Bordeaux is currently going through one of its driest cycle in recent history. 2010 is the third driest year right behind 2005 and 1998. So far, since December 2009, the average monthly rainfall has been below the average of the last thirty years. We know: Drought means highly concentrated berries and small yield.
Poor fruit set (coulure) resulting in varied size grapes (millerandage) were induced by chilly and rainy weather at the time of flowering, particularly among the old merlot vines, thus naturally reducing the yield. Needless to say grapes will have to be properly sorted and small hard berries sifted out.
I can see four extremely positive things in the vineyards today: small dark berries, little juice, no shrivelled berries as in 2009 and still leafy and green vines that have obviously not suffered from the heat and continue to ripen their fruit. When the plots are ploughed- which is twice as effective as watering- the vines are better protected against a stop to the maturing process and limited volumes. The grapes from such plots may be brought in earlier and with confidence.
The remarkable stamp of July 2010 can already be felt.
Let´s not forget that if August makes the must and September the calibre, July also plays a major part in the concentration of the berries by triggering the water stress process. In 2010, July was dry, sunny and hot. Today, analyses all show a higher concentration in tannins than at exactly the same time in 2009, high sugar content, potentially high alcohol levels and well-balanced acidity.
I am pleasantly surprised by the excellent flavours of the berries, already crunchy pips and tender skins than this time last year. Sunny and warm daytime weather turning cool at night favours aromatic concentration. It is already noticeable in the first vinified whites to come out of the vats, already more punchy and scented than the 2009s.
What will the impact of a chilly August and rainfall forecast for end of September be?
The first fortnight in August was cold - more similar to the 2002 summer than 2005. Only the last 10 days were sunny and warm. I was worried. Having said that, if strong heat and drought had persisted, it would have been a disaster. We all know the saying August makes the must . I would also add that August makes the breadth in mid palate. Chilly weather in August should have slowed down the grapes maturing process. Strangely enough, quite the opposite happened. Not only was the veraison even and consistent but the vines caught up after somewhat slow budding and flowering. Such a month should have limited the maturing process - as in 2007. Lab analyses today should therefore clearly be affected, and yet, against all odds, they show that alcohol levels on merlots are everywhere between 13 to 15 - they are also high on the cabernets sauvignons - polyphenols plentiful, the malic acid low a sign a maturity- and that pHs remain at an average level. So I cannot possibly imagine the wines will lack body, au contraire.
Drought over heat.
We, professionals or amateurs, might have to update our knowledge as drought seems to be playing a bigger part than heat for the quality. It was already true in 2008: July was glorious, similar to 2005, the summer dry, but sun-soaked hot days were too few and far between in August. And yet the 2008s are denser and deeper wines than the 2004s and 2006s.
What about the weather in late September?
The focus is now on the rainfall expected in the next few days. However, according to Château Ausone weather site, the predicted rainfall is likely to be light and brought in by Northerly winds. I personally believe the merlots are now poised to give out their best, particularly on the early soils. Haut-Brion have started bringing them since Monday 13th, kick off was Monday 20th in Pomerol and Monday 27th for the Saint-Emilion limestone vineyards. The next few days will also be critical for the cabernets sauvignons and cabernets francs, all gorgeous and in perfect sanitary condition. As for now, the weather is holding well with sunny, warm days around 26 C- and cool nights between 12 C and 17 C. (j-m.quarin - red.yoopress)