Under the Bordelais Sun? A Weather Analysis for the 2011 Vintage

by Chuck Hayward

Under the Bordelais Sun? A Weather Analysis for the 2011 Vintage

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 30th, 2012

If it's March, it must be time for Bordeaux en primeur!!

And indeed it is with half of the JJ Buckley sales staff already on the ground and the rest due to arrive tomorrow. Awaiting us is a very full schedule of tastings, appointments and dinners. It promises to be an eventful trip... Indeed, we started out with a (near) bang as Shaun Bishop, our Bordeaux buyer, had a close call in the rental car lot with a major American wine critic (who was clearly in a hurry to get to work tasting the vintage)!

Vines at Bordeaux Airport

As in years past, look for pics, blog posts, and Facebook updates from us as we taste through the latest vintage. In addition to our initial thoughts on the quality of the 2011s, we want to show you what life is like during en primeur week. That's why we brought along our friend Hardy Wallace again to put together some videos that will give you a unique perspective on what it's like to be in Bordeaux during this exciting and intense time of year. Stay tuned for those as JJ Buckley embarks on a trip we like to call "A Hard Day’s 'Flight'".  And don't forget that JJ Buckley's annual Bordeaux report will bring you vintage analysis, hundreds of tasting notes, and articles of interest.

Each year before we leave for Bordeaux, I make it a point to do some research on the most recent vintage to provide some background and perspective. The first documents I always look to are the various weather analyses that are annually published by Bordeaux wine enthusiasts. The region has always maintained detailed meteorological data and this treasure trove of information can be quite useful in predicting the quality of the final wines.

Early Bud-break April 2011

By the time we left last year’s en primeur festivities, Bordeaux was already very warm (not unlike the unseasonable weather we’re seeing now). In fact, there were a few buds pushing out in some vineyards as we traveled to the airport on our way back to the States. This warm weather continued on until June in an unprecedented spate of hot and dry conditions, the only blemish being a hail storm that hit the Medoc in May. The prediction at the time looked to an early harvest with drought contributing to stressful conditions in the vineyard.

As summer rolled in, the weather changed markedly. Temperatures dropped in June and July which helped to slow maturation rates. But at the same time, above average rainfall in those months and early August created disease pressures in many vineyards. Those conditions were exacerbated by some extended periods of humidity. Going into the crucial picking times in September, growers were justifiably worried that the quality of the harvest would be problematic. An early September shower ratcheted up the nerves even more.

Bordeaux Grape Sorting

The rest of the September weather, however, blessed the growers with perfect warm temperatures to give the grapes the boost necessary for the final phases of maturity. With only a few sprinkles in the middle of the month to deal with, wineries were able to bring in their fruit and see what the previous months' weather had done to the fermenting wines. The quality will be heavily dependent on the sorting table where drought affected fruit was discarded along with any signs of rotten berries.

Chateau Cos d'Estournel

The final assessment of the 2011s will come next week as the en primeur tastings begin in earnest. But we'll get a sneak peek tonight as we visit one of Bordeaux's most exciting wineries, Cos d'Estournel. We can't wait!!