We will not curb our enthusiasm – we have a very good vintage on our hands. A miracle according to some, when you bear in mind the adverse conditions at the beginning of the year. However the result is unquestionably there – in the vats, the juice is of an exceptional quality because the grapes ripened perfectly. A special alchemy of incredible levels of sunshine and rain arriving just when required. In the living memories of the winemakers, we have never seen such a level of success and consistency across the region, with the slight exception of young vines in dry terroirs.
2016 will rest in the memory for several reasons. For the first 6 months of the year, we recorded more than 700mm of rainfall – double the amount of a normal year. From January to June, the monthly precipitation was greater than the average by incredible ratios – 20% – 133% – depending on the month. The constant dampness during spring brought with it a considerable threat of disease for the vines. Aggressive attacks of mildew caused concern throughout the vineyards. The winegrowers had to work relentlessly to save the future harvest. At the same time and during a brief favourable weather period there was a quick and consistent flowering. However the mood was certainly one of deep concern.
The scenery changed from the 3rd week of June. Sunny periods became more prolific and the temperatures started to rise. The big blue sky coaxed us into believing that a summer might after all be possible. The vines appeared very comfortable – the growth was entirely regular and the berries were growing very normally. It was all quite unexpected giving way to a breath of optimism like a beneficial wind blowing in the vineyard. But the growers had to be on their guard – Mother Nature teaches vigilance.
After an almost perfect month of July without a single drop of rain, the vineyards had a healthy appearance and the berries were developing nicely despite a deficit of water (the vines were tapping into the resources of water which had accumulated in the soils over the 1st six months of the year). There were some parcels of vines which had lost their leaves but in the grand scheme of the region under vine, this was negligible.
August started out in the same way until August 15th – sunny days with good temperatures and cool nights. The vignerons are perfectly familiar with storms during this period often bringing saving drops of water. A serious dry period can cause blockages in the growth cycle and cause delays in the ripeness of the grapes. This year we didn’t see any storms and worse, the temperatures continued to rise and the drought deepened. And so the worry and concern crept back into the minds of the winemakers. Everyone was praying for some rain. 2016 was indisputably one of the hottest years on record with low and high temperatures above the seasonal averages by between 0.8°C and 3.5°C.
The lack of water dragged on until September -72% in July, -79% in August, -11% in September. It was obvious that the maturity would struggle to be optimized without water but equally the vignerons were also fearful of the type of strong rainfall which can ruin a vintage. Very fortunately fine and light rain arrived on September 13th and 14th.
A total of 30-40mm which was exactly what was required. Day by day the vineyards recovered their allure with the exception of the younger vines which struggled considerably with dehydration. In some areas susceptible to hydraulic stress, the vines lost their leaves very early.
The limited amount of rainfall in September and October lessened the traditional risk of botrytis in this period thus allowing for a quite late picking period. The harvest was therefore quite peaceful and relaxed – perhaps the longest in history as the vignerons were able to take their time. This permitted the fairly rare phenomenon of several selections occurring within the parcels for the reds. The juice showed a moderate level of alcohol due to the large amount of production as well as the blockage in the production of sugar because of the drought and also the generally reasonable diurnal temperatures. There was also a perfectly satisfactory acidity with a low level of malic acid thanks to the incredible level of sunshine. In the reds, the ration of marc compared with juice was also very good. In addition, the white wines are also looking very promising thanks to the fact that the temperatures were never too excessive. There is also an excellent amount of juice.
The vinification ran its course without complication. It is true that when the raw materials are so good, the less interference there is, the fewer the errors made. All that was needed was to keep an eye on the temperatures during fermentation and to ensure that pumping over and pushing down of the marc was done as softly as possible. There was no need either to prolong the time in the vats since the extraction was straightforward and rapid.
What the Growers are Saying About the 2016 Vintage
Pauline VAUTHIER – Château Ausone
“The 2016 vintage for the Vauthier Vignobles was complicated from a climatic point of view – 6 months of rain (around 600mm between January and June) and then not a drop until September 10th. Fortunately a rain-storm on the 13th September giving 30mm allowed the grapes to continue their maturity and to swell. Before this rain, the berries were small due to the dryness. Our terroirs (sandy for Simard, Haut Simard and Fonbel and clay-limestone for Ausone, Moulin Saint-Georges and La Clotte) didn’t suffer from the drought with the exception of some newly-planted vines.
We started picking on September 27th with the merlot at Haut-Simard. Everything went ahead very calmly thanks to the ideal meteorological conditions. There was no threat from rot. We finished harvesting on October 19th with the Cabernet Franc at Ausone. The juice passed 25-30 days in the vats and we racked and punched down as normal.
It is beautiful vintage with very nice fruit and an excellent balance of acidity and minerality. The malolactic fermentations are taking place now (mid-December) so it is a little early to give a commentary on how the wines taste.”
Pierre GRAFFEUILLE – Domaines Delon
“First of all, contrary to a lot of other regions, Bordeaux was very lucky in 2016 to be spared the terrible effects of such things as hail or frost. Spring through to summer was cold and very rainy but we managed to avoid any rain during the crucial flowering period which went very smoothly. There was therefore no coulure.
Summer was warm but without excessive heat with cool nights giving quite a big differential in the temperature between night and day. The real particularity of the summer of 2016 was the dryness – we had just 21mm of rain in total at Leoville Las Cases in July and August, practically nothing. Hydraulic stress was therefore a factor. Under such conditions, soils with elements of clay and vines with deep roots tend to resist better and don’t suffer from the block in the vegetative cycle.
Fortunately some saving drops of water fell in mid-September, just when we needed them and nature was kind to us right up until the end – once the autumn equinox passed, the weather became dry again and we were able to pick when we wanted thus waiting for the optimal maturity for each variety on the all the different plots. The harvest was therefore serenely spread over a long period. Sunny days were followed by cool nights giving perfectly balanced and healthy grapes.
We started picking on September 26th and finished at Chateau Nenin on October 12th and October 19th at Leoville Las Cases and Potensac. With such an excellent maturity, the vinifications were relatively straightforward. Extraction happened quickly and we decided to limit the amount of pumping over towards the end of the fermentation and to avoid a longer than normal maceration.
Coming out of the vinification, the wines are powerful but elegant with a superb equilibrium and a juicy quality which almost makes you want to drink them now. The wines might shut down at some point – time will tell. The tannins are extremely silky and flavoursome. With all the varieties being of high quality, we are without doubt looking at an exceptional vintage for Bordeaux.”
Bruno BORIE – Château Ducru-Beaucaillou
“2016? I would describe it as a biblical vintage. We first of all experienced the flood with a sodden spring, then the plagues of Egypt with much disease (mildew and grey rot) and of course afterwards we had to cross the desert with the drought. Only 22mm of rain in the months of July and August. And then – the promised land, the more we got closer to Jerusalem, the more beautiful it became. On September 14th the holy water came with 30-31mm of salvational rain. It took a bit of time to dry
but there was no danger from disease.
On September 24th and 25th we harvested the merlot and from October 7th-14th the cabernets and petits verdots – all incredibly consistent believe me! The beneficial weather allowed us to attain the best possible point of maturity. Not since 2003 have I seen such superb grapes, ripe but balanced with an excellent acidity. In Bordeaux we can say that the vintage was generally very successful. Today we are all travelling in the same direction and are reaping the rewards. How can we not rejoice?”
Bernard MAGREZ– Château Pape Clément, Château Fombrauge, Château La Tour Carnet, Clos Haut-Peyraguey
“The most knowledgeable people, be they château-owners or not, say that this 2016 vintage is something approaching the 2010. It is undoubtedly a remarkable vintage and one which is superior to the 2015. Bordeaux deserves it after the difficulties of 2011, 2012 and 2013. And the 2016 will be the best antidote to “Bordeaux Bashing”.
To the displeasure of some perhaps, Bordeaux with its unique wines is unbeatable – wines of great class and great charm. Let us remember the 2009s and 2010s.
Contrary to what we were thinking, the Semillon is incredible this year and the Cabernets as well. The non-stop rain of the first few months of the year gave us some concern but autumn calmed those nerves. Viticulture just like life, is made better and more interesting by its continual changing.
As far as pricing is concerned, we remain true to our philosophy and promise – reasonable prices across the range of our wines. We don’t choose the price with regards to our neighbor but rather to appeal to our consumers around the world.”
Daniel CATHIARD– Château Smith Haut Lafitte
“The 2016 vintage started badly and in the end we witnessed something of a miracle. You must remember that we very nearly had frost problems, then we were drowning in water and then suffering from the summer heat. In autumn we suffered from a terrible lack of water. It even hailed. Fortunately it was a thin, smooth hail which didn’t damage the berries. To paraphrase Nietzsche “whatever doesn’t kill the vine, makes it stronger”.
The miracle? A magnificent autumn which went on and on with a very pure and dry air. It saved us and resolved all the problems that the vines had experienced. We had
plenty of time to harvest one variety at a time without being pressured and with a small number of collectors (80 instead of 200 as seen in previous years).
At the beginning, we thought that the climatic phenomena would have consequences for the final product. However in the end and as the days went on we became more and more serene and confident. And we weren’t wrong! The wines are in the style of the 2010 with a slightly more noble content. The whites are excellent quality but we have to say that the reds are superior thanks to strict selection and a perfect maturity of grapes which were small and concentrated.
Everywhere in France with so many wineries badly hit in some way there will be a shortage of wine but in Bordeaux we are blessed.”
Michel ROLLAND – Consultant Winemaker
“After 44 vintages in the Bordeaux vineyards, I hope you can trust that I can make a judgement about the quality of the vintage which has just been made. I dare to say and with conviction that the 2016 vintage is the best of all! The maturity took place under excellent conditions – what it has given across all the varieties are aromatic profiles of great quality. There is a freshness, a precision and concentration which only the very best vintages can get near. An exceptionally good vintage thanks to the work done as much in the vineyards as in the winery. We have been particularly lucky here in Bordeaux – the only viticultural area in France to be spared of the serious weather problems seen elsewhere.”