With picking in full swing in France’s major wine regions, I checked in with a few top growers to see how things were going so far with the 2011 harvest. Here are just a few snippets from Bordeaux and the Rhône.
Jean-Luc Thunevin, Château de Valandraud, St.-Emilion
2011 is a vintage where you must love to live dangerously … Heat, dry, rain, cold and in the end quite a generous harvest with each single vine reacting very differently—some of them being at the top and some other completely worn out. So you discover grapes and terroirs acting strangely.
The terroir, the age of the vines, their weariness, the rainy weather, all of this makes it difficult to give a real prognosis right now. Right now we do not have any "dry tank" (with no sugar) and the macerations are yet to start.
A priori, 2011 will not be too bad and may even reach the quality level of 2008 (fingers crossed). At first, I thought 2011 would be a mix between 1999 and 2004 (due to rain and volume) but now I think it could finally be something more of a mix of 1999, 2007 and even 2008. Anyway, God bless grape sorting and all our new sorting machines! So far, we have harvested 40 percent of the vineyard.
Philippe Dhalluin, Châteaus Mouton-Rothschild, Clerc-Milon and d’Armailhac, Bordeaux
Finally, the harvest is going well. We are picking the great Cabernets since yesterday and we will finish at the end of this week.
Analytically, the grapes are very rich in polyphenols and anthocyanins and have good potential, especially for the best Cabernet Sauvignons. The average alcoholic content is around 12° plus, which is remarkable in the Bordeaux area.
Qualitatively, this vintage will not obviously reach the same level as 2009 and 2010, though structure and color will not be missing. Will this vintage be fleshy enough for the potential structure? I think so but it is still difficult to judge at this moment.
Thomas Duroux, Château Palmer, Margaux
We will be done with the Merlots today. Small crop as expected, serious tannins! A lot of sorting is necessary. I am more optimistic than I was two weeks ago. I see a vintage with a lot of heterogeneity from one property to another. 2011 will not be a top vintage but I am sure you'll find good surprises.
Jean-Guillaume Prats, Château Cos-d'Estournel, St.-Estephe
We have finished picking on the 17th and happily as we then had some intense rain until today. Yields are OK at 32 hectoliters per hectare (hl/ha) against 27 hl/ha in '08, 33 hl/ha in '09 and 38 hl/ha in 2010. It shows that the intense storm of Sept. 1 did not create too much damage, fortunately. I don't know yet about the style of wines until we finish the post maceration, but clearly 2011 is below 2009 and 2010 in quality.
Aline Baly, Château Coutet, Barsac
The 2011 harvest is taking place under exceptional climatic conditions. Over the course of the past two weeks we have observed the morning mists, followed by sunny afternoons. In addition, we have experienced some small precipitations that allowed the acceleration of the Botrytis cinerea. Compared to typical years, the noble rot is developing extremely rapidly and very uniformly. These elements, combined, are truly optimal and we believe that the 2011 vintage will be marked by quality, even if we expect small quantities due to the presence of less fruit on the vines.
Paul Amsellem, Domaine Georges Vernay, Condrieu
We started as usual with Coteau de Vernon and Chaillées de l'Enfer Aug. 31 because these blocks were ripe enough. Then Christine [Vernay] decided to stop the harvest until Sept. 7 to switch to some reds in St.-Joseph and then step by step she was continuing the Condrieu (only in the morning) followed by Côte-Rôtie in the afternoon.
We were helped by wonderful weather until last weekend where we had some rain, but we are not in a hurry and we will take time to wait for the top ripeness of remaining reds and whites.
Philipe Cambie, consulting enologist, Rhône Valley
We should finish picking the grapes at the end of next week. We are very happy, as fortunately we had good weather throughout the month of September. We still had to do a lot of sorting as the grapes were very fragile. I think it will be a vintage of the winegrower—you will find very good and less good.
Marc Perrin, Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
The spring was extremely warm and dry and we thought the harvest would be very early. July was very nice part of the time, but also quite rainy and cool part of the time. As always we had mistral right after the rain so the vines did not suffer hydric stress, and ripening slowed down as the vines went back to a normal cycle.
August and September have been very nice, sunny, warm and windy. To date we are experiencing another Indian summer. Syrah has been totally harvested. We just started Grenache this week. Despite the warm spring, in Beaucastel we eventually had quite a late harvest.
Acidity is good and alcohol levels in line with 2010. The first wines show a very nice fruit and a great balance. If I had to guess I would compare 2011 to 2000, but it is early.
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — September 21, 2011 7:50pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — September 22, 2011 9:29am ET
Steve Phelis — Montreal,Canada — September 28, 2011 10:21am ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — September 30, 2011 9:33am ET
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