Bordeaux 2021 by Bordeaux Vins Sélection

2021: A WINEMAKER’S VINTAGE

Viticulture is a school of hard knocks. This vintage wouldn’t let us forget it, with successive wavesof challenges: frost, mildew, botrytis. Many fears, doubts, even tears. Lost or frustratinglydiminished harvests. Many April nights were as intense as the days, as constantly mobilizedwinegrowers had to be vigilant, patient and obstinate. However, with careful observation and ever-more precise interventions, they have been able to overcome this troublesome vintage that causedso much suffering. The 2021 vintage is undoubtedly one marked by resilience, thanks to the skillsemployed and to the beautiful weather at the end of the season that completed the ripening of thegrapes. We feared the worst, and the best happened… On both sides of the Garonne, there aresuccesses to be found.

A RAINY START AND A COLD SPRING

As in the previous year, 2021 started off with a very wet winter, with a historically mild February(+2.49°C compared to the ten-year average). Water reserves were replenished by the abundantwinter rainfall. Consequently, an early and rapid budbreak occurred in mid-March, after which dryand mild weather set in. The 31st was the warmest day ever recorded in March since 1900. In thevineyards, the buds began to come out. Everyone wondered: could it be summer already? Then, achange of scene as dramatic as on an opera stage: winter suddenly returned on April 5th. Theweather forecast announced a cold snap that would last several nights. Some properties choose torush their work on the soil, to weed the rows to help dry out the most fragile plots. Others equippedthemselves with candles, braziers, heaters, windmills, even helicopters to stir the air and maintain alittle heat between the rows. The nights of April 6 and 7 stressed the whole region, as exceptionallycold temperatures mobilized everyone to the vineyards. All the Bordeaux appellations wereaffected. The winegrowers were exhausted, as they waited for the results of their efforts.

The next stage of the vine lifecycle was slowed by a cold spring (- 1.6°C on average compared toprevious years). The first flowers appeared around May 24. Another source of concern arose: thecombination of low temperatures and frequent rain impacted fruit set, causing coulure to be aconcern for some, along with the first attacks of mildew. Mid-May to mid-July were two months ofintense rainfall, with thunderstorms in June. The difficult singularity of the 2021 vintage: recordrainfall that reached levels rarely observed in Gironde: 380 mm recorded from May 1st to July 15th,vs. 170 mm on average. This climate increased the disease pressure in the vineyards, not just frommildew but also from black rot. For many winegrowers, these were the worst sanitary conditionsthey faced in the last 20 years. In order to facilitate the ripening of the grapes and to reduce disease,targeted leaf thinning was practiced until late in the season.

AN UNCERTAIN SUMMER

Finally, the sun came back in mid-July. Finally, the mercury rose. Veraison started slowly, as untilmid-August the vine lacked heat and light. Pruning efforts were redoubled. Alarmingly, even at theend of August, the grapes still tasted bland and watery.

A MIRACULOUS AUTUMN

In the first two weeks of September, the summer weather lingered, bringing joy to thewinegrowers. The Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes completed their ripening under idealconditions; their skins took on a pretty amber hue and citrus notes. Picking began at the beginningof September. Fifteen days later, the Semillon was harvested and presented a pleasant texture andrichness. For the red grapes, there were more concerns: the high temperatures combined with tendays of ominous weather forecasts threatened the integrity of the grapes. Some chose to harvest,others preferred to wait in spite of the threat of storms. It must be said that the work accomplishedthroughout the year, both in the preparation of the soil and the vine, considerably reduced theeffects of excess rainfall and a lack of light. Almost the entire month of September was hot, withhigh temperatures not observed since 1911. Daytime (+1.6°C) and night-time (+2.5°C) temperatureswere well above the average of the last thirty years.

HARVESTING AT THE RIGHT TIME

For many, the focus was to push the gustatory and phenolic maturities as much as possible, totone down the high acidity and vegetal notes. However, the decision to wait to pick was not aneasy one, as at the same time the threat of botrytis was rapidly increasing, which risks decreasingyields. Thanks to the extreme vigilance and dedication of the personnel, very little damageoccurred. The teams passed through the vineyards multiple times, working weekdays andweekends alike. For the great majority of the properties on both sides of the river, the first Merlotgrapes were harvested at the end of September.

October was a beneficial month: the alternation of warm days (over 20°C) and cool nights (under10°C) allowed for greater concentration and aromatic qualities. The skins became more refined andthe seeds lost their bitterness. Generally, the remaining Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon were pickedstarting on October 4th.

MINIMALIST INTERVENTIONS IN THE CELLAR

Another nice surprise: the raw material that went into the vats was of usually high quality, as adrastic selection of the grapes was vital. In the cellar, gentle extractions were used at the beginning offermentation, followed by a few infusions during post-fermentation maceration to structure the mid-palate. Others used only light pump-overs and punch downs. The common goal was to preserve thedelicacy of the fruit and tannins. Careful, thoughtful blending did the rest.

A HAPPY ENDING

The grapes that make up the wines before us had to escape many chances for destruction. Theysurvived in spite of frost, coulure and disease. Furthermore, the tastings so far have proved thatdespite these successive challenges, the results are lovely. The Merlots are sweet, fruity and rich, whilethe Cabernet Sauvignon has an appealing freshness and intensity, with moderate alcohol levels.Certainly, there is not the flesh and density of the 2019s and 2020s, but the vintage, with its classicaesthetic, is charming, pretty, and full of promise.
The 2021 vintage is above all a victory of man against nature.

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