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Ideal Conditions in the Languedoc; Plenty of Prep Work in Bordeaux

Jean-Charles Cazes still has more harvesting to do at L'Ostal Cazes and Lynch Bages.

Posted: Oct 10, 2008 4:10pm ET

By Jean-Charles Cazes

Posted by Jean-Charles Cazes

Since we started harvesting our youngest Syrah vines at L'Ostal Cazes (our Languedoc property) on September 17th, the weather has been favorable in Minervois. We were blessed with sunny days and cool nights, which helped produce grapes with ripe tannins, good aromatics and the right level of sugar. There are several different ways to assess maturity: we always look first at the sugar content (which will eventually transform into alcohol) and then the phenolic maturity (ripeness of the skin and seeds), which is just as important.

This year, it seems that everything was on track at L'Ostal Cazes. Comparatively with other wine producing regions where we are harvesting, La Livinière (the sub-appellation in Minervois where L'Ostal is located) has enjoyed the best conditions we've experienced this year. After 13 days of harvesting, we've brought in all of our Grenache and Carrignan, with only a few parcels of Mourvèdre remaining. The yield is a decent 30 hectoliters per hectare, but most importantly, the grapes were very homogenous and ripe. According to our local winemaker, Fabrice, "this is the most interesting vintage we've experienced since we took over the estate in 2002.

Back in Pauillac at Lynch Bages, we finished picking our Merlot after two days of harvesting (Tuesday and Wednesday). We then decided to wait until yesterday to continue with the Cabernet Franc, which only took one day to pick. There are always different strategies regarding picking dates, which always depend on the weather forecast. The growth of services on the Internet has provided us with very reliable tools, and I'm often impressed when talking with my technicians. Their knowledge in meteorology is equivalent to a navigator for sailing!

Because of difficult growing conditions in August, we decided to hire extra workers to de-compact the grape bunches and de-leaf the second side of the rows—we usually de-leaf only one side. These thinning operations are intended to enhance the circulation of air, allowing the breeze to dry the grapes more easily in humid conditions and limiting possible botrytis development. You also expose the fruit to direct sunlight, which will speed up the maturation process.

Rows of Cabernet Sauvignon at Lynch Bages.  

However, there is much at stake in this game—if we strip our vines too much, the grapes are vulnerable to sunburn if the weather suddenly changes. This is the first time that we have applied this method to all our parcels.

Nicolas, my winemaker at Lynch Bages and Ormes de Pez tells me that our "green operations" have enhanced the efficiency of the pickers. Since the bottom leaves no longer hide the grapes, they are more easily accessible. We crunched our daily statistics and noticed that we will probably gain one day on our initial schedule. This, combined with the addition of a fourth team of pickers, means that we are more prepared than ever - we now have about 200 people mobilized for the picking, carrying and sorting of the grapes.

The ceaseless ballet of tractors bringing the Cabernet in will last until next Wednesday and my internet oracles tell me that the weather should be reliable for the at least the next 4 days—it seems that our choices in harvesting dates will eventually pay off.

Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  October 15, 2008 9:37am ET
At this point how would you assess the quality of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage? What prior vintage is it most similiar with?

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