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Bordeaux heading for 'great, classic' vintage after dry summer

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Bordeaux wine-makers are heading for a "great, classic" vintage this year after an unusually warm growing season and exceptionally dry summer and harvest, according to Olivier Bernard, whose family owns Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Leognan south of the city.

[LONDON] Bordeaux wine-makers are heading for a "great, classic" vintage this year after an unusually warm growing season and exceptionally dry summer and harvest, according to Olivier Bernard, whose family owns Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Leognan south of the city.

"2018 was a vintage with two periods," he said at a tasting of wines from the 2016 vintage organised in London on Oct 16 by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. "A very wet period until the end of June, and very dry after July. We can already tell you we have a great vintage."

Bordeaux, which remains the reference point for the fine wine market due to its combination of high-quality vineyards and relatively large production, is susceptible to swings in the weather, unlike New World wine-making areas such as California, South Africa and Australia that tend to have a more reliable climate. Bordeaux accounted for 60 per cent of trading on the London-based Liv-ex wine market by value in the week to Oct 18, with Champagne a distant second at 13 per cent, according to Liv-ex's Talking Trade report.

Over the past decade Bordeaux has had exceptionally high quality vintages in 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016, and a run of notably more difficult years between 2011 and 2013, with 2013 being remembered particularly for being cold and wet. Wine-makers interviewed at the London tasting drew comparisons between the 2018 harvest and recent standout vintages.

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"2016 is better than '15, and '18 will be better than '16," according to Bernard Audoy of Chateau Cos Labory, an estate in the Saint Estephe region of the northern Medoc. "We're at the level of '09 and '10, more '10 than '09." He described the vintage as excellent following a "beautiful end to the season."

Some growers suffered from mildew as a result of the wet spring, but most were able to handle it and while that may reduce yields in some areas, Mr Audoy said the rain in spring "wasn't a problem."

Wine consultant Michel Rolland, interviewed during a visit to London Oct 16, said that 2018 was overall "a beautiful vintage" for Bordeaux, but added that there was a lot of mildew following the wet spring weather, which sometimes caused "tricky conditions" for the vines. Weather data on the infoclimat.fr website shows heavy rain in January, March and April, with wet conditions persisting through May, June and into July, while August and particularly September were exceptionally dry, ideal for the harvest.

Hailstorms did hit some growers in a localised manner in May, notably in the Cotes de Bourg region on the right bank of the Gironde estuary, but this year vintners were spared the frost damage that destroyed many vines in Saint Emilion and Pessac-Leognan in 2017.

"The quality is extraordinary," said Eric Perrin, whose family owns Chateau Carbonnieux in Pessac-Leognan, noting that water from the spring rain retained in the soil meant "vines didn't suffer" during the dry summer. The wines are "exceptional, beautiful, very elegant."

Now that grapes are in the wineries, more than five months of fermentation, maturation and blending will follow prior to the vintage being presented to the wine trade in early April. Wines will be priced between April and June for delivery a couple of years after the harvest.

BLOOMBERG