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For the second year in a row, Burgundians had a huge crop, but they weren't as lucky as last year: Rain and rot made for fragile Pinot Noirs that proved difficult to turn into fine red Burgundies.
The 2000 vintage was chaotic, full of contradictions and challenges. "Making red Burgundies in this vintage was a very cerebral activity. You had to think a lot," said Nadine Gublin, winemaker for Domaine Jacques Prieur, in Meursault.
As for white Burgundies from the Côte de Beaune's famous villages of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, quality was promising, ranging from "very good to great," according to the winemakers interviewed.
Large yields in Pinot Noir vineyards can be lethal to quality. In 1999, the crop was big, but mostly free of rot, with many large bunches of small, concentrated berries -- factors that helped make some lovely red Burgundies. No such luck in 2000, however.
Winemakers reported that they harvested big grapes that were sometimes bloated from too much water, and the skins were thin and often unripe. The winemakers struggled to extract color, tannin structure and flavors from the Pinot Noir grapes.
"It won't be the exceptional vintage we had hoped for," said Philippe Bardet, CEO of Mommessin, which owns Clos de Tart, a grand cru in Morey-St.-Denis, in the Côte de Nuits. "The grapes weren't very beautiful; they were too large."
Quality will likely be uneven across Burgundy, as is usually the case when a vintage calls for the region's thousands of growers and négociants to make substantial efforts in the vineyards and cellars to handle a delicate crop.
Early indications suggest that the best to be expected in 2000 are mostly light- to medium-bodied Pinot Noirs that are true to their terroirs and offer some finesse in flavors, without much opulence, complexity or depth. "It'd be an error to go for extraction of grapes. They just don't have the structure," said Frédéric Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin.
"The wines should be pleasant," said Jean-Nicolas Méo, winemaker at Domaine Méo-Camuzet in Vosne-Romanée. He said the 2000 reds might fall between the soft 1997s and the firmer 1998s in terms of taste. "The 2000 aren't on the level of the 1999s, which are denser."
Many Burgundians predicted prices for the 2000 wines would drop at least 10 percent from the '99 wines; some négociants said the quality of the Pinot Noirs justified at least a 25 percent decrease.
The 2000 vintage started well, with sun and heat in April, May and June. But it turned cool in July and early August. It rained more than twice the usual amount in July and 12 percent more than normal in August. "July was cold and rainy like a typical November," said Betrand Devillard, CEO of négociant Antonin Rodet and co-owner of Domaine des Perdrix, in Nuits-St.-Georges.
In September, it rained less than normal in the Côte dÍOr -- half what it rained in '99. But a bad storm hit the region on Sept. 12, the day after the harvest started in the Côte de Beaune and on the eve of the start in the Côte de Nuits. The deluge was more severe in the Côte de Beaune than in the Côte de Nuits.
The rain may have softened up the grapes, making them susceptible to gray rot. Bertrand Ambroise, a grower and négociant in Nuits-St.-Georges, said that rot made him throw out 20 percent to 40 percent of the Pinot Noir grapes. After such strict selection, he said, he made some "very pretty reds that showed finesse."
In addition to the problems with rot, bunches also consisted of grapes of different ripeness; some were still green, according to Gublin. Despite the difficulties, other vintners found that their Pinot Noir reached good maturity in terms of natural sugar and potential alcohol levels, as the heat was above normal in August and comparable to the 1999 vintage in September. "I have higher ripeness than in '99," said Méo. But the Pinot Noir skins lacked physiological ripeness, several winemakers said.
Curiously, the Chardonnay grapes were less affected by problems with rot, according to Côte de Beaune winemakers, who agreed 2000 will be better for whites than reds. Many spoke of rot-free, beautifully ripe Chardonnay grapes picked at the end of September.
Still, the yields were monstrous. Dominique Laurent, a négociant in Nuit-St.-Georges, makes a Meursault from 80-year-old vines. In 2000, the vineyard produced 45 hectoliters per hectare (3.3 tons per acre) -- twice its normal amount.
In Chablis, yields were bigger still. Even the appellation's most renowned growers were expected to have to distill a third of their crop, as required by law, because it exceeded the legal maximum yields. Grower Vincent Dauvissat said some vineyards had produced 200 hectoliters per hectare (14.7 tons per acre) compared to the legal maximum of 60 hectoliters per hectare (4.4 tons per acre) for the Chablis AOC. But the large crop didn't dampen optimism about quality. "It's not a grand vintage, but it could be very good," said Dauvissat.
Devillard, of Antonin Rodet, concluded, "The best 2000 wines will be very good, but overall the vintage will be less homogenous in quality than '99."
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