What a year! The season began with a freak frost in April.
The following day we had a very rare snow storm - only the
fourth in April seen in the last 80 years! These combined
events left many villages in the Côte d’Or with
20 to 50 % lost production for the season. The only positive
side was that the frost took place early enough in the season
so that some vines could compensate partially for lost production.
Then came the drought. Spring did not bring us the normal
amount of rain, and early summer saw official drought restrictions
put in place. The county of the Côte d’Or was
one of the hardest hit in all of France. In the short term
this does not cause a problem for the vines due to the fact
that the root system can go down as far as 15 meters or 40
feet into the ground and rock. But it would cause problems
when combined with what nature had in store for the rest of
As you may have heard, it was hot - very, very hot. And not
just for a short period of time. June and July were much hotter
than normal and for long periods. Then came August. The first
two weeks for August brought the worst heat wave in France
(and Europe) since 1893. The normal high temperatures in northern
France in the summer are around 35° C (95°F) and that
for a very short period of time. This year we experienced
40° C + (105°F) for a period of two weeks. This lead
to unimaginable human consequences.
The vines of Burgundy seemed to be doing very well even with
the extreme circumstances. Due to warm temperatures day and
night and the lack of precipitation, the grapes did not experience
much mildew and no rot which are two common problems in Burgundy.
And because of lower production after the spring frost there
was little need for a “green harvest” this year
(a practice of eliminating grape bunches from the vine in
the summer to concentrate the vine’s energy on the remaining
bunches). Since the flowering of the vine was 2 to 3 weeks
early, vineyard owners knew that the harvest would be early
- perhaps September 5th or 10th. In the Côte de Nuits,
for example, instead of September 20 to 25th in a normal vintage,
this year the official authorized harvest date was August
19th! The lack of rain and the heat had brought great concentration
to the grapes, meaning very high levels of natural sugar.
At the same time the acidity levels begin high but decrease
as the sugar levels increase, and a well-balanced wine needs
acidity for good structure and aging. So, in order to preserve
the remaining acidity, the grapes needed to be harvested as
soon as possible. In addition, the hot sun and dry conditions
caused many grapes on the vines to dry up and literally turn
into raisins on the vine. The final result is that the overall
production this year is 50% less than a normal year. We will
know more about the quality when the wines are in the barrels
and, of course, in the bottles. This is a difficult vintage
since there is nothing normal about this year. Quality winemakers
who don’t hesitate to consult with local oenologists
will keep a good hand on their wine as it ferments. These
winemakers could end up with one of the best vintages ever
seen. But others, who follow their winemaking techniques for
a “normal” year, could have some unpleasant surprises.
In any case, it will be a fascinating year that will distinguish
the talented from the less gifted.