Across the Northern Hemisphere, winemakers in many regions are reporting one of the earlier grape harvests they've seen. They're scrambling to pick fruit and find tank space. Wine Spectator will be providing snapshot looks at harvest in major wine regions, providing an early preview of what wine drinkers can expect.
Up next, Bordeaux, where winemakers are cautiously but optimistically comparing their young wines with those from classic vintages 2010 and 2009. An ideal growing season, with a warm, dry summer and just enough rain in August and September, produced promising fruit. It’s too early to tell how the wines will develop, but there’s excitement over the potential.
The Good News: 2015 should easily be the best vintage since 2010, with reds, dry whites and sweet wines all showing promise, backed by a near-normal crop size. Reports from Margaux, Pessac and the Right Bank say the wines are particularly promising.
The Bad News: Not much bad news—some late-September rains were slightly heavier in the upper Médoc, providing the lone speed bump for the vintage.
Promising grapes: All major red grapes performed well, as well as Sauvignon Blanc.
Challenging grapes: Sémillon for dry whites had a tougher time shrugging off August rains.
Analysis: 2015 has Bordeaux producers smiling again, after a run of both difficult vintages and smaller-than-usual crops from 2011 through 2013. Quality looks to be consistently high among reds, dry whites and sweet wines.
“In the 2015 vintage everything is at least good—just a tiny percentage [of wine lots] will not make the cut of first or second wine,” said Christian Moueix, whose cluster of Right Bank châteaus includes Trotanoy and La Fleur-Pétrus in Pomerol and Bélair-Monange in St.-Emilion. “Some vats show a fantastic complexity of fruit, depth and length. The tannin level is very high but the tannins are so soft that it is difficult to believe.”
Following a wet winter which gave the vineyards water reserves that would prove to be important, Bordeaux’s 2015 growing season brought a mild spring that led to an even and on-time flowering, followed by dry and warm temperatures from June through the end of August.
“We had a great winter, very cold and rainy,” said Pierre Courdurie of Château Croix de Labrie in St.-Emilion. “The spring started with sun and no frost. Flowering was perfect: It took just two days in early June, which put us 2 weeks earlier compared to 2014 and almost on the same schedule as 2010. Then July was very hot and dry, one of the hottest in more than 30 years. In August we had just the perfect rainfall which made the veraison perfect.”
The late-season rains were well-timed, delivering just enough to freshen the vines after the dry growing season, though some spots in the upper Médoc saw heavier rainfall. In most areas, dry and windy conditions came in after the rains, helping prevent any disease pressures. The harvest was completed in a normal timeframe.
“After some early September rain, we had a sunny week and were able to pick our old-vine Merlots. Quality was very satisfying and yields were normal,” said Jean-Charles Cazes, referring to his family's Château Lynch Bages in Pauillac (the family also owns and runs châteaus Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac, Villa Bel-Air in Graves and Ormes de Pez in St.-Estèphe). “Then from Oct. 2nd through the 8th, we picked 150 acres of perfectly healthy Cabernet Sauvignon, filling 20 vats, which already show a very nice potential.”
Philippe Blanc, director at Château Beychevelle, reported a similar timeframe. “We started picking Merlot in St.-Julien on Sept. 22 and ended the last Cabernet Sauvignon on Oct. 8,” he said. “Qualitywise we are very satisfied, with very healthy grapes, good maturity and sugar content of Merlot ranging from 13.7 percent to 14.2 percent, and of Cabernet from 12.7 percent to 13.5 percent, which is a record high for this variety, though we are absolutely confident there is good balance and no lack of acidity whatsoever.”
Right Bank producers were similarly positive. “At this stage of fermentation, the various vats of wine are already showing rare aromatic complexity,” said Stephan von Neipperg, who owns several Right Bank properties, including Château Canon-La Gaffelière and La Mondotte in St.-Emilion. “The new wines are well-focused and fruity. They are powerful, but have a silky tannic structure.”
Dry white producers are also happy, with the season producing healthy Sauvignon Blanc grapes. “It's a great vintage for the Sauvignon Blanc,” said Jean-Christophe Mau of Château Brown in Pessac-Léognan. “A good level of acidity like 2007 and 2012, though the yield was a little less than the reds. For the Sémillon it was more complicated, as we had a little rot because of the water we had in August.”
Sweet wines look to be superb as well, with producers able to perform successive pickings in between spates of late rain that spurred waves of botrytis growth. “We finished on Oct. 21, with four tries total,” said Pierre Lurton, director at famed Sauternes estate Château d'Yquem. “The botrytis was fast and pure. It was really a classic vintage and we are very excited.”
“The botrytis attack was very homogenous on Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle,” said Aline Baly of Château Coutet in Barsac. “Initial tastings leave us all optimistic to their high quality.”
While much work remains to be done in the cellars, producers across the region are already eager to show off the young vintage next spring.