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Wine Harvest 2015: Burgundy Winemakers Report Great Wines, but Low Quantities

A hot, dry year and variable conditions left some grapegrowers frustrated and some elated
Freshly picked Pinot Noir at Château de Marsannay
Photo by: Michel Joly
Freshly picked Pinot Noir at Château de Marsannay

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: November 19, 2015

Across the Northern Hemisphere, winemakers in many regions have finished one of the earlier grape harvests they've seen. They scrambled to pick fruit and find tank space, but now they are enjoying tasting the results and getting an idea of what nature provided. 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, France’s Burgundy, where a hot, dry summer impacted some vineyards more than others. Yields were also low in many vineyards. But vintners report that despite the challenges, they’ve produced some excellent wines.

The Good News: Winemakers report that Burgundy produced some excellent quality reds and whites—ripe, with freshness, balance and length. Reds look more successful than whites at this early stage.

The Bad News: Once again yields are low. One reason is that vines in areas which suffered hail damage in the past three years produced less fruit. Another is that many areas experienced poor flowering and grapes with little juice and thick skins. Attacks of oïdium also shrank yields. Late hail damaged some vineyards in Chablis, forcing growers to pick quickly.

Promising Areas: Chablis, Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune

Challenging Areas: Mâcon was drier, and its vines suffered more from drought conditions.

Picking Started: As early as Aug. 27 for young Chardonnay vines, Sept. 1 in Chablis, the first week of September in Côte de Beaune and the second week in Côte de Nuits.

Analysis: Burgundy’s 2015 began with a mild, wet winter and spring, providing water reserves for what turned out to be a hot, dry summer. Water proved key and what rain did fall in summer was uneven. According to Frédéric Barnier of Louis Jadot, about 2.5 inches of rain fell in the Côte de Beaune on June 20 and a little less fell in the Côte de Nuits, but only 0.4 inches fell in the Mâconnais and even less in Beaujolais.

Another inch or so of rain in August helped freshen the vines, but again less precipitation fell to the south in Mâcon. This put some stress on younger vines and vines planted in drier soils in that area. Across Burgundy, the dry conditions temporarily stopped grapes from ripening in areas with less rainfall.

Yields varied from place to place—Antoine Vincent reported normal yields for Chardonnay in Pouilly-Fuissé—but were generally lower than average. Oïdium, or powdery mildew, was a problem in some areas, but most vintners report picking ripe, healthy fruit. Sorting tables remained largely idle.

The varied conditions in different vineyards and the uneven yields make it hard to describe the quality or style of the vintage at this stage. Many winemakers are scratching their heads. Alex Gambal reports that his cooler parcels produced riper fruit and higher yields than his parcels with better exposures. While the grapes were ripe, sugar levels were not over the top and winemakers report alcohol levels are good and the wines are balanced.

All these factors make it difficult to compare 2015 with other vintages—it offers characteristics of 2003, 2005 and 2009 combined. “Let’s see what happens,” said Barnier. “But clearly we have something nice in our barrels in both colors, which is very good news.”

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