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2018 Wine Harvest Report: Burgundy Starts Fast and Finishes Slow

A stormy summer affected ripening, but quality and quantity are very promising
Harvest was slow but rewarding in Corton-Charlemagne and other Burgundy top spots.
Photo by: PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
Harvest was slow but rewarding in Corton-Charlemagne and other Burgundy top spots.

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: December 19, 2018

The 2018 growing season kept Burgundy’s vintners on their toes, with a quick start following by erratic rains and a slow harvest. However, in the end, yields were good and quality appears to be very good to outstanding.

Welcome to Wine Spectator's 2018 Wine Harvest Report, our coverage of Northern Hemisphere wine regions. (Our Southern Hemisphere 2018 harvest reports were published earlier this year.) While we won't know how good a vintage is until we taste the finished wines, these reports offer firsthand accounts from top winemakers in leading regions.

A fast start and a slow finish

“Although it has sometimes been tough to keep up with the rhythm, it has been an almost ideal season,” said Alexandre Brault, manager of Maison Alex Gambal. “We have had enough water and sun, and everything has grown perfectly, resulting in good volumes. In terms of crop quality, I don’t believe I have seen a rotten berry in all of the harvest. The grapes were in absolutely perfect condition, which has helped us wait for them to ripen.”

The rhythm and ripeness issues Brault was referring to were the varying amounts of rainfall during the summer, thanks to storms that impacted some areas but not others. It was possible to have 2 inches in Meursault and nothing in Chassagne-Montrachet on a given day. Vintners reported rain in one part, but not in another, of the same parcel.

The year began with a rainy spring that helped the vines to grow quickly once the sun appeared and temperatures rose toward the end of April. The flowering was also fast, starting in late May.

Hail struck Nuits-St.-Georges, specifically in the Prémeaux-Prissey section, in early July, while a second storm, two weeks later, dropped 7 inches of rain, according to Géraldine Godot, technical director of Domaine de l’Arlot. Though the moisture made working in the vineyards difficult, and workers had to make anti-fungal treatments by hand, Godot was pleased with the resulting yield and quality of the grapes. “Despite two violent hailstorms at Prémeaux-Prissey, [yields] are almost similar to 2017,” she said. (In 2017, the crop was one of the largest of the past decade.)

Dimitri Bazas, technical director of Maison Champy reports that July and August were hot, with abundant sunshine. Yet it was the uneven pattern of rainfall that required patience and planning during the harvest. Expecting to start harvest early, on Aug. 25 due to the heat, the team at Gambal discovered that not all their parcels were ripe. In fact, the typical picking pattern according to each climat was quickly abandoned.

Courtesy Maison Alex Gambal
Chardonnay grapes just off the vine in Bâtard-Montrachet.

“We generally harvest our Bâtard on the same day as our Enseignères; this year we picked them a week apart,” recalled Brault. “Our small plot of Meursault Narvaux is usually one of the last whites; it was one of the first this year. We generally harvest most of the whites first; this year we were harvesting both whites and reds at the same time. We harvested between Aug. 27 and Sept. 20, almost four weeks … never heard of.”

In the end, yields were good—less than the abundant 2017 harvest, but much higher than 2016, when frost struck some areas, as well as the small volume in 2015 and the hail-impacted 2014, 2013 and 2012 vintages.

In Chablis, Gregory Viennois, technical director for Domaine Laroche, reported good ripeness and acidity in the newly fermented whites. He says he was one of the first to start picking, on Aug. 27, in order to preserve that acidity. “We took our time and we finished the 13th of September. No rot, no disease, beautiful conditions”

In Pouilly-Fuissé, the spring rain also lessened impact of the subsequent hot, dry summer, according to Antoine Vincent, proprietor and winemaker at Château Fuissé. The early flowering suggested a mid- to late-August harvest, but “the vines continued slowly mature, so we decided to wait until Sept. 1, to [aim] for the physiological maturity.” Vincent also said there was a good volume of juice in the berries, resulting in healthy yields.

Overall, 2018 was a year that delivered new challenges for growers in Burgundy, but also brought promising results. However, as the Burgundians say: "On verra." We’ll see.

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