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Wine Harvest Report 2016: Burgundy’s Frost and Hail Produced High Quality and Low Quantities

Vintners from Chablis to the Mâconnais report a year of extremes that devastated some vineyards but produced gorgeous wines in others
Photo by: Courtesy Alex Gambal
Yields of Chardonnay were low in Burgundy this year, but what was harvested was high quality.

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: November 21, 2016

The big news in Burgundy in 2016, for another consecutive year, was low yields. A frost on April 26 and 27 affected almost all vineyards in the Côte d’Or and Chablis. Overall, yields in the Côte d’Or were down by 50 percent compared to an average year. But quantities were inconsistent across the board—some parcels yielded normal crops while others saw 90 percent to 100 percent of their grapes destroyed.

Despite the lack of grapes, the quality is good. The small crop allowed for ripening well into September, thanks to cool, dry and sunny weather. The nascent wines show good color, acidity and balance. Potential alcohol appears to be in the range of 11.0 to 12.5 degrees, and slightly higher in the Mâconnais, where the temperatures were warmer.

Pierre-Yves Colin, owner of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey in the Côte de Beaune, admitted the final result was better than expected, despite the very small quantities he harvested in St.-Aubin and Chassagne. Yields were slightly higher in Meursault. How bad was the frost? In the Chassagne portion of Montrachet, the crop was so devastated by frost that seven domaines vinified their grapes together to make two barrels, or 600 bottles, from 3.1 acres. Production in an average year would be roughly 5,000 bottles.

Mark O’Connell, the American owner of Domaine Clos de la Chapelle in Volnay, reported that yields for his reds fared better than initially expected. What looked like a loss of half the normal crop turned out to be a loss of 25 percent. “In the end, it was like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, and we actually made more red wine in 2016 than 2015,” he said. His whites did not fare so well, with volume reduced by 50 percent to 75 percent.

The year started with a warm winter, with record rainfall in some areas that lasted into July. This created conditions for both downy mildew and powdery mildew, two fungal diseases common to Burgundy. Growers had to apply frequent treatments to the vines. Beaune négociant Alex Gambal says he treated 14 times, compared to nine or 10 in more benevolent years like 2009 and 2015. Growers working organically were particularly challenged.

Summer was mostly dry and hot, with rain at the end of August refreshing the vines and giving the berries more juice. Fortunately, the final weeks leading up to the harvest were ideal.

“These same ideal conditions permitted the grapes to ripen very quickly,” wrote Aubert de Villaine, co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, in his annual harvest report. “Once again we realized how, at the end of the season in hot weather, our grape varieties could have an extremely rapid increase of potential sugar. At the same time, we observed accumulations of anthocyanins and of tannins that were even superior to 2015.” At Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the early prognosis is exceptionally profound colors and a balance between the fruit, acidity and tannins that should result in richness and finesse.

Chablis suffered from both frost and hail, the latter arriving with a storm on May 27 around the villages of Préhy, Courgis and St.-Bris. Some parcels were completely devastated in those areas, while other vintners estimated about 60 percent less crop than in a normal year. Patrick Piuze noted that yields from the parcels from which he purchases fruit ranged from 4.45 tons per acre to 0.22 tons per acre.

In the Mâconnais, roughly one hour south of Beaune, there was hail on April 13 that affected the southern part of St.-Véran and parts of Fuissé, Solutré and Davayé, with as much as 100 percent damage in some plots. Antoine Vincent, who makes the wines at his family’s domaine, Château Fuissé, harvested only 1.1 tons per acre in St.-Véran in 2016, compared with 4.5 tons per acre in an average year.

However, he is pleased with the quality. “[This vintage’s] features appear to be classic for white Burgundy, with great aromatic purity of fruit,” he told Wine Spectator.

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