Bordeaux 2007 harvest? A difficult year for grapes

27th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

27 September 2007, BORDEAUX (AFP) - Strange weather we're having, said winemakers in Bordeaux this week. The 2007 grape harvest has started and never, not in the last 15 years, not in 20 years, not in 35 years, has anyone seen anything like it.

27 September 2007

BORDEAUX (AFP) - Strange weather we're having, said winemakers in Bordeaux this week. The 2007 grape harvest has started and never, not in the last 15 years, not in 20 years, not in 35 years, has anyone seen anything like it. 

Wine expert Denis Dubourdieu, a professor at Bordeaux's main university and consultant to a number of chateaux, says it's the first time in his 35-year career he has seen vines flower so early in the year, and grapes ripen so late.

"We have never been in a situation like this," he said. "It could be good. We don't know. Could it be global warming, who knows? It could be Nicolas Sarkozy [the new French president]. There is no explanation. It could be simply the irregularities of an Atlantic climate."

The problems, mainly, relate to the weather. April was unusually hot and the vines flowered early. May was cooler and much wetter -- apart from a warm patch that seems to have speeded up the pollination.

Then June was rainy and warm, creating perfect conditions for mildew -- a type of fungus that grows on the vines, destroying first leaves, then grapes.

The levels of mildew this year forced many chateaux to use chemical treatments up to 13 times in place of the more normal four to six. "We had to intervene every six or seven days," said Hubert de Boüard, owner of several chateaux in Bordeaux including the 29 hectare Chateau Angelus in St Emilion.

July was again wet and sunless, "But I was not really worried by any of this, as the vines don't really need sun during these periods," said de Boüard.

However, by the end of an August that was "not exactly torrid", de Boüard said he was almost "ready to bury" the 2007 harvest.

"If we had had two more days of rain at the end of August, we would have been obliged to harvest," he said, even though this would have been at a time when the grapes were not properly ripe.

Fifteen sunny days in the first half of September have made a difference though. "These days in September were a miracle," de Boüard said.

De Bouard, along with Dubourdieu, is not convinced this is an effect of global warming. "I don't think it is. We are maybe in a cycle. In 1974 it was cold and in 1973. This year has been better than those."

The one thing that appears sure for the moment is that the whites are good. "It is too early to tell," said Dubourdieu of the reds, which for the most part are still hanging in the vineyards.

At Angelus, De Bouard says he hopes to begin the merlot, an early ripening grape, harvest before the end of September, and the cabernet sauvignon, a later ripening variety, a bit later, maybe even into mid October.

"This harvest will please the English," de Boüard said, "not the Americans who prefer something a bit riper. It will be a classic Bordeaux harvest."

All of this however, stresses de Bouard, refers only to what are known locally as 'well-managed vineyards' - meaning where vines have been well, and expensively, tended and carefully pruned of too much fruit and too many leaves.

"Well managed vineyards will be OK,' agreed Bordeaux based Californian wine merchant, Jeffrey Davies. "The ones that have done lots of crop thinning - the less fruit there is the better chance it has of ripening."

"De-leafing was also very important this year to get air into the vines and stop the grey rot [another type of disease that affects the vines]. If we could just get over this rainy patch we could be OK," he said.

Getting over the rainy patch though is not the only problem this vintage faces.

"The euro is killing us," Davies said. "The payments for the 2006 wines (which are pre-sold as futures prior to bottling) are due this month, and I'm concerned some US clients may cancel their orders," he said, adding that currently selling anywhere outside of the eurozone was going to be an added problem for Bordeaux wines.

"There is still a fair amount of the 2005 vintage which has not been sold to the end user, but it might go in the OND period - October, November, December - which is when 60 percent of wine is sold in the US," he said. Otherwise, he fears, there could be a bottleneck with the 2006's, which would be compounded by the 2007's.

Asked how much he thought prices should go down for the 2007 vintage Davies said, the more the merrier. "Let's get this stuff out of here and get people drinking it, not collecting it."

"Bordeaux is producing some of the best wines in the world, but we need to get back to parity with the dollar in terms of pricing and make it more accessible," he said.


Subject: French news

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