Truly excellent vintages rarely follow each other. Over the last 30 years this has arguably happened just twice, with the 1990 and 2010 vintages both succeeding universally recognized high quality years. Before heading to Bordeaux for the annual En Primeur tastings however, we had been hearing reports that the 2016 vintage was shaping up to be the second successive excellent year, although quite different in style to 2015.
Rain during the first three months of the year had topped up water reserves and although flowering started under mixed conditions, the gloomy weather abated just in time for a healthy and generally uniform flowering across the region in June. This is essential for an abundant crop and was a major contributing factor to the harvest being the largest in over a decade, even if the flowering of the Cabernet Sauvignon was slightly less bountiful.
The repleted water reserves proved essential over the next 2 months as July and August progressed under drought conditions, from the last week of June to mid-September many areas saw just a tenth of their normal rainfall. Importantly August, during veraison (when the grapes develop colour), showed large temperature differences between night and day, the cooler night time temperatures helping to keep acidity in the grapes and also to fix the colour produced during sunlight hours.
By September though, many vignerons were praying for rain, fearful that if the hot weather continued acid levels would fall too low before the grapes had a chance to develop physiological ripeness, but what they needed wasn’t a shower it was a downpour, followed by sunshine and cool nights leading up to harvest. Their prayers were answered on September 13th when 40mm of rain fell over 24hours and again on 30th September when more rain came to refresh the vineyards, with fine weather and light breezes following each spell of rain drying the grapes and preventing rot.
The dry white harvest began September 1st through to the third week of September, the more premium estates tending to delay picking until after the mid-September rains. Picking of the red grapes started in the Right Bank during the last week of September and for the Medoc in the first week of October, however with almost no rot in the vineyards growers could afford a long drawn out harvest, the best estates able to select harvest dates for individual plots at leisure. This led many to call the vintage a Cabernet year as even though there were many excellent Merlot based wines, the extended hang time particularly favoured the Cabernets, both Sauvignon and Franc.
For more information please contact Oliver Dixon.