Analysis of Burgundy is something that I normally steer well clear of and most happy to leave this Rubik’s Cube of man and environment to the more obsessed dedicated and knowledgeable. I do enjoy Burgundy and visit frequently enough to embrace the subtleties, but not enough to comment on the dissection of a vintage. There is of course much commentary (noise) available on the net and from every quarter of the wine writing fraternity, but here’s some candid assessment from Alex Gambal, a vigneron of the English tongue that gives us a good insight of his toils and what we might expect in bottle. And while you’re there check out the Alex Gambal website www.alexgambal.com for a unique and fascinating story.
Before there is either a great deal of hand wringing, PR spin, negative and positive hyperbole or downright false statements about 2012 let me give you a summary of what happened this growing season. In short it was a very challenging and exhausting period for all growers and winemakers in the Cote D’Or (and a good part of France). We were challenged with practically every malady and climatic challenge but in the end it appears we have some wonderful wines in our barrels. This is to say despite all the challenges at harvest the grapes we harvested had little to no rot, the wines have good to terrific analytic balance but there is very little of it. In some cases appellations have not been this low in nearly seventy years.
I look forward to hearing from you.
April: cold weather and frost.
June: poor flowering
June & August: 3 serious hail storms
July: Sunburnt grapes
September: Healthy grapes but tiny yields
Whether you were bio or conventional your were challenged at every turn with a record number of vine treatments (and costs) for the growing season.
In order to be fair I have looked at my notes to give you the high/low lights of the growing season. The points marked with stars are moments of particular importance.
The winter was not particularly severe and we had another spectacular warm March that made us think of 2011 where at one moment we were 6-8 weeks ahead. Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, the week of March 19th, were under spring skies. We even had friends up on Sunday the 25th for lunch for a barbecue; it was so wonderfully warm we all took afternoon siestas in the sun.
Wintery mix is the way to imagine April. Cold, windy, rainy with several days near freezing slowed the growth of the vines considerably and in retrospect caused the loss of many of the embryonic buds. The cold and rain also jump started mildou in the vines.
* April 16-17: frost kills off young buds.
Rain off and on the whole month and very few “glorious May days.” It was often difficult to get in the vines because of the rain and mildou is rampant. It was very difficult to keep up much less get ahead of the mildou cycle because of the cold wet weather. There was some frost after the “St. Glace” (Ice Saint) which is around the 12-14 of May. The old timers say that if you get past St. Glace the threat of frost damage is over; not this year. Around the 19th frost hit lower areas in Chassagne and Puligny to name a few. Vignerons with sixty years of experience told me that had never see this before.
June 1 and 2 we have spectacular sunny warm days. At my birthday party with Francois Rocault (55+55) many of our vigneron friends were bemoaning the short cycle for treating the vines, their inability to keep up and often the problem of tractors that were broken down because of overuse (already).
Here are a few details:
* June 6: hail in Savigny les Beaune and parts of Chorey les Beaune.
June 7: In order to catch up my team treats all of our 3.5 hectares in the day with portable (backpack) sprayers.
June 12: Tour of vines: Savigny has damage but before flowering, branches bruised from the hail. Some hail damage in Chassagne.
* June 13: 10c / 50 f at my home at 8AM. Cold rainy on and off for 10-12 days; lousy flowering = colure and millerandage, “hens and chickens.”
* June 14: Mildou in check but just barely. A terrific parcel of Bourgogne Pinot Noir, more than one hectare, has been totally eaten up by mildou.
* June 30: We are at the Elegance de Volnay a celebration of Volnay and its wines with most of the Volnay producers. at 8:30 PM a severe storm pouches on us as we race to the tent for dinner. Soon what sounds as though it is raining acorns taps the tent. Hail the size of moth balls ravage the vines from northern Meursault to Pommard; Volnay and Pommard lose 70-100% of their harvest.
Most of the month is either humid, with some sun but not summer.
July 7: 13c / 55 f at 8:00 at in Orches in the Haute Cote; 22c / 72 f maximum during the day. My air conditioning guy comes in for the annual maintenance; rather droll. In the AM with a strong breeze in Puligny it feels like October!
July 17: the weather gets better, a bit of summer. Tour of various parcels I have contracts for; some ok, others not great still others a disaster. Mildou is ever present
* July 23-30: This week is very hot; too hot. We and many others have pulled leaves to get better air circulation (to limit the mildou) but this allows the infant grapes to be exposed directly to the sun before that have turned color and have thicker skins. In essence the grapes are sunburnt (echaudage) and they will dry up and fall off the stems.
* August 1: I go down to the cellar for a tasting and at 7:00 PM when I come up it is dark; I think, “strange is it night already.” A viscous storm descends that reminds me of The Wizard of Oz, buckets of rain and I am sure hail somewhere; 30 mm (1.2 inches) of rain in 40 minutes. This, our third hail storm, hits Chassagne (again) and Puligny. I lose 60-70% of my two parcels of Puligny and 15-20% of my Batard.
As August continues we say au revoir to mildou and bonjour to odium. The weather is a mixed bag of nice clear days, hot humid days and some cool days (perfect for odium) .
The grapes are turning color and ripening quickly because there are so few of them.
August 24:” “Thought it would clear up but it rains buckets of rain at 1:00-1:45…and again buckets at 15:00 but at least no hail.”
August 25: We are at a collective 40th birthday party for friends in Chassagne. Some showers early but clears up and it becomes breezy; it feels like fall.
Some comments from a “Who’s Who” of Chassagne who were at the party;
* “I am over it (j’en ai marre), I have never seen it like this.”
* “All we have not had is rot.”
* “I just want to get this harvest over and forgot about the year.” (This I heard repeatedly.)
The first 10 days are beautiful clear wonderful weather. Our first prelevements show fairly ripe red grapes with the Chorey already at 10.4. We do not expect to start for another 10-12 days. The white grapes are ripening more slowly.
September 11-17: “Rain and then nice days; one good and then one overcast or with showers; “so what’s new?”
September 18: we start slowly with our parcel of Chassagne L’Ormeau. Should make 3 barrels, last year 2 barrels, this year we picked it with 6 of us in just 1 1/2 hours; 1 barrel!
September 19-29: we picked our own vines of 3.5 hectares plus another 6.5 of our various suppliers.
September 26: starts raining at 3 AM and then comes down in sheets at 5 AM. We call off picking as does virtually every other domaine. We resume the 28th in with think mud everywhere in trench warfare like conditions; I can only imagine what it was like in WWI.
Here are some general observations and now confirmed my many other vignerons.
* There was no rot and very little triage. The one thing we were most afraid of at harvest was rot and there was virtually none. What we harvested was clean, concentrated, ripe but there were very few grapes.
* The skins of the grapes were thick resulting in good colors but proportionally very little juice in proportion to the pulp.
* Thus the weight of the grapes were similar to 2011 in that it took more kilos to make the equilivant volume of wine as in say 2009.
* All of the Cote D’Or was affected by the severe climatic conditions. The sole difference is that the Cote de Nuits did not have the severity of the hail as the Cote de Beaune.
* In the Volnay and Pommard 1er Cru vineyards yields are as low as 0-5-8 hectoliters. In other words virtually nothing.
* If there was a rule for the year there was none. A very few areas had lower than normal yields while others were down a great deal. Some examples Pinot yields:
Savigny Village: 40 hl/ha
Savigny 1er Cru: down 50-70%
Beaune 1er Cru: down 30-50%
Chambolle 1er Cru: correct
Clos Vougeot: down 30-50-60%
When one looks at how close Clos Vougeot and Chambolle are and the differences in their yields it makes one wonder what Mother Nature was up to.
* Yields on the whites were down an additional factor than the reds because of the hail.
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