The 2016 Vintage
Aubert de Villaine
October 21st, 2016
2016: a year of extremes that cannot be compared to any other one.
The calm has returned to the Côte after the din of the harvest, the clicking of secateurs and the songs of the pickers. The vigneron lives in his winery where the grapes are turning into wine, rumbling at the beginning and then singing softly. The wineries become the theater where the great concert of the year is playing.
Outside, the vineyards are slowly changing colors as if at night a painter was putting a touch of red here, of purple here and of gold there to create a bright and changing picture that we discover every morning.
The devattings have hardly finished or are close to the end. The wines settle down little by little in their barrels, in the cellars where they are going to live for the 18 months that are so important before the bottling.
The time has come to look back and try to understand the stages of this incredible scenario that took us from the perspective of a total defeat in Spring to a victory that ranks 2016 among the most perfect vintages of these last years.
When a vigneron meets a colleague, how does their conversation begin : “if only the frost in Spring (and sometimes hail as well) had not taken away such a great part of the crop, what an extraordinary vintage we would have got!”
In Spring the vigneron was like Ulysses in the Odyssey when the fury of Poseidon almost made his boat founder in the storm, but fortunately the gods were not all against him and a loving goddess saved him…
The season had not started very well. The winter was very mild without any of these periods of frost or snow that usually clean up the remaining bad miasma of the past year.
As a result, the budbreak was early and took place during a mild and humid weather that lasted during the whole Spring and even until mid-July. 516 mm of rain fell on the village of Vosne-Romanée between January and May! exceeding the total rainfall that had been recorded in the legendary year of 1910 when the harvest was almost totally lost. We were giving up hope that rain would ever stop!
In this context, with so few days without rain, it was very difficult to organize the necessary ploughing and the phytosanitary treatments. We had to take advantage of the short “windows” of dry weather and we knew that, if we missed them, we would be invaded by grass. Above all it was necessary to protect the vineyards from the development of mildew as it was reaching a level that we had never experienced before.
In the Spring we counted around 35 cycles or ”repiquages” of mildew while usually there are very few or even none as in 2015.
At the same time, as if nature had wanted to make us fall from Charybde into Scylla, at the end of April the North wind blew the clouds away and brought the sun which we were all expecting. But in fact it brought three days of strong morning frost and it was with sadness that we found early on the morning of April 27 that our vineyards of Montrachet, BâtardMontrachet, Echezeaux and Grands-Echezeaux had been devastated by frost. In the following days the young shoots became black, dry and began to fall. Fortunately the Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-St-Vivant and Corton were little or not at all affected by the frost.
The fear of mildew did not decrease. We were obliged to multiply treatments. This fight lasted until mid-july. It was led with total dedication and without any break (on week-ends if necessary) by Nicolas Jacob and his team, and always within our biodynamic practices, using only the two authorized products: copper, in small quantity, and sulphur.
Remaining faithful to the biologic options that we have chosen for more than 30 years now has the consequence of a loss in quantity, since the crop cannot be protected as much as with chemical products, but the gain in quality resulting from the concentration of the elements that constitute the grapes is far superior to the loss.
These conditions were of course not very favorable at the period of flowering. This started on June 9th, which was rather late compared to previous years, but above all it was spread out until June 25th, which made us fear an uneven ripening. This finally did not occur thanks to the heat which finally arrived.
And then, from July 15th, rain stopped and summer weather set in until the harvest and even after.
This dry and hot weather lasted thanks to its best ally, the North wind that kept on blowing almost all the time. Some days were hot, close to scorching, but the danger of real drought that was becoming apparent through some burnt berries that had been the most exposed to the sun was averted by the short rainstorm episodes around August 15th, then by two beneficial rains that arrived at the right time, in early September for the first one and from September 16th to 18th for the second one, only a few days before the harvest.
Rains provided relief to some of the vineyards whose ripening was beginning to be blocked by drought. They also caused the swelling of berries and a good balance between the increase of sugars and the phenolic maturity of stalks, pips and skins…
These ideal conditions also enabled the vineyards to recover after the Spring attacks. Those that had been affected by frost produced new shoots, allowing us to have wood to prune for next year and the hope of a normal crop in 2017.
The vigneron found himself believing in miracles when he remembered the state of the vineyards in late April, after the frost !
These same ideal conditions permitted the grapes to ripen very quickly. Once again, we realized how, at the end of the season in hot weather, our grape varieties could have an extremely rapid increase of potential sugar. At the same time we observed accumulations of anthocyanins and of tannins that were even superior to 2015.
Even though our analysis and tastings confirmed that the crop was already very ripe around September 15th, the outstanding sanitary condition of the grapes led us to take time and wait until the 22nd to harvest our Corton. Being situated in the Côte de Beaune these vineyards are always the first to ripen. We could also benefit from the last small rain.
On September 23rd, we began the harvest in Vosne-Romanee. The picking took place all along in beautiful weather until September 30th, when it ended in a festive atmosphere. The grapes were black, in perfect sanitary condition, full of juice and sugar, without any botytris for the second consecutive year, after 2015. No more fears! We could only hear the songs of the harvesters in the sun and the breathing of the earth that was warming up, while giving us joyfully the fruit that had been conceived.
Here are the harvest dates for each wine as well as the approximate yields:
Corton: September 22nd / 22hl/ha
Richebourg: September 23rd and 24th / 24hl/ha
Romanée-Conti: September 25th / 24hl/ha
La Tâche: September 24th and 25th / 31hl/ha
Romanée-St-Vivant: September 27th and 28th / 27hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux: September 29th / 7hl/ha
Echezeaux: September 9th / 6hl/ha
These yields are medium to normal in Romanée-Conti, La Tâche and Corton which were not affected by frost. They are somewhat inferior in Romanée-St-vivant and Richebourg where the northern part of each climat was slightly hit. They are from 6hl to 7hl/ha only in Grands-Echezeaux and Echezeux only, as could be expected, but finally these yields are rather a good surprise in comparison with the impression of absolute disaster we had in Spring. Moreover the few grapes we harvested were wonderful.
If Montrachet is not mentioned in the above list, it is because it was severely hit by frost.
In the Spring we even thought we would have no crop at all. Eventually there were still a few grapes, but in tiny quantity. That is the reason why, with six other domaines owning half of the Montrachet vineyards situated in the village of Chassagne (the Montrachet of Puligny-Montrachet was not so badly damaged), we had the idea to launch what should be an interesting operation based on solidarity: the seven domaines (Amiot, Comte Lafon, Fleurot-Larose, Lamy-Pillot Leflaive, Petitjean and ourselves ) brought what they had harvested to be vinified at Domaine Leflaive. Two casks should be obtained, i.e. about 600 bottles. Each domaine will get back the number of bottles equivalent to the weight of the grapes it brought. Our aim is to have a common label and to put a certain number of bottles in a charity auction.
2016 was a year with two opposite faces: the one we saw in Spring when nature wanted to lay the vigneron low – but the latter of course resisted – and the other one we saw in summer when, on the contrary, the sun remained until the end to bless the vineyards as if it had wanted to help the vigneron win a well deserved victory. We could sum up by saying that nature wanted to overwhelm the vineyards, but decided to spare the grapes that it let ripen in the best possible conditions.
The Burgundian miracle does exist and the vigneron will keep 2016 in mind for a long time… !
But once again we have to look as a whole at the growing season from the budbreak to the harvest We were desperate in Spring and cursed the hostile nature that was directing all its negative forces against us. But today, with the harvest « at home » in the winery, we have to consider that the reserves of water accumulated during this humid period permitted the vineyards to go through, without damage, this period when drought was threatening. We fought against mildew and it left its mark, but we can look at it as a positive factor with regards to the final quality since some 10% of natural thinning reduced the number of bunches of grapes and contributed to concentrate the elements that make the quality of the grapes.
In the winery the grapes, that had just arrived from the vineyards, were perfectly healthy. Almost no sorting was necessary, only a very light destemming. The pre-fementation maceration of a few days was obtained naturally and the vinifications took place peacefully under the devoted guidance of Bernard Noblet and his team who were attentive day and night. The colour of the juice was black on the very first days of the vattings. Aromas that developped during fermentation were exceptionally fine and generous. The fermentation temperatures allowed the balanced extractions that we were looking for. Vattings lasted around 20 days on average.
At the time of this writing, most of the wines have been devatted. They show exceptionnaly profound colors. Behind the primary aromas and spicy characters, we can already perceive the high quality of the grand cru in an outstanding vintage. In the mouth the balance between the fruit, the acidity and the tannins should lead them towards a rare combination of richness and finesse.
The 2015 Vintage
Aubert de Villaine
November 6th, 2015
2015 Harvest report: the vineyards celebrate their inscription to the Unesco World Heritage list.
This harvest does not resemble any other one: the berries are small and compact with no sign of millerandage and their skins are tight and full of anthocyanins and ripe tannins.
There is average quantity and the early and ultra-fast flowering ensured an exceptionally homogeneous and complete maturity, without ever reaching over-maturity.
As always, we are delighted – but perhaps even more so this year as the vintage is most impressive – to give our thoughts on the harvest and to highlight the most important elements that created this exceptional vintage. If we send this report later than usual, it is because the vintage was so outstanding and amazing in every way that we preferred to wait until we had a clear idea of the wines after the fermentations in barrels: Nature has indeed taken to the extreme all the factors that are necessary to make great wines, but without ever going beyond the balance point.
Let us remember first that 2015 was marked by a great moment full of emotion for Burgundy: last July 4th in Bonn/Germany, the 21-member countries of the Unesco World Heritage Committee announced the inscription of the “Climats du Vignoble de Bourgogne” to the World Heritage list. The Committee recognized that it is in Burgundy that was born, that developed and prospered a viticulture rooted in a long history that represents a model for all the terroir-based viticultures all over the world and that created a Culture that one has to respect and preserve in order to pass it on to the next generations.
It was as if the vineyards had wanted to celebrate this prestigious distinction in being more beautiful than ever throughout the year and in being also more generous by giving us some of the most beautiful grapes ever produced. Still today, at the time of this writing, they show their most beautiful autumnal dress and their leaves that summer has left intact are glittering like never before with shades of fawn, purple and gold announcing their coming dormancy. These colors are also at the origin of this name of Côte d’Or that it bears now for eternity.
Winter was mild: the lowest recorded temperature was -6° C around February 12th and the heavy rains provided a reserve of water that was very useful as we experienced a dry season.
This trend of hot and dry weather first announced itself in the mild and dry spring, except for two episodes of violent rains on May 1st and June 15th that arrived at the right time to bring humidity to the vineyards.
This dry and hot weather accompanied by a persistent friendly North Wind had a determining impact on the harvest in creating the conditions for an early, very rapid and homogeneous flowering. We could also observe some “coulure”, but almost no millerandage.
July was hot and dry, even scorching between July 2nd and 8th with night temperatures of 30° C. During the whole month only 14mm of rain were recorded. Heat was such some days that the evolution of the grapes was stopped. But we could see berries beginning to change color (veraison) in Romanee-Conti and in Corton as of July 27th.
The first two weeks of August were humid and mild, without any heat peaks.
The vineyards breathed again and ripened quietly. Mid-veraison occurred around August 9th and we knew then that the harvest would take place in early September.
During the second fortnight of August, the North wind set in with beautiful dry weather and unseasonably high temperatures, especially at the end of the month when we went through a three-day heatwave.
All along, the vineyards remained perfectly green, healthy and connected to all the astral and telluric forces that give life to them. They liked the dry weather in 2015. The July heatwaves stopped their evolution at least twice, but each time these were counterbalanced by stormy episodes that brought the needed humidity. As a result, the evolution of the vineyards was nearly ideal and thanks to these exceptional weather conditions, 2015 was a rather easy vintage for the vigneron. We could always intervene in the right place at the right moment, whatever the work to be done: compost supply, manual work, work of the soil or phytosanitary treatments.
But nothing is perfect and the treatments, although exceptionally few, were essential at a time when there was a cloud on the horizon: oidium. This fungus that thrives during cold and damp nights took advantage of the rare rainy episodes of the spring to develop in the area of Nuits-St-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Echezeaux.
This attack forced us to be very vigilant, even if the dry weather and the North Wind were of great help in eradicating this fungus. Our wineyards manager, Nicolas Jacob, and his team triumphantly managed a situation that was complicated by the fact that the sulphur that we use against oidium loses its efficiency above the 30° temperature we often experienced in 2015.
At harvest time the grapes were in excellent sanitary condition, rather compact, but average in quantity. The skins of the berries were extraordinarily thick and full of anthocyanins. These had been forged by the sun whose intensity went so far as to burn some of them, and the slaps of the successive storms. No botrytis at all. But the most remarkable fact, which was also linked to the early and rapid flowering, was the level of maturity of the grapes. From this homogeneous flowering resulted a homogeneous and extreme maturity without ever reaching over maturity as in 2003. We noticed this balance in the analysis of the grape must at harvest time and today in the wines, the acidities being in perfect balance with the tannins and the rather high alcohol level.
We started the harvest in Montrachet on September 4th. The weather was dry and mild.
The Chardonnay vineyards ripened very fast due to the very hot days of the second part of August and the very fast consecutive increase of sugar content led us to harvest this vineyard first. As a result, the grapes were ripe, of the highest quality and superbly golden predicting a very great white wine. This was also confirmed by the first tastings of the wine that is finishing its malolactic fermentations in barrels.
On September 5th we harvested the Corton and noticed that our pre-harvest impressions were right i.e. the Pinot Noir grapes that we picked were in perfect sanitary condition and very ripe. Thanks to the resistance of the grapes, there was no trace of botrytis, even on the second generation grapes (verjus) that we left on the vines and that waited until the end of October to ripen and make the dabbler vignerons happy!
After a day off, on Sunday 6th, we started the harvest in Vosne-Romanée on Monday 7th.
Our instructions to the harvesters were as simple as ever since there was no botrytis and only the burnt berries were to be removed from the clusters that had been the most exposed to the sun. There were also some “figgy” berries, i.e ultra-ripe, but we had of course to keep them.
The beautiful, dry and mild weather lasted until September 12th, a day of heavy rains, but we were already in the Echezeaux, the last vineyard harvested that we finished on the 14th.
Here are the harvest dates and approximate yields:
Romanée-Conti: September 10 22 hl/ha
La Tâche: September 7-8 25 hl/ha
Richebourg: September 8-9 24 hl/ha
Romanée-St-Vivant: September 9-10-11 26 hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux: September 11-12 30 hl/ha
Echezeaux: September 12-14 25 hl/ha
Corton: September 5 22 hl/ha
Montrachet: September 4 30 hl/ha
The phenolic maturity was fully completed and we chose to make the vinifications with the whole clusters, i.e. without destemming. Such vinifications are always a challenge.
These were masterfully carried out by Bernard Noblet and his team.
Fermentations were rich, powerful and extremely long (21 to 23 days depending on the wine) due to the important polyphenol contents and the richness of sugar. Many small berries, whose skins were exceptionally resistant, released their juice only at the end of fermentations and even, for some of them, only under the force of the wine press.
The wines were put into vats with a little sugar which continued its fermentation in barrels bringing more suppleness and smoothness to the wines. Still today, in the silence of the cellar, we can hear the barrels whispering the song of the wine coming to life.
The wines have deep purple colors. On the nose, there is fruit and tannins are ample in the mouth. There is no trace of over-maturity as in 2003, but all the opulence and richness of extreme maturity.
The typical characteristics of the finished wines take shape: power and balance for the Richebourg, strength with a note of liquorice for La Tâche, elegancy and length in the mouth for the Romanée-Conti that is already above all the others.
The 2014 Vintage
Aubert de Villaine
October 14, 2014
This makes us understand that the unravelling of the play – the adventure that we have lived for six or seven months during the vegetative cycle of the vineyards – is unpredictable, whether for the best or for the worst.
Rainy episodes, for instance, that worry the vigneron when they happen, may in fact be a delight for the vineyards as they will use the water reserves to accelerate photosynthesis and the full maturity of the grapes.
An attack of botrytis can bring the worst, in other words an explosion of the mushroom that can be very rapid in favorable conditions, but also help the vineyards to ripen more easily and completely thanks to the reduction in quantity that it will cause. As a result, the grapes will be of better quality.
In the same way this year, the excessive growth of grass that was the consequence of rainy conditions and that we feared we would be unable to control, acted as a buffer that regulated the water supply to the vineyards and certainly played a part in their resistance to botrytis.
The same is true, of course, when conditions are favorable. The vineyards never forget anything. So, it is obvious that the exceptional spring had an essential influence on the health of the vineyards throughout the growing season, on their resistance and on the quality of maturity at the end of the season.
We started the harvest on September 16 on a beautiful, hot day and stopped on the afternoon of September 19 because of the storm. We started again on September 20, accompanied, until the end, by perfect harvest weather: luminous, dry and temperate.
The vineyards were harvested in the following order:
Corton: September 16
La Tâche: September 17, 18 and 19
Romanée-Conti: September 19 (morning)
Richebourg: September 20 and 21
Romanée-St-Vivant: September 21, 22 and 23
Montrachet: September 22
Grands Échézeaux: September 23 and 24
Échézeaux: September 24, 25 and 26
As always, our team of around 80 pickers, all with consummate experience in selective picking, worked attentively, brilliantly directed by our vineyard manager, Nicolas Jacob. They eliminated the dried botrytis of August, the berries that had been hit by hail in late June or the “scalded” ones that were driedas well, leaving aside the large berries that were not ripe enough
– these would be picked in a later second pass, as we are used to doing.
The grapes that filed past on the sorting table were of wonderful structure, color and taste. In addition, we rediscovered what we had not seen since 2009: a good quantity, one of those which gives smiles to the vigneron and the amateur!
The Montrachet area had also experienced light hail at the end of June. At the harvest, the damaged berries had dried and most of them had fallen. On September 15, the grapes could have been considered ripe, but they were so healthy that we preferred to wait a little longer. On September 22, the grapes that we harvested were goldencolored, ripe and perfectly healthy. The sugar levels and acidity were in perfect balance and quantity was also satisfactory. This was a moment of great intensity! We were alone; there was nobody around us but the crows!
The general consensus is that 2014 should produce great white wines in Burgundy.
Vinifications are in progress under the calm and careful supervision of Bernard Noblet and his team. They take place in tranquility, even though there are many more vats this year, more than we have had since 2009. The rises in temperature are harmonious and the color of the red wines stands out. The first devattings show the dark red colors that are always the sign of great maturity. The balance, notably in what concerns the acidity, is excellent.
It is of course too early to give a definitive opinion. We have to wait until the malolactic fermentations are over, but we are very optimistic about the future quality of the 2014 vintage.
Once again, the new adventure that we lived in 2014 proves that it is through difficult seasons with “ups and downs” that our Burgundian vines, the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay, produce wines of the highest quality. To ensure success, the vigneron must manage the anguish and anxiety that are typical of any growing season.
Never more than this year have the two great elements of the game been confirmed: risk-taking is obligatory and what we call “luck,” which may simply be the smile that the vineyards give to the respectful and loving vigneron.
The 2013 Vintage
Aubert de Villaine
November 18, 2013
In previous harvest reports, I have often spoken of combat and adversity, referring to the frequently capricious meteorological conditions that govern the birth of a vintage as a “chaotic course,” or comparing them to “mountain switchbacks.” The year we have just lived through deserves to be described in these terms — perhaps more than any other year in recent memory.
In the vigneron’s memoir, 2013 will leave, in effect, the recollection of navigation in a tempest, without knowing until the last moment what the weather gods had in store for us. But clinging to whatever could save us from the wreck, we finally arrived safely at port. And the same gods who seemed so attached to our loss would certainly have been angry had they been deprived of the great wines which, in spite of their actions, or perhaps because of them, have just been locked up in our cellars!
The beginning of spring was unpleasant, with a catastrophic month of May due to exceptionally low temperatures and a great deal of rain (almost 350 mm in three months, compared to 250 mm for the same period in 2012 — which was already a great deal). Consequently, it was an extremely rare day when the vines were bathed in sunshine.
This resulted in significant coulure (shatter or dropped berries), due to filage (undeveloped grapes) or unfertilized flowers at bloom time. Flowering was very late: mid-flowering was reached only on June 25, which in 2012 was on June 10, and in 2011, on May 19!
This was the most difficult period, when we had to do battle every day and be ceaselessly vigilant in order to intervene at the right moment to win the struggle against diseases, mildew especially, that were threatening the vineyards. Our team accomplished this under the supervision of Nicolas Jacob, with total devotion to the work, taking advantage of the rare, propitious days.
July and August were milder, with hot periods — at certain times we even had the “dog days” of summer. We experienced heavy storms in July. For the second year in a row, the Côte de Beaune, from Meursault to Aloxe-Corton, was hit by severe hailstorms. The fruit on many vines was totally annihilated. Fortunately, luck
was on our side: the Côte de Nuits was, in effect, spared.
The return of sunshine and the beautiful summer that followed were of major importance. These conditions compensated for the considerable lack of heat and sun that we had experienced during springtime. The vineyards were thus somewhat able to make up for lost time and to ripen rapidly at the end of the season, as is often the case in Burgundy, where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can gain up to more than one degree of alcohol per week.
This was the case in 2013, that, nevertheless, remains to be ranked among the late years compared to standard dates of the harvest — vintages such as 1978 or 1979. The quality of those two magnificent vintages underlines the advantages that a long growing season can have, when the grapes bask in more gentle
sunlight and benefit from slow ripening, a harbinger of complexity in the wines.
In late September, despite or perhaps because of all these vagaries of chance, the 2013 crop looked very good both in Vosne-Romanée and Corton, reduced in volume, certainly, but of healthy quality, with a majority of small but not too compact clusters with a good proportion of millerand berries (of mixed berry size): in summary, grapes built to make great wines. The Montrachet that had been lightly touched by hail was more sensitive to botrytis.
By September 30, our white and red grapes along the Côte de Beaune had reached maturity. For the Côte de Nuits, it was necessary to wait a little longer.
Meanwhile, abundant rain showers arrived at the last moment “to make mischief ” for the section of white wines on the Côte de Beaune and set off an explosion of botrytis in the Chardonnays. Thus, we harvested our Montrachet on October 2, more hastily than usual. The quantity of the harvest is very slight, but we should
obtain rich, opulent wines, as is the tradition for the Domaine’s Montrachet.
Even if the Pinot Noir vineyards were assaulted by botrytis to a much lesser degree than the Chardonnay, it remains that the progress of this fungus, encouraged by the humidity and warm weather, influenced our harvest decisions. Therefore, on October 3, we decided to harvest the Corton.
Unfortunately, on October 5 and 6, copious rains, at times tempestuous, precipitated the appearance and development of botrytis in Vosne-Romanée. We started picking on October 6, as scheduled, fearing that the botrytis might explode. Fortunately, in the following days, nature came to our rescue, offering exceptionally cold weather, almost winter-like on some days. The development of botrytis slackened, then stopped, and we could end the harvest with regained serenity under a merciful sky.
At last the famous and long-desired “Burgundian miracle” set in. Between the beginning and the end of our harvest in Vosne-Romanée, despite the cold and damp, one saw gains in sugar levels that we had no longer expected. This was the proof that, even during these difficult conditions, the grapes had continued to ripen. The small yields due to coulure had certainly much to do with it.
The vineyards were harvested in the following order:
- On October 2: Montrachet. There was much botrytis, and consequently, very selective sorting was necessary to keep only the “noble rot.”
- On October 3: Corton. The health and clean condition of the fruit was excellent: beautiful, small but fully ripened crop.
- On October 6 (afternoon) and 7 (morning): Grands Échézeaux. Botrytis was present but piercing cold temperatures stopped its progression.
Then, the harvest continued in dry, almost wintry conditions:
- On October 7 (afternoon); 8 and 9 (mornings): La Tâche
- On October 8 (afternoon): Romanée-Conti
- On October 9 (afternoon) and 10 (morning): Richebourg
- On October 10 (afternoon) and 11 (all day): Romanée-St-Vivant
- On October 12 (all day) and 13 (morning): Échézeaux
During the entire harvest, a severe sorting of the grapes had to be performed, and this sorting process slowed the pace of the pickers. But in the end, if the harvest unfolded rather rapidly, lasting hardly a week in Vosne-Romanée, it was because the crop was very small, even smaller than in 2012, which represented a little
more than half a normal crop.
Once again, the quality of the sorting will prove to be essential to the quality of the finished wine. Our teams, whether harvesters in the vineyard or our staff who completed the work at the sorting table, as you know, are perfectly polished and experienced performers. Nothing but the finest grapes arrived in the cuves, so
Bernard Noblet and his team in the cuverie could work with the peace of mind that comes with naturally easy vinifications.
The grapes were harvested cold, and maceration lasted for five to six days; fermentations started peacefully and progressed slowly but actively, producing
beautiful pink foam during the pigeage (punching down the cap).
We have confirmation that the quantities are much reduced, but the wines have beautiful dark colors, fine aromas, with good acidity in the mouth and supple tannins. Finally, with the 2013 vintage, one has wines that are among the most balanced of any from recent years, but we must wait, as usual, for the malolactic
fermentations to have a more definite opinion.
Here are the approximate yields in 2013:
Romanée-Conti: 18 hl/ha (1 ton/acre)
La Tâche: 19 hl/ha (1.06 tons/acre)
Richebourg: 17 hl/ha (0.95 ton/acre)
Romanée-St-Vivant: 18 hl/ha (1 ton/acre)
Grands Échézeaux: 22 hl/ha (1.23 tons/acre)
Échézeaux: 16 hl/ha (0.89 ton/acre)
Corton: 20 hl/ha (1.17 tons/acre)
Montrachet: 27 hl/ha (1.51 tons/acre)
The 2012 Vintage
Aubert de Villaine
October 23, 2012
Certain vintages have an easy birth: The vigneron intervenes quietly and infrequently, as would the crew of a sailboat navigating in calm weather. It is not uncommon, however, for the course towards the birth of a vintage to appear rather like a continuous battle in which one struggles to keep the boat afloat and arrive at the end without too much damage!
This was the case in 2012, which will remain a unique vintage — but what vintage is not? — one that will be remembered for a long while by those in the front lines of combat that nature imposed upon us by putting forth her best “soldiers”: mildew and oidium.
The month of March was very dry, however, and almost like summer (with an average temperature of 22 degrees Celsius or 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which hurried along a budbreak that was even earlier than in 2007, a year of reference for precocity. We could already see ourselves harvesting in August! But in the end, what will stay in our memories of this month, so outside of the normal, are the rumbles of thunder on March 26, most exceptional for the season, but premonitory of what the gods had in store for Nicolas Jacob, our vineyard manager, and his viticutural team.
From the month of April onward, the change in the weather was radical: Cold temperatures ( minus 2 degrees Celsius, 28 degrees Fahrenheit, on April 13) and dampness set in. As a result, it was impossible to enter the vineyards to do the plowing, and the grass grew like mad, encouraged and sustained by all the rain. For the same reasons, we had to surmount tremendous difficulties in order to apply treatments: It was necessary to be on the watch for and take advantage of the slightest window of dry weather to apply the necessary protection to the vines. Despite constant vigilance, mildew manifested itself and struck very hard, causing a loss of the crop that was difficult to evaluate but real. Oidium also found the conditions favorable for development. Even hail had a hand in it, hitting the entire Côte de Beaune and, among others, our Montrachet vineyard on June 30.
Flowering began on June 9 but, due to the persistent cold temperatures, was stretched out over a month. These conditions produced significant coulure (shatter).
Here is our assessment of these three months, when it rained one day out of every three:
- A crop that wasalready reduced as a result of coulure and oidium, with a risk of heterogeneous (uneven) ripening because the flowering was very drawn out.
- However, at the same time, the coulure had created a noticeable percentage of millerandage (mixed size berries), which is always a factor in creating good quality.
- The vineyards were vigorous and healthy.
- Another positive point: After its initial “sprint,” the vegetativegrowth proceeded much more slowly, so that we could accomplish the manual work, such as debudding, efficaciously and without haste.
- And, of course, the exceptionally precocious year became nearlynormal; the flowering provided a glimpse of a harvest that would take place only towards the end of September.
At the end of June there occurred a final “eccentric” episode: Several days of scorching heat that burnt the young berries that were most exposed to the sun, resulting in further reduction of the crop and auguring a supplemental triage (sorting) at harvest time to eliminate these scorched berries.
In July nature finally became wiser. We had suffered losses, but the enemy was retreating. Thanks to these milder conditions, we could effectively resume work on the soil, in certain cases ploughing three times in order to free the vineyards of the invading grasses. The last treatments were performed in early August as a precaution and … we could only hope that the weather would finally be near to normal again.
This is what finally came to pass:
The month of August was warm and beautiful, with a heat wave and thunder storms around August 15. Each time, even though the wind was often blowing from the south, the beautiful weather returned. The vines, abundantly watered by the rainy weather in the previous months, were generously nourishing the grapes, and photosynthesis was facilitating their growth and the rapid production of sugar.
On the eve of the harvest we observed the following:
- The small clusters had grapes with very thick skins and a large percentageof millerandage (mixed size berries).
- A large number of clusters showed scorching on the surfaces exposed to the sun during the heat waves, notably those of June.
- On certain clusters,one or two berries remained green; these would be rejected during the harvest.
- Botrytis was non-existent.
In brief, we anticipated a very healthy grape harvest that could await complete maturity. And this is exactly what we did, running the risk, in deciding the date of the harvest, of going beyond the 100 days that normally separate mid-flowering from the harvest.
We finally began the harvest in Corton, and also of a few young vines in Vosne-Romanée, on Friday, September 21, with a small team of pickers; then we began the “grand” harvest in Vosne-Romanée on Monday, September 24. Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse on Tuesday, and on Wednesday it rained all day! Of course, we completely stopped the harvest on that day and waited with anguish, dreading a heavy attack of botrytis on the next day.
But two phenomena converged with total efficacy to preserve the grapes: On the one hand, the skins of the grapes were exceptionally thick and resistant. On the other hand, the very cold temperatures, even excessively cold for the season, prevented botrytis from developing. The harvest remained in exceptionally good health.
Nevertheless, as we do every year, we performed a very selective picking. This consisted of dropping the burnt berries and equally the unripe “green” berries. As a result of this selective picking, the sorting required at the winery was minimized, and those of us at the sorting table saw a beautiful crop filing past. From the perspective of health, it was one of the most beautiful harvests in recent years. As the weather remained cool, the temperatures for bringing in the harvest were excellent, around 15 degrees Celcius (59 degrees Fahrenheit), and afforded several days of maceration before the start of slow, progressive fermentation.
At the time of this writing (October 23, 2012), fermentations have continued for close to three weeks under the “loving” supervision of Bernard Noblet and his cellar team. The first drawing off has been accomplished, notably that of Romanée-Conti which, given its level of maturity, was the first to be harvested. The wines are very promising with beautiful colors, fresh and delicate aromas.
A separate chapter in this report is necessary for the Montrachet which, like the entire Côte de Beaune, had been hit by hail twice during the summer. Consequently, the Chardonnay grapes suffered greatly. We harvested on Friday, September 28, which means before we finished our harvest of Pinot Noir. The crop was damaged by hail and by botrytis and oidium that we had kept in check. It was necessary to sort in an extremely severe manner. As a result, the crop was very small, the smallest of the last several years. We can count on excellent quality, but the yield represents barely half of normal.
Les Vins Rouges:
The yields for the red wines were approximately 20 hectoliters per hectare (1.17 tons per acre) — around 25 percent less than normal, which we place at 25 hectoliters per hectare (1.4 tons per acre). In comparison, average yields for 2009 were 30 hectoliters per hectare (1.68 tons per acre).
In such a harvest as this one, that is coming to a close, we realize more than ever the importance of luck — and of chance — in the success or failure of a vintage. Repeating what I had said last year, it is essential to wait until the grapes are fully ripe. This was easier this year, with perfectly healthy grapes, than last year when botrytis was considerable. But in both cases, we had to wait for complete maturity, and we were fortunate that weather conditions were our allies by keeping temperatures cold; this enabled the grapes to endure the very heavy rain storms that we experienced on Wednesday, September 26, without an attack of botrytis.
Undoubtedly, the loss of crop following the attacks of mildew and the scorching of grape clusters was significant, but this loss in quantity is also a factor that favors quality. As a result of this natural thinning, which reduced the yields, the healthy grapes were able to ripen more fully. It is a strong possibility that we would not have attained such maturity and quality if we had not sustained these losses.
Here are the harvest dates for each vineyard cru:
Corton September 21
Romanée-Conti September 22
Grands-Échézeaux September 22, 24 and 25
La Tâche September 25 and 27
Richebourg September 27 and 28
Montrachet September 28
Romanée-St.-Vivant September 28 and 29
Échézeaux September 29 and 30
The 2011 Vintage
Aubert de Villaine
September 30, 2011
2011: never more than this year — notwithstanding the 46 harvests I have watched over since i first became a vigneron in Burgundy — have I felt or understood to this degree the importance of luck and a wager in the success or failure of the vigneron in the face of a vintage.
At present, as I begin to draft this traditional report, trying to describe the broad outline of the vintage just after the harvest, the north wind that we had been hoping for since the month of May has returned, bringing, although a little late, full sunshine and fresh nights. The end of the season is most certainly magnificent, enhancing the play of autumnal colors in the vineyards and intensifying the opulent scents emanating from the cuveries where the wines are fermenting. What vigneron, nevertheless, awakening in these blessed mornings, cannot help imagining what the 2011 harvest would have been…if April had not been hotter than July and had not carried the vines along into an ultra-early vegetative cycle in which they were permanently ahead of the normal rhythm of the seasons at our latitude.
2011 seems, indeed, to give credence to those who talk of a climatic change or at least of a climatic disorder. The vegetative cycle of the vineyards was marked by a precocity outside the normal, linked to very high temperatures in early April. Those unusual temperatures were associated with drought conditions that were also unusual in the spring.
The vines like heat and drought, so they were thriving until the stage of flowering, without any attacks from their usual enemies, mildew and oidium; they were progressing at great speed and harmoniously in their vegetative cycle. One sole drawback: Under the brutal effect of a few excessively hot days, quite a few berries exposed to the sun were roasted.
However, apart from the very early flowering this year — the mid-flowering occurred on May 20, almost the same time as in 2003 or 2007 — we saw a complete turnaround in the weather with dominant winds from the west and south bringing rain showers and thunderstorms. The north wind, benefactor of Burgundy since it is usually accompanied by the beautiful dry weather preferred by the vines, rarely returned despite the promises of Palm Sunday, April 17, when it blew in and therefore, according to the old saying, should have been the prevailing wind of the year.
It is well known that the gods do their utmost to deceive us humans — Homer repeats it throughout the Odyssey — and the vignerons, like poor Ulysses, shaken by the elements, had to cope with those chaotic conditions that persisted through June, July and August in the form of sudden alterations of cold, rain, scorching heat, the dog-days of summer, followed each time by violent storms.
In this general context, the Côte de Nuits was the beneficiary of a certain indulgence; rains were not as frequent as in surrounding areas, notably the Côte de Beaune. It was, nevertheless, as a result of their tenacious efforts and often risky choices for the Domaine, that Nicolas Jacob, our vineyard manager, and his young team managed to protect the vineyards from mildew and oidium that threatened from the end of May forward. They had to use all their wits to accomplish this, while observing strict respect for our biodynamic treatments, carrying out tillage at the requisite times and orchestrating as precisely as possible the other work in the vineyards. In a year like 2011, the knowledge, experience and resilience of the vigneron were put to the test for months at a time. The challenge was met and mastered.
Meanwhile the ultimate enemy lay in wait: botrytis, the fungus that seemed to comprehend already in July that this year it would find all conditions favorable. Indeed, rains had brought on abnormally large berries, and at veraison (which extended over at least three weeks) micro-fissures and even bursts had formed in the loose skins, where, in humid weather, botrytis loves to develop.
Fortunately, cool temperatures in July slowed down the vegetative cycle and the development of botrytis that thrives in hot, humid weather but stops its activity as soon as it is cold. This cold phase was also a favorable factor as it strengthened and thickened the skins of the grapes.
By August 15, there was a complete change of scenery: hot and stormy weather set in with very high temperatures, almost scorching, and the maturation of the grapes accelerated. Thanks to the reserves of water retained in the soil and the luminosity sustained by the long days of late summer, photosynthesis operated at full blast, and the production of sugars increased very quickly while acidities fell, both in a spectacular manner. The vintage was taking a totally different direction, far more qualitative. We welcomed this with a sigh of relief.
Most certainly the storms that regularly accompanied the return of heat provoked anguish. Certain sectors of Burgundy paid dearly as they were hit by murderous hail storms, but the Vosne area was spared. In these conditions, we should have seen a spectacular progression of botrytis, but that did not happen thanks to the thickness of the grape skins and to the rapid return of the sun after each storm.
During that time, the Côte de Nuits ultimately profited from the heat and was not much affected by storms. By late August, even though a good part of the advance that had been gained in the springtime was lost as the weeks went by in June and July, the grapes were approaching full maturity. The vineyards were reaching the end of their cycle, but we were also aware that if the storms kept coming back after each period of heat, the botrytis might explode, and we ran the risk of losing everything.
Never more than this year — notwithstanding the 46 harvests I have watched over since I first became a vigneron in Burgundy — have I felt and understood in this respect the importance of luck and a wager in the success or failure of the vigneron in the face of a vintage.
The first rule is absolutely to wait until the grapes are fully ripe. Do this at the risk of losing the entire crop is the second rule. Both are inseparable, and both played their part to the fullest in 2011: 1) We had to wait beyond reason in order to pick ripe grapes. 2) We were lucky not to have any storms or humidity during the entire harvest window, whereas those unfavorable conditions were everywhere around us and could have caused an explosion of botrytis if they have lasted just two or three more days. The gods were with us once again! But what anguish was exposed at the heart of this certainty that above all it must not rain!
We waited finally until Friday, September 2, to begin the harvest in Corton, and Monday, September 5, for the vineyards in Vosne-Romanée. The weather was hot and dry but uncertain, and we feared the pessimistic weather forecast for the following days. By some miracle, during the entire harvest we did not have the slightest sudden shower of rain in the course of the day.
In early September, mildew had eaten into the upper leaves of the vines and autumn colors were beginning to appear everywhere. Botrytis was present in its dry form (from the attacks of July and early August) and also in its damp form and even its acid form (from recent attacks on the large clusters). There were also many berries that had roasted in spring and an unusual number of green berries that had not passed beyond the veraison stage. We had to eliminate these, but there were likewise in the clusters “figgy” berries we had to preciously preserve for their richness in sugar.
Consequently, it is needless to emphasize the importance and difficulty of the harvest work this year. The harvester, he who cut the grapes that would be brought to the winery, settled down to a major task: Like a miner filtering the gravel by the river’s edge in the hope of finding gold, he was asked to harvest in a selective manner (following rules that change every year) and pick out the material, that is to say, the grapes, that the fermentation in vats would transform into Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, etc. The harvester makes the last selective and qualitative human gesture before the grapes arrive at the vats with their definitive qualities and defects.
The harvesters were given clear instructions this year: Throw down the berries that had roasted in spring, eliminate with clippers the clusters or parts of clusters that had been affected by botrytis and, most difficult, as it required judgment and experience, leave behind the vines bearing unripe berries or large berries — it was here, moreover, that botrytis had progressed the most. Those vines were harvested in a second passage at the end of the primary harvest, in a selective picking that was equally severe.
The finishing touch was performed at the winery where the grapes, placed on a sorting table, passed by a team of 14 people assigned to reject whatever had escaped the harvesters. It should be noted that the vibrating table, set this year at the head of the sorting table, eliminated an impressive quantity of ladybugs and other larvae, beside the roasted or overly dried berries.
In the final reckoning, it was a harvest of perfectly healthy, “la crème de la crème” grapes produced in 2011 that were placed in the fermentation cuves. Due to our fastidious sorting to select superior grapes, the harvest did not go quickly. It lasted until September 13 in generally hot weather with the threat of thunderstorms and rain hanging over us every day like the sword of Damocles…that never dropped!
This is the reason I wish to stress that this year once again shows us the importance of luck in the success of a vintage: If the grapes had been wet, even if only after one storm, the crop, given its extreme maturity and the hot weather, would have been lost in the twinkling of an eye. This did not happen. On the contrary, the window we had chosen to harvest was the right one, and we can thank the heavens for giving us a mild end of season and the privilege to harvest perfectly ripe grapes.
It is true that the crop loss, following the attacks of botrytis and other enemies of the vines and grapes, was once again significant in 2011, despite the defenses we employed. One could estimate the loss to be about 30 percent. But this loss in quantity also constitutes a factor favorable to quality. In fact, it has to be looked at rather like the result of a natural thinning that, in attacking the fattest grapes, reduces the yield, that is to say the quantity of grapes carried by the vines, and permits those that remain to ripen much better. In 2011 we would never have reached full maturity if part of the crop had not been eliminated either by botrytis or sun-scorching.
Montrachet, in the Côte de Beaune, received much more rain than the vineyards in Vosne-Romanée or Corton and was hit by hail in July, although the consequences were not too serious. Thanks to the late veraison of the Chardonnay, the berries resisted the period of heavy rain in early August. The botrytis had less impact than in the Côte de Nuits until September 3, when a storm in the south of the Côte de Beaune resulted in numerous berries “turning” (spoiling). Therefore we harvested earlier than expected, on September 6, and the grapes we picked were wonderfully golden with approximately 10 percent noble botrytis.
The vineyards were harvested in the following order:
Corton September 2
La Tâche September 5-6
Romanée-Conti and Montrachet: September 6
Richebourg September 7-8
Romanée-St-Vivant September 8-9
Grands-Échézeaux September 9-10
Échézeaux September 10-11
In the cuverie we did not encounter any particular problems except, on certain afternoons, the necessity to cool down the grapes that were harvested in the sun and arrived warm at the winery. Modern methods to control temperatures enable us to do this without difficulty. Bernard Noblet and his team conducted the vinifications with the simplicity and rigor that is customary and were constantly on the lookout for each cuvée that demanded particular attention. Their work was not easy: When the harvest takes place in warm conditions like this year, the vats have a tendency to ferment all at the same time, and vigilance is essential to guide them on their way and rack off at just the right moment.
Fermentations were especially long: 21 to 24 days, with a good increase in temperature. Devattings have just finished. The wines are full of fruit; they already are showing their seduction and depth, but also a great deal of finesse. It seems that 2011 will be a vintage where elegance and purity surpass power, even if it is too early to have a definitive opinion.Download (PDF)