched therefore from September 10th – October 10th.
The Result in the Vats
There is an indisputable truth: excellent grapes produce quality juice. One thing to take note of is that the sugar-levels which vary from region to region nevertheless remain within the normal levels.
There was a false-rumour circulating regarding low levels of acidity. This can only really be known during vinification. On the other hand, we said with certainty, there is a very good level of tannins and anthocyanes without them being too high. It can be confidently stated therefore that the juice has excellent phenolic potential. The words I often heard when describing this vintage are “harmony”, “elegance”, and “balance”. The experts talk of a great vintage for merlot – rich and fleshy. The cabernet franc possesses an aromatic quality which is a characteristic of great vintages. And as for the cabernet sauvignon, it is silky and noble.
What the Growers are Saying About the 2015 Vintage
Daniel Cathiard – Owner of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte
“We are very optimistic. The harvest was a dream, perfectly long and we were never forced to rush. Picking started for the whites on August 31st and for the reds on September 14th. The quality was immediately evident so it was easy to bring in rich and healthy grapes. From the tasting of the 1st juices with Michel Rolland, I knew that we had a superb vintage on our hands. Making a comparison is difficult – it resembles somewhat the 2005 & 2010, both excellent vintages. The volume is at the level of the 2014. What is certain however is that it will be amongst the great Bordeaux vintages.
When we have a very high quality we can be relatively optimistic about the en primeur release. China should be buyers – diversifying their funds and looking more and more towards the quality-price ratio. As for the American market, the weak Euro is a great help. Wine connoisseurs shouldn’t let this vintage pass them by and I don’t believe we will see an unreasonable increase in the prices.”
Pierre Graffeuille – Director of Domaines Delon
“The vegetative cycle unfolded under the best auspices. The flowering and veraison, being consistent and very quick, give an indication that it is a great vintage. The harvest started on September 20th at Château Nenin and around the September 25th at Potensac and at Leoville Las Cases. There was a slight delay between ripeness in terms of sugar and phenolic ripeness due mainly to June and July being so hot and dry. However the rain in September refined the grape-skins without the sugar-levels increasing. This rain which we had been so anxious about, in truth did a lot of good. We harvested without being pressured and were able to wait for the perfect maturity without ever fearing for the appearance of any rot. Rarely have we been able to achieve such ideal levels of maturity. Bearing in the mind the high quality of the grapes harvested, we were able to extract a little more than usual without risking the appearance of any harshness or rusticity in the wines. After vinification, we were very happy with the 3 varieties we have – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. Our thoughts in general? exceptional merlot in Pomerol and an excellent level of quality in the Medoc. During the blend in Pomerol, the wines appear rich, dense and balanced. Over in the Cabernet-dominated Medoc, the wines seem to be huge, concentrated, complex with an excellent balance. We haven’t seen such excellent consistency since the 2009 and 2010 vintages. To conclude – we can find the power, elegance and taste of the great Bordeaux vintages both in Pomerol and the Medoc and we are delighted.”
Bernard Magrez – Vignobles Bernard Magrez
“An ideal vintage on every level from the flowering to the harvest. It will be a good to very good vintage and the style should be one which the consumer will appreciate – that is to say, elegance, roundness, nobility. At Château Fombrauge, the Merlots were the best ever seen and the Cabernets truly excellent at Pape Clement and Les Grands Chênes. Without a doubt, a very serene vintage. Thanks to a very clement weather, we were able to work with great care and precision both in the vineyard and in the chai conscious that it would be exceptional. Success for the en primeur release comes down to the same formula – the desirability of the wine set against its quality, image and price. Our goal will be to maintain the reasonable pricing levels of the last six years adopted as our policy at all our properties. There is a risk in great vintages to set the prices too high which acts as a deterrent to consumers.”
Michel Rolland – Consultant Winemaker
“As ever, it is the climate which determines the quality of the grapes and hence the wines. All the stages of the vegetative cycle unfolded under beautiful conditions. With top quality grapes, the objectives for the vinification remain very simple – the less we intervene, the less we run the risk of doing something detrimental. Everything was done with delicacy from the harvest to the extraction. This was a year of precision in the vineyard followed by a minimalist approach to the vinification. An excellent year for the whites and they are dense and aromatic. The reds are very seductive, balanced and elegant with silky, fine tannins. The blend will be easy because all the varieties are excellent. This is the type of vintage which wine-makers love.”
Alain Vauthier – Owner of Chateau Ausone
“A magnificent, very consistent flowering which is confirmed by the graphs of pollination. Hydric stress was limited to only a few younger vines and a little rain unblocked the veraison. As for the grapes, having bitten into them many times, they were always full of taste. Most definitely, a year for the fruit. The warm and dry conditions allowed us to harvest in serenity. And the result was a very consistent crop. Before fermentation, the juice was dense and rich and afterwards, each vat was top quality. There are some exceptional plots which indicate that we have a good quantity of a great wine. A certain style is already evident for this vintage – roundness and suppleness without any austerity or aggressiveness. Everything was very easy – we would wish to have the same vintage every year.”
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