How the Bordeaux 2019 harvest is looking now
Bordeaux winemakers may need a 'seriously brilliant' 2019 vintage given the problems in major markets, says Jane Anson, who reports in-depth on how the vintage is shaping up now that most grapes have been picked.
'The Bordeaux 2019 harvest has been excellent so far, but the rest of the conditions are terrible,' sayd Florence Cathiard, of Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan. It seems likely that she speaks for most of Bordeaux, and possibly the wider world of wine, with those words.
The global backdrop to the Bordeaux 2019 harvest
Harvest is being carried out against a backdrop of Trump's 25% tariffs hitting many European wines under 14% alcohol, the continued black hole that is Brexit and the Hong Kong protests, which have seen the city's annual Wine & Dine festival cancelled and its wine imports suffer a 26% drop in value in the first six months of 2019 alone, according to HK government figures.
And in stark contrast to the 2008 financial crisis, the mainland Chinese market is no longer hoovering up any extra supply that Bordeaux might find on its hands.
A deeper look at Hong Kong’s figures give you a clue to just how serious a change we are looking at it in China.
Around 90% of wine that is re-exported out of Hong Kong goes to mainland China, but this category that saw a 64% drop in value in the first six months of the year, show HK government figures.
And across all of 2018, China’s imports of Bordeaux wine, from France, saw a drop of 31.02% in volume and 21.64% in value versus 2017, according to a recent report citing data from the Business France agency.
With all of that to contend with, Bordeaux had better hope its 2019 wines are seriously brilliant to be able to make any headway on the market. So, now that the grapes are 95% in the cellars, how are things looking?
A year of contrasts
I would say that there is cautious optimism for the Bordeaux 2019 vintage right now, but it has been a year of contrasts.
Key points include:
The growing season has seen temperatures that have been 1.5°C above the average of the past 30 years, with 21% less rain than average.
There were episodes of both frost and hail, but nothing like as widespread as in recent years.
There was no mildew pressure, like in 2018, but the threat of rain has disrupted harvest schedules.
And as ever, although hot and dry conditions are promising, a more varied picture emerges when you look more closely at what happened.
Rain was heaviest during the flowering period, so there has been some poor fruit set and generally uneven bunches, meaning that careful green work was needed in the vineyards to avoid uneven ripening.
The summer months saw several heatwaves, with the highest temperatures recorded in Mérignac on 23 July, when things climbed up to 41.1°C.
Colour change happened under drought conditions, which meant veraison was spread out over a number of weeks. Data from the Bordeaux Raisins website shows colour change across the region going right through to the very end of August.
Things stayed dry through to mid-September, but the last few weeks have seen intermittent rainfall, which is never easy to manage during harvest and increases the threat of rot.
Overall volume is likely to come in at around five million hectolitres, according to consultant Pascal Hénot, director of Enosens in Coutras.
If correct, that’s not so dissimilar to the 2018 vintage, equivalent to around 660 million bottles and pretty much in-line with the 10-year average. For comparison, 2017 produced the equivalent of 350 million bottles, and 2016 close to 580 million.