Burgundy season is now fully underway, following buzzing C&B tastings last week in London, Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Singapore. The 2018 vintage has proved to be delightfully easy to taste – the reds supple and generous, the whites crisper than many expected from the warm 2018 summer (whose temperatures were 2°C above average). So here is a quick look at the growing season…
After a very dry 2017 summer, autumn was very wet. As Saint-Aubin producer Olivier Lamy said, “it rained almost one day in two – we had our feet in water!” Excellent for the soil water reserves, which were fully replenished. January 2018 was mild, with winter ‘proper’ starting late.
Spring: The cool weather lasted until late March, meaning vine growth was slow. Early April sunshine finally ushered in spring and budbreak. Very little frost damage, phew! Early May has become the danger zone for this but 2018 largely escaped unscathed. However, the mildew pressure caused by warm, moist weather demanded vigilance and anti-fungal sprays (many of which are now organic, thankfully).
Hail in Puligny- and Chassagne-Montrachet on 8th May fortunately did little damage. This was followed by several late spring thunderstorms. The first flowers appeared in mid-May on the Chardonnay. By month-end, flowering was already well underway. It generally went smoothly, although Géraldine Godot at Domaine de l’Arlot remarked on “some blossom drop in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits area”, due to rain.
Summer: Just after the grape bunches closed, two violent localised hailstorms struck southern Nuits-Saint-Georges, on 3rd and 15th July. Affected growers include Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Domaine de l’Arlot and Domaine Gilles Jourdan.
Veraison (colour change) started in early July and lasted for nearly six weeks in places where temperatures were unusually high or water scarce, such as the Maconnais and Chablis. From this point onwards, the character of the vintage began to reveal itself…
2018 was sunny: Depending on where the readings were taken, summer saw between 150 and 260 more sunshine hours than average.
2018 was warm: Temperatures were almost 2°C above average – warm but not scorching. The winter and spring water reserves tempered this, although younger vines with shallower roots suffered.
2018 was dry: August had just 20-30mm of rainfall, versus an average of 60mm. This made for thick skins and many small millerand berries, ensuring 2018 would be rich in polyphenols. April to September saw 285mm of rain, versus an average of 403mm.
2018 was (mostly) early: Potential alcohol levels were approaching desired levels by late August, but conditions were so good that some waited for greater phenolic maturity. As Vincent Dampt put it, “the crucial question was when to attack”. Some light rain and morning dews in early September loosened any lingering blockages in maturity.
For most, harvest took place in the first week of September, although some started in August, such as Domaine Matrot (24th – the earliest ever here), Domaine Leflaive (26th), Domaine Javillier (30th) and Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé (30th). Monday 3rd September was busy, Domaine Vincent Dampt (Chablis), Domaine Rossignol-Trapet (Gevrey) and Domaine Justin Girardin (Santenay) all starting on this day. For the high-acidity Aligoté grape, there was clearly no rush: Domaine Lafarge’s Aligoté Raisins Dorés came in between the 22nd and 24th September. At Domaine Gilles Jourdan, the hail in July slowed down growth, meaning Gilles’ harvest did not start until 25th September.
2018 was healthy: Many growers, such as Volnay’s Guillaume d’Angerville, commented that there was barely any need for grape selection on the sorting tables. The health of the berries meant that anything sub-standard could quite easily be eliminated in the vineyard. This encouraged Domaine Rossignol-Trapet to retain 50-60% whole clusters, whilst Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux used 100% almost across the board. The season was so healthy that, just for fun, Domaine Pierre Morey made a sweet late harvest Chardonnay from its Bourgogne Blanc parcels, picked on 25th October!
A word on acidity: We assume warmer vintages will be lower in acidity. While this is true to an extent, it is not the whole picture. The heat of August did burn off some precious malic acid, especially where leaf cover was sparse. However, the spring rains had brought reserves of tartaric acid. The best 2018s also have a mineral tension which brings its own freshness to the party. Olivier Lamy also pointed out that white Chardonnay skins absorb less UV radiation than black Pinot Noir ones.
The wines: The whites are juicy and, for the most part, with excellent definition and freshness. The reds are beautifully, richly pigmented, with expressive red berry aromas and succulent mid-palates, without the excesses of fruit density seen in more prosaically “warm vintages”. 2018 is a beguiling meeting of ripeness and precision, which deserves a place in every Burgundy collection.
Click here to find out more about the 2018 Burgundy vintage at C&B.