Guest blog: following on from his report last month on
the 2012 growing season, the Bordeaux grower, local winemaker and writer
 Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) provides an insider’s view on conditions as
the harvest approaches.  

St_Emilion

St Emilion, 2nd October


2012 has been an extraordinary year for sport, but will it be a
vintage to remember?

Here
in Bordeaux, it's too early to say, even at this late stage. It's going to go
right to the wire.

"Exceptionally late"

“If
2011 was exceptionally early, 2012 is exceptionally late,” said Lilian Barton
of Château Léoville Barton as they prepared to bring in the new vintage in
St-Julien, 25 miles north of Bordeaux. The red-wine harvest, which has started
quietly in the early ripening vineyards of Pomerol, begins this week in earnest
and will last well into October.

As
for quality, Gabriel Vialard, the technical director of Château Haut-Bailly –
near Léognan, south of the city – was cautiously optimistic after two fine
months.

“It
could be like 2000 but, if it rains a lot now, like 1993. We won't know until it's
all in.” I wasn’t here in ‘93 but few of us have happy memories of the
wines. Thankfully, though, the forecast is fine for the moment.

Summer sun
until last week of September

The
sunshine we’ve enjoyed in Bordeaux from mid-July onwards, through a warmer than
average August, lasted right up until the penultimate weekend of September.
We’d had just 30mm of rain here from mid-July until 23rd September, and half of
that fell on the 5th August. It's been extremely dry, with plenty of sunshine.

Then
on Sunday, 23rd September, there came one evening and three days of rain, on
and off: around 40-60mm in total on the Right Bank and 50mm-90mm on the Left.
That's fine – and it was much needed in some parcels – so long as it stops
there. No more, thanks.

A late
harvest was on the cards

An
October harvest, which used to be the norm, has been on the cards from the
beginning. A mild winter ending in a freezing, dry February caused a late
budburst. Then heavy April showers, the threat of mildew, a prolonged flowering
in June and a drawn-out August veraison (changing of the colour), all pointed to
a late crop.

The
extended summer sunshine, at least until last week, has been most welcome. All
eyes are now on the forecast for the final push, with many growers in
St-Emilion holding off from picking their Merlots for a good while yet.

The
Cabernets from older vines on both banks are some way off too, I feel, but for now
at least, they’re looking very good.

The waiting
game: no rot

One
great advantage with playing the waiting game in 2012 is that there’s no rot,
unlike the much earlier harvest last year, when most of the reds had been
picked by the end of September. So growers can hang on, labour permitting, for
the right moment and await the all important ripeness of the tannins of the
skins, and the pips. (“It’s all about the pips these days, apparently,” said
Anthony Barton.) Sugar levels are already pretty high in the Merlots.

As
of 24th September, there was no rot of the noble kind in Sauternes either, as
Pierre Montégut at Château Suduiraut struggled to find a deliciously mouldy
grape to taste. It's looking pretty good, although a humid, Indian summer is
needed for the botrytis to take hold.

Meanwhile,
growers of dry whites have been able to bring in their Sauvignon Blanc, which
ripened before any other varieties, under the clear, mid-September skies. The
seasonally chilly mornings helped. Then came the Sémillon, which is still being
brought in. It's a very good vintage for dry whites.

Attention
has now turned to the reds. And for some, even later still, to the sweet
whites.

2012
might not be the vintage of a lifetime, yet we can be sure of one thing: there
will never be another year like it.