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Preliminary 2000 Bordeaux Vintage Report.

Bordeaux 2000 is the story of a vintage in two parts: after a warm winter and wet spring, the first half got off to a bad start. A sultry wet winter and the biggest mildew attack since the 1870 was only brought under control by a flash of heat in June and July, usually the powerhouse of any vintage, was overcast and cool. At the end of July, if this had been 30 years ago, the vintage would have been lost already.

The second half was a total turn-around, and, as the long, dry days of August and September progressed, with hardly a cloud in the sky between 29th July and 10th October, the vintage gradually rose up and shaped itself into something that was clearly going to be of the kind that nobody had dared hope for.

The combination of a good vintage in Bordeaux plus the magic number 2000 has fueled a lot of imaginations into ushering it into the Hall of Fame of the fabled few vintages of the century. It is too early to say for sure. Some tremendous 2000s have been made, but the question lingers: weren't the truly great Bordeaux vintages ('29-'47-'61-'82) made not out of extreme but of regular weather patterns?

Very good, if not great, vintages are frequently made from years of extremes: the stressful droughts of 1989 and 1990, the alternation of excessive August rain and September heat in 1996, of August heat and September rain in 1995, produced some wonderful wines. It would seem at first sight that with 2000, we are in the latter kind of league rather than the former.

Winter 1999/2000

Apart from the 11th-28th January cold snap, the first few days of March and a few odd days of frost here and there, winter was generally warm and wet. December was +1[degrees]6C over the 38-year average, the first 10 days of January +3[degrees]1, the whole of February +2[degrees]4, and March +1[degrees]2.

Although January and March were dry, December and February were extremely wet: +63% and +22% over the average. In addition, all this rainfall did not come in sudden downpours: it was continuous drizzle and persistent rain. Herein were the seeds of the problems to come in spring.

In spite of such conditions, pruning was quite easy. The 1999 high rainfall had produced some good thick branches to choose, but the "aoutement" (wood ripening) had not been as good as 1999. Many branches had green tips even after the leaves had gone, and these are always less productive. Clearly, we were already heading towards a totally smaller crop than the enormous "sortie" of 1999.

Most vignerons found the best pruning time was just after the little 20th-22nd November frost, which sent the sap down nicely and was followed by a week or two of perfect 100C and quite dry conditions.

The storm of 27th December

This storm did not have much influence on the outcome of the vintage, but it was such an incredible evening that no account of the 2000s would be complete without it. And it fit the progressively negative mood of this first half of the vineyard year.

Twenty-four hours after an identical storm had ripped through northern France, another deep depression formed off Brittany, and then, just as the previous night, its top got tied up in an unusually strong corridor of jet-stream that was travelling west-east at 400 km/h, causing the depression to deepen dramatically to 960mb and to be spun like a top to a speed of 100 km/h. The combined speed of the depression's trajectory and the slingshot effect of the spirals getting sucked into it, produced the century's record winds over the town of Bordeaux of 144 km/h and on the coast of 198 km/h (Hurricane Force starts at 117 km/h), that few trees, all electric cables and many roofs could not withstand.

There was almost no damage to the vineyards, and only minimal effects on cellar work (rackings got delayed, etc., from lack of power for three weeks or more). But damage to all parks and woodlands was devastating. Pontet Canet's park was flattened and you can now see right through where the 200-year old trees used to stand, from Mouton all the way across to Grand Puy Lacoste.

Maybe there was one effect on the vintage that we didn't realize at the time: as the chainsaws droned through the ensuing foggy days, the spring vineyard work schedule got pushed back, and often this was sometimes the reason the preventative mildew treatment was delayed later on in April.

Budding

After such a mild winter, many had feared an early budding and a high frost risk, but, surprisingly, no swellings were noted until 17th March, about 10 days later than in 1999. The 18 days of frost l0th-28th January had clearly fulfilled their role of sending the sap down, and, even though February was generally very warm and damp, there were three short cold snaps that prevented it coming up again. It took the two-week warm spell of the 1lth-24th March to get things going. The earlier white and Merlot vines budded quickly around 20th March. But any Merlots that had not budded by then, and also the majority of the Cabernets, got stuck by the cool weather of end March and beginning April, which was great weather for tasting primeurs, but not so good for a regular bud-burst. This got spun out until 15th April. We worried that this irregularity would continue through the flowering.

Spring

So frost was never a problem in 2000. The thermometer went minus in Sauternes on the 30th March, and almost everywhere 6th April, but the slow budding had consolidated the shoots so that they could stand a few less degrees than usual, and we heard of no damage. Thereafter there was to be no more frost until... 31st December! (Danger for the 2001s?).

What was more of a problem at this time was mildew. The warm and damp winter preserved 1999 spores left in the soil ('99 had seen quite a lot of mildew activity at the end of May). These then developed earlier than usual, when a cold, showery, miserable April ended in six extremely wet days, followed immediately 28th April-4th May by an exceptional heat wave--perfect conditions for rapid development of any fungus. The vine had been stalled in its growth at one or two leaves for two weeks, and then, with the sudden heat, immediately grew shoots at amazing speed.

The mildew multiplied at a similar rate, and started producing those tell-tale "tache d'huile" (oil spot) brown patches on the young, vulnerable leaves. Most growers had planned their first spraying for around 5th May, and had not considered it necessary to do a preventative spraying in April. Usually, mildew risk comes much later and they were not expecting it. In addition the bio and "lutte raisonnee" (usually refers to a spray program or well thought out effort to eradicate pests or disease) instructions clearly counseled no spraying for the moment. Anyway, the ground was too wet to get tractors into vineyards in April. By the following week, it had become apparent that anyone who had not sprayed in April was going to spend the next six weeks in pitched battle against a rapidly spreading disease.

At first, it was said the lower parts of St.-Emilion had been worst hit. In the end, it was the Medoc that probably suffered the most, mainly because, in the Medoc's larger estates, as opposed to the Right Bank's smaller ones, the workforce could not be mobilized at a moment's notice over the three consecutive long weekends of Easter, 1st May and Armistice Day.

The first half of May was hot--a whopping 5.7[degrees]C over the average--then degenerated into storms from the 5th--one of which created severe hail damage on the 6th on parts of the northern Medoc (Begadan-By)--then produced a five-day flash of heat mid-month (which even extended to England, creating a sweltering start to the London Wine Trade Fair, reminding us of Vinexpo '89!).

Everyone sprayed and sprayed, switching back and forth from systemic sprays (which, with the vine growing so fast, often got channeled directly to the end of the shoots, bypassing the lower leaves) to contact sprays and penetrating sprays.

It was a hard battle, especially during the damp, warm, hanging, windless final days of May, and after the downpour of 3rd-4th June. It wasn't over until the heatwave of l3th-20th June finally dried it up. In the end, a lot of properties lost a lot of bunches, as the leaves infected the bunches, and even from the "splatch" effect of raindrops rebounding mildew spores directly onto the embryo grapes.

Well-managed properties could consider this loss a kind of natural "vendage en vert", but a few others whose eye was off the ball lost a lot.

Whatever, there was no effect on the quality of the vintage, since all affected bunches just shrivel up and drop off. The yields, however, took just one more hit.

Flowering

During all this, the vine had to flower. In the warm sunny days during the run-up to the flowering, one grower summed it all up: "Ma vigne n'est pas belle, elle n'est pasbien: elle souffre de froid, d'eau, de mildiou, et maintenant il faut qu'elle fasse ca". (My vines are not good, they don't feel good, they are suffering from cold, from water, from mildew, and now they have to do that).

The very first reports of flowering we heard were on 26th May, with the main body of the Merlots in full flower by the 30th and the Cabernets taking an extra week. This put 2000 on schedule as one week later than '99, and a few days ahead of the 35-year average. It also ensured that the Merlots would need to be picked right in the traditionally stormy Equinox period of 20-25 September, and the Cabernets quite quickly afterwards--by now, Murphy's Law psychosis had really set in!

The yo-yo conditions of early June (30[degrees]C on 1st, 17[degrees]C on 4th, 31[degrees]C on 8th, 15[degrees]C on 10th) were certain to cause some coulure and millerandage on the later-flowering vines of the cooler soils, and there was little of each everywhere. But the earlier-flowering whites and Merlots generally set well and regularly. The big surprise was how regular the Cabernets turned out, after such a spun-out budding and such difficult flowering conditions. Indeed, all bunches set fast and regularly, unlike the '99s. Nobody could really explain why, but here, at last, was a positive signal for the vintage: provided the Veraison turned out well, the harvest would not get spun-out and complicated.

Early Summer

June was drab and cool, interspersed with four blasts of heat, the third of which, 15th-19th June, brought the temperature over 30[degrees]C for five consecutive days. It was also very dry. Mean June rainfall is 56 mm. In 2000, all the 55 mm of rainfall came in two days of downpour 3rd-4th June. The rest of the month saw not a drop of rain. In spite of the month's shortage of sunny days, the topsoils dried out, vineyard work could get back to normal, and the vines became completely reinvigorated, the leaves turning from dull yellow to a bright, healthy green, and the long drawn-out bunches closing up into a fine, compact shape.

When reflecting back over June and July, many growers remembering only the dull days, felt that those months were wasted, and they put the turnaround in the vintage's fortunes at 29th July, when the summer drought started. In fact, June was probably underestimated, and seems to have been an important feature in the build-up of the 2000 grape's very strong constitution, which turned out to be one of the vintage's prime features. Those bursts of extreme heat, alternating with bouts of cool, overcast periods, shook the vine up, opened its throttle with a few quick jabs of the accelerator, and blasted away the mildew. It also put a brake on the vegetation, diverting energy from the leaves to the bunches, getting the grapes ready for the late summer heat that was to come.

July 2000 also got itself a reputation of a cool, drab month that ruined the "juilletistes" holidays, especially as the worst bit came during the 14th July Bastille Day holiday week, when it was "warmer in than out". Sure, it wasn't a hot month--the temperature ended up right on the average--but it certainly was a better month than that other famously indifferent July of 1998. Just as in '98, there were only three days over 30[degrees]C, and the month's temperature was identical. But the similarity ends there: 2000 was less overcast (12% vs. 22% less sun hours than the average), had much warmer nights and much better rainfall.

Consequently, with the vine somewhat recovered and unstressed, veraison could happen swiftly and effectively as from 20th July, with the main part over the weekend of 5th August. The Faculty put mid-veraison at 6th August, two days later than '99 and four days later than '95 and '96.

This was good news at last. However, some real summer weather was needed. If the grey, humid conditions of the week of 24th July were to continue much longer, there would be a big return of disease, especially as it had been so close in May. The grapes were very large after such a wet spring, as in 1997, and now needed to compress. There was a very strong feeling at this time that the vineyard, although back on track to a certain extent, needed a real summer if it was to avoid disaster. Some even said that just one more week of such weather would be a catastrophe.

High Summer

As if to oblige, on 29th July, a highpressure system ballooned out over Europe and stabilized there, or over the near Atlantic, and stayed for virtually two months. Day after day brought stable dry and very hot, but not baking hot, conditions. During August there were 11 days over 30[degrees]C, and the month's temperature was 2[degrees]5C over the average. More importantly, apart from the occasional thunderstorm, it didn't rain.

As high summer went on, the ground got drier and those big grapes smaller. They developed very thick skins, whites as well as reds, and, in spite of their size, accumulated more sugar than any of the previous five vintages had done by the end of August. Then, there started to be reports of hydric stress on the warmer gravel soils, with leaves curling over and the vine ceasing to pump sap.

Apart from parts of the Medoc where the gravel is deeper such as some of Margaux and the lower Medoc, the Left Bank managed to keep its vines' roots damp all through. There is notorious soils diversity in the Medoc, and it is difficult to generalize, but certainly those with more clay strata such as St. Estephe, as in 1990, got better water-retention during the drought. In addition, the 24 mm that fell on the Left Bank in August, the Medoc, together with Blaye and the Entre-Deux-Mers received 20 mm of it in the final days of the month during the overnight storm of 25th August, when it was most needed.

The Right Bank, on the other hand, having had more water than the Medoc, when it was not really needed at the end of July, proceeded to miss all the August storms and ended up with a paltry 15 mm for the whole month of August. The more water-retentive soils of St. Emilion (especially the "argilo-calcaire", which is clay-lime soil) could handle it, but the more gravelly or looser sandy soils of Pomerol, and some in St. Emilion, suffered.

The new trend of de-leafing the east side of the vines in July--a RightBank-born process, now spreading to the Left Bank, too, which retards photosynthesis and therefore natural ripening, but accelerates concentration (so that the wines end up in the more saleable-en-primeur jammy style)--was not a great success this year in such already stressed vineyards. The other modern trend of "enherbement" (leaving the grass rather than plowing), also contributed to more heat-reverberation when it wasn't really wanted, as opposed to the traditional plowed soil's storing of the night's coolness.

The Harvest

For the first time in ten years, it didn't rain--or almost didn't--during harvest. All those reverse osmosis and entropy machines, which eliminate water from rained-on grapes and which have gradually come to replace chaptalization in difficult vintages, hardly needed to be used in 2000.

September saw just 43 mm of rainfall, compared to the 75 mm average, and most of that was confined to the thundery showers of the night of the 19th and the period between the Merlot and the Cabernet harvest at the end of the month.

As always, the vintage was started by the white Pessac-Leognans, on 28th August for the very warmest soils, followed by the later ones around 5th-6th September. Light night showers on 1st and 2nd September invigorated the grapes, then the harvest could continue at a very leisurely pace as each part of the vineyard ripened to perfection. There was never any anxiety, fear of rain, or any kind of pressure. Right away it was clear that ripening had been totally harmonious, as for the reds, and that the sorting tables only really needed to be used to pick out leaves, bits of stalk, driedup snails, etc., rather than any imperfect grapes. The musts were immediately strong and thick, with a lot of pulp, and initially without too much defining aroma (as in all very dry vintages), but very rich and well-constituted.

Meanwhile, the red harvest was being planned for the week of 18th. However, when the already exceptionally hot week of 4th turned into a blast of 30-33[degrees]C heat over the final four days, concentration galloped ahead, in most areas at over 1[degrees] extra sugar for the week. When the following two weeks of fine weather produced only half that amount of sugar, it became clear that this was the week that perfected the vintage, and start-plans were often brought forward to the 14th or 15th.

The first Merlots were brought in on the Right Bank on 14th, totally black, thick-skinned grapes, which, when crushed, produced almost violent fruit aromas in the cellar and analyses of nearly 14[degrees]. Most of the Merlots were due to start on 18th, or for the cooler soils or for those who for some reason wanted overripe grapes, on the 23rd. The forecast was bad for the weekend of 16th-17th, but the announced front never materialized, so that, when it was bad again for 19th-20th, nobody took it seriously and grape ripeness, rather than fear of rain, became the only factor in deciding harvest dates of each parcel.

All Merlots were brought in by the 28th, all in absolutely perfect condition. There had been a storm warning out for some time for the weekend of 30th Sept.-1st Oct., which turned out to be correct, but nobody worried about it since it fell neatly between the end of the Merlot harvest and the beginning of the Cabernets. It also forecast rain for the whole of the following week, and a few rush-pickers started on their Cabernets in advance of it towards 28th-29th, but generally everyone waited. At every level last year, there was a conscientious effort to do whatever it took and to take any risk to make this landmark 2000 vintage the best possible.

The Cabernet francs were picked during the week of 2nd October following these storms, in totally clear but more Autumnal, cooler conditions. On both banks, they produced full yet fine-flavored musts, that captured all the heat of early September, yet had all the finesse of gently-ripened tannins in the cooler, damper air at the end.

The Cabernet Sauvignons were picked the same week, just finishing before the heavy rains of 10th October, unhurried at first, more accelerated at the end, and, in certain later-ripening vineyards, with the final bunches having to be harvested a week too early. But the vast majority of them came in healthy and ripe with a lot of sugar and strong aromatics.

By this time, down in Sauternes, only a fraction of the harvest had botrytised or shriveled enough to be picked, as from 12th September. The great majority of grapes still hung on the vines, their thick skins resolutely refusing to botrytise... until they ended up gradually deteriorating as the damp Autumn wore on, and finally totally washed-out in the 320 mm deluge of November. After all that effort and expense... and not jacking the prices up of their excellent '96s and '97s like the reds, it was heart-breaking.

However, outside of Sauternes, nobody could believe their luck: September's rainfall had totaled a mere 43 mm, of which 20 had fallen after the dry white and before the Merlot harvest, and the other 20 mm after the Merlots and before the Cabernets; then, two-thirds of October's rainfall had come the very next day after the finish. Why does this happen only once in ten years?!

Yields

As we await official declarations, the SCEES government body estimates a total of 7,160 million hectoliters made, of which 6,950 will be AC wine (one hl = 26.4 U.S. gallons). This is a 5.5% decrease from 1999 and about level with the 1995-1999 average.

The official maximum yields were virtually unchanged from last year, but rarely attained. After an over-prolific '99, the vine was naturally less productive in 2000. In addition, at the generic level, nobody wanted to risk again having light, overproduced wine that would not find a market, and, even at this level, as at every level, there was a genuine desire to produce the best quality possible for the millennium vintage, and the principal way to do this was by restricting yields.

Then there was a certain reduction from mildew damage in May. Stories abound about who got hit worst, and it is not for me to relate them here. Suffice it to say that some top properties are among them.

On a more positive note, a lot of estates did quite a severe "vendage en vert" in July, when the weather was very wet and the bunches needed aerating, only to see two weeks later, when the drought came, that they needn't have been so severe, and in some cases that they had provoked over-concentration by actually under-cropping.

Vinifications

With such healthy and uniformly ripe grapes in 2000, one could do just about anything one wanted with the wines. The whites were already quite fat and full enough, so any prefermentation special skin contacts or any barreling on the lees were sometimes a help but not always a necessity. The reds were generally powerful enough, especially in St. Emilion, and only a few vats needed any chaptalization or concentration. And, since the yields were low anyway, and the potential tannin so high, there was no need to do any saignees (racking off some free-run juices), which anyway would probably have disorganized the tannins and the already high acidities into an unwanted sharper kind of balance.

The color extraction in the reds came very quickly, so no forced remontages or heating of musts a la '97 were necessary. Generally, fermentation temperatures were kept quite low, to enhance fruit flavors, but, since there were rarely any vegetal flavors, pumping-over could be gentle or heavy, virtually at will, depending on the type of wine desired.

The trend towards malolactic fermentation in barrel continues. It is a laborious process, which, on the admission of most cellarmasters, adds nothing to the wine in the long term, so the regrettable conclusion is that it is designed to make the young wines more pleasing for the journalists and customers to taste in the spring. Like reverse osmosis, microbullage and reductive elevage, investment in this process has gone all the way down the line to the perks chateaux, or at least to those estates having a distribution system that doesn't work unless the wines taste good en primeur.

Most wines are in barrel at the time of writing, and the first reaction is generally that this highly tannic vintage will be kept in cask for longer than usual, often 18 months, sometimes 24 and even 36! Nobody is quite sure. We must be careful about promising delivery too soon.

The wines of 2000

(1) Dry whites

As Bordeaux blanc production decreases, the only people left making it are the quality ones. 1999 had produced only a handful of good quality lesser white wines, snatched from the indifference of a naturally excessive yield by a small group of die-hards making a Trojan effort of selection during the vineyard year. 2000 was a completely different story. The yields were naturally much lower, and the grapes riper. So these growers had much less difficulty making considerably more wines of quality in 2000 than in 1999.

The sugar levels were generally quite high, though not as high as the very powerful '99s. Typically, Sauvignons were at 12[degrees]-12[degrees]5 in the lesser areas, and 13[degrees] on the warmer soils of Pessac-Leognan, whilst the Semillons came in slightly lower. For the second year running, therefore, the Sauvignons provided the power, whilst the Semillons brought the tangy fruit. Usually, it is the other way 'round. The August and September heat clearly built up the Sauvignons into a more concentrated type of softness and power than the slower-ripening Semillons, which suffered more from drought, especially on the deep gravel ridges of Leognan. Semillons are always difficult to press, but this year, both varieties' interior was composed of so much pulp that they both posed problems of juice extraction. All this solid matter in the grape accounts also for the hallmark fatness of the year.

The Sauvignons have less aroma than usual, anyway for the moment, or at least the aroma is more of white peaches and pears than of the usual citrus/privet hedges/cats. But they certainly make up for it in structure. The result is fuller, fatter and less aromatic than usual, almost Californian. The Semillons have a pronounced apple tart flavor that sits well with the extra acidity of this vintage, and sometimes verges on passion fruit.

Certainly 2000 is a very good dry white vintage, more in the weighty style of '95 or '99, but with more acidity than both, rather than the more pointed vivacious style of '96 or '98.

(2) Red wines

Merlot

With two weeks to go before the harvest, nobody quite believed that the Merlots would become what they did. It was that final roasting a week before the vintage 8th-11th September that perfected concentration. They came in with incredibly thick skins, just like the '95s, the result of the long summer drought. But, unlike the '95s, they didn't get their tannins tightened up by vintage-time rain. The IPT tannin counts are at record levels everywhere--typically between 70 and 85. The average is 55-60. So the vinifications immediately produced very strong tannic, black wines. They also had high sugar contents, typically at 12[degrees]5, many over 13[degrees], and some tanks at 14[degrees].

What differentiates them from the '95s is relatively high acidity, the result of concentration during the drought. The character of the Merlots is, therefore, of very dark, strongly tannic wines, whose fatness is balanced by a high tone of mineral and acid notes that give a bite to the structure and a strident, strong-flavored character to the fruit.

As always, the above is a vast generalization, and applies to the most successful vineyards, which, this year were those planted on heavier, more water-retentive soils. This means the more clay mixtures rather than the purest gravel on the Left Bank, and the "argilo-calcaire" rather than the sand and lighter clay of the Right Bank. It also means that there are some major successes in the humbler appellations where the soils tend to be heavier. Where the Merlots got too hot in summer (the Pomerol gravel plateau, parts of Pessac-Leognan, Margaux more than St. Estephe?--that one remains to be proven), they suffered from shut-down at the end of August and the second week of September. The sugar then came from concentration rather than from ripening, the acidities turned out much lower, and the tannins coarser and more austere, and often, the skins wrinkled at the end, producing a tougher form of tannin.

Cabernet franc

In every strongly tannic vintage, the Right Bank always starts off by accusing its Merlots of having common tannins...but, as often as not, they turn out all the same to be perfectly smooth and graceful. But listening to them as they taste their Cabernet franc is unequivocal: "great tannins", "A slight over-ripeness that imparts an unusual fullness", "Spicy and black-peppery", "Far better than '98", "Fulfilling the fullness role normally held by the Merlot". These are all quotes from top Right Bank producers. Quite clearly, this will become one of the great Cabernet franc vintages, especially of the argilo-calcaire.

On the Left Bank, too, the superlatives are typically less on the tip of the tongue, but the satisfaction is very evident. For the first time since 1995 and 1989, the CF vats are truly great on their own: infinite finesse, yet total ripeness.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The regularity of ripening of the Cabernet Sauvignon in 2000, and the exceptional September conditions, have produced some exceptional wines. As in 1986 or 1996, this is quite clearly a Cabernet year on the Left Bank. Everywhere, the genuine feeling of success of this grape, that is often so difficult to get regularly to total ripeness, is evident. To quote some leading Left Bank producers: "My Merlots were OK; my Cabs are le phenomene", "Great purity, great sweetness of fruit, absolutely nothing vegetal in them", "Totally ripe, great stature, as opposed to my rather rustic Merlots", "A mineral and spicy expression, very '86-like, but fatter", "What '99 would have been if it hadn't rained". Apart from estates on deep gravel that dried up in the August heat, or from those lesser ones that are still grafted on high-yielding rootstock, or from some unfortunate properties that got hail early in the season, there is universal acclaim for these Cabernets. They have high natural degrees, strong but ripe tannins, and --maybe the hallmark of the vintage in general--at the same time a very strong fruit and acid character that makes them extremely lively.

It is this rather violent fruit quality and strength of tannins that differentiate 2000 from the great opulence of '82 or the sheer warmth of '89 and '90. This vintage has little in common with such wines. It has more to do with the traditional vintages of '86, '96, '88 or '98--especially factually with '96 and its large grapes and the concentrating effect of a hot September. But in the 2000s, there is an element of something more stridently fruity (from the extra acidity) on the one hand, and warmer and fatter (from the heat of August as well as September) on the other. It is clearly a keeper vintage, one to lay down for many years, full of backward but ripe tannins, sometimes a little hoary and robust (we'll see how they develop). It reminds some of '70, others of '55--both vintages in the harder tannic vein.

Whatever, it was very much a vintage in two parts, the first despairingly cool and wet, but the second majestically hot and dry. How great a vintage can be produced without perfect weather all the way through remains to be seen. All producers are saying for the moment is that it is the best since 1990.

(3) Sauternes

As elsewhere, Sauternes grapes were thick-skinned. The disadvantage of this was that they botrytised with difficulty when the weather was clement; the advantage was that they took a long time to deteriorate when wet weather arrived.

It was just plain bad luck when Sauternes caught the 3rd August rainfall before the grapes were ready to botrytise, and then missed out completely on the end of August storms that most other areas had. Otherwise, it could have been a 1990 type situation with a sudden on-rush of botrytis on fast-concentrating fruit. The bunches hardened under the harsh August sun, and especially under the scorching heat of 9th-10th September, and, just as in '89 (a vintage frequently alluded to as similar at this point), all that was needed was a small rainfall or some morning mists to start off the process.

Unlike in '89, this was not forthcoming, but nevertheless, a tiny amount of botrytised or raisined grapes was picked around mid-month at earlier-ripening estates. Then it rained on 19th September, about 20 mm. This was enough to start botrytisation in later-ripening estates, which then struggled to make a few barrels of very pure, fine 19-20[degrees] musts, especially in the lower lands of Barsac and at the bottom of the Sauternes slope. A few small pickings continued into October, often non-botrytised grapes which were then cryo-extracted--"cryo sur dore"--and which made decent enough Sauternes but probably never to be used under cru classe labels. Then, after the heavy rain of 9th-10th October, sugar levels dropped and only generic wine could be made, and, during the damp and windless following week of the 16th, botrytis started going bad, finally ending up totally washed out in the November downpour.

In the end, most estates will have produced just a few hundred cases worth of fine, pure, early-harvested Sauternes of remarkable quality, maybe more so in Barsac and the lower reaches of the Sauternes hill than on top, and the later-harvested produce will certainly be mostly declassified to generic Sauternes.

(William Blatch is president of Vintex S.A., Bordeaux negociant. He has sold Bordeaux wines for 25 years. This report was dated Dec. 31.)
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Author:Blatch, Bill
Publication:Wines & Vines
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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