The last days of the red 2011 harvest are finally here with the Cabernets coming into the cellars, this fabulous Indian summer we are experiencing with afternoon temperatures up to an unseasonal 30° has allowed winemakers to wait and wait for perfect ripeness on the cabs. A welcome respite after a rather chaotic year – as far as the climate is concerned.
The hot and dry spring resulted in an early flowering with right from the get go producers predicting a 2 or 3 week advance on the average and fears for a drought. However July was cooler and wetter, not great for tourists – but a lifesaver for the grapes as it slowed things down. The cooler nights in August helped with maintaining acidity and complexity.
However the weird climate did take its toll. Some vines were affected by the early spring drought, which held back development and created problems with ‘vascular connections’ that may not have reformed, preventing some the berries developing fully when the weather turned cooler and damper in July.
To add insult to injury there was periodic hail storms throughout the year, April hail hit Sauternes, Margaux was hit in June, especially on the Rauzan plateau and the hail hot again, dramatically, on the 1st September the around us here in the Entre deux Mers and violently in Saint Estephe causing considerable damage on the plateau around Cos d’Estournel
Consequently 2011 is turning out to be quite a challenging year for both vine growers the wine makers, especially after 08/09/10 trilogy where some (modest?) winemakers claimed the wine made itself!
Canopy management to control lack of water and then to allow air to circulate preventing botrytis as the more humid weather arrived was extremely important.
In recent years many properties have been introducing sophisticated machines to help the selection process and with a year like this where ripe, under ripe, dry and even hail bruised grapes can be seen on the same bunch they will really get their money’s worth.
Selected grapes fall from the optical selector at Château Gruaud Larose
Mattieu Bordes admires the new vertical destemmer
Chateau Lagrange, the largest classified growth of Saint Julien has installed an Optical Scanner that can select grapes from the conveyor at a record speed of 72 kms per hour 2.5m/second! Which results in 9 tonnes per hour being sorted instead of 3 by hand – and a lot less fatigue. Mattieu Bordes, the technical director, has another new toy for this vintage too, an oscillating vertical destemmer to ensure only the grapes make it into the selector.
Château Figeac, first growth in Saint Emilion, was also using an optical selector this year, after a test in 2010, but at a purchase price as around 150 000 euros new decided to test it out by renting first, director Eric d’Aramon concluded that it is still early days for these machines and renting ensures it comes with a technician in case there are teething problems. These machines are also highly electronic and storing them unused for eleven–and-a-half months of the year in a damp cellar is not a risk he is prepared to take.
The berries are photographed by the stemmer at Château Phelan Segur to allow selection
It’s not only the top classified growths that have invested, Château Phelan Segur
, who welcomed guests at their harvest table during the picking, also use the same technology as do many others. Some however have chosen the ‘trie baie’ system (The Vignobles André Lurton
properties for example) using must with different densities to select quality grapes, and yet others such as Château Grand Corbin Despagne
an airflow system whereas others rely on a dedicated team in the field and in the cellars to separate the wheat from the chaff – rendezvous in April to taste the results of these different methods ‘en primeur’.
All that time saved allows for a longer lunch break – harvest lunch in front of the magnificentChâteau Phelan Segur