Bordeaux 2012: Late start, scorching summer

blog: the Bordeaux grower, local winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) provides an
insider’s view on the 2012 growing season. 


After a late start to the growing season and mixed
weather right up until mid-July, we’ve enjoyed a lovely summer in this corner
of France. As the Bordelais head back to work after a scorching August, the sunshine
looks set to continue, with 30˚C predicted for the Médoc marathon this weekend
(see above).  There’s still a long way to
go though before the red-wine harvest gets under way.

No two growing seasons are ever the same in
Bordeaux but the contrast between 2011 and 2012 could not be more striking.
Last year, there was an early budburst and the flying start was accelerated by
a warm, dry spring. The lack of rain carried on until the second week of July,
with many vines suffering in the drought-like conditions. The summer was then
up and down, topped off by an early harvest of the dry whites at the end of
August. Almost all the reds and sweet whites in 2011 were brought in during
September, which is uncommonly early. The last time that happened was in 2003,
an altogether different vintage.

After a dry winter, with concerns once more about
drought, and a cold February, budbreak was a full three weeks later in 2012
than last year and a week later than the norm. It then fairly bucketed down in
April (we had 194mm of rain compared to 12mm last year) and, since then, vignerons
have had to be especially vigilant in keeping mildew at bay in 2012.

After fine weather at the end of May, the flowering
in June was drawn out, with rain during the first two weekends of the month.
The problem was not so much poor fruit set or low yields, although there is
some millerandage and coulure (poor fruit set), but I can’t recall seeing –
across the region – such different stages of evolution from one bunch to the
next, let alone one vine to the next. From that point on, it was certainly
going to be a late harvest, with a risk that ripeness would be uneven.

If 2011 had a spring that was more like summer, and
a summer more like spring, then 2012 is truer to type. From the end of the
second week of July onwards, we’ve had one of the best summers I can recall,
with some welcome rain during the first weekend of August (when we were glued
to the Olympics). For the last month, it’s been hot, sunny and very dry.

In fact it was rather too hot and dry for some
vines in August. The mini-heatwave has meant that some vines have simply closed
down in the sweltering heat. Some exposed bunches have also had a grilling.

The August veraison, again far later than last
year, was protracted – just like the flowering back in June. In most parcels,
the grapes changed colour at a leisurely pace and the uneven levels of ripeness
remain a challenge.

After such a hot August, you might think that we’d
be getting ready to harvest. That may be true for the dry whites but if you’re
coming to the region to see the Merlots being picked, you’re best to book from
late September onwards (precocious parts of Pomerol and Pessac-Léognan
excepted). As for the Cabernets, aim for October.

The next few weeks, in the build-up to the harvest,
will be crucial. It’s all to play for.