by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-03-28
The potential of the 2016 Bordeaux en primeur assessed from a comparative examination of the weather conditions
There is a weather station located near the airport in Bordeaux which has been recording details of rainfall and temperature since 1911. It’s worth mentioning that rain in Bordeaux-Merignac does not mean rain in St.Emilion; nor does the absence of rain in Merignac on a particular day signify no rain in Margaux. But if the 2016 Bordeaux en primeur campaign is to find traction then some consideration of the weather is important.
Looking at a Table of Cumulative Precipitation (below) which covers several of the greatest vintages of the last 2 centuries (with a couple extra thrown in to demonstrate the ‘exceptions which prove the rule’), one is immediately struck by one anomaly - the 1982 vintage (the others we know about).
It is a sine qua non of red wine grape production to have a sufficient period of dry weather in the summer to induce hydric stress in the vine so that the plant will cease growth and focus on maturing its fruit. It’s also a general rule that wet weather at harvest time is not conducive to healthy picking conditions and produces rot.
Table of Cumulative Precipitation
It is widely accepted that warm weather (as opposed to canicular heat - remember that 2003 had 50 days of temperatures warmer than 30°) is another critical ingredient in the production of great wine (also interesting to see just how much cooler it was in 1982) - see the table below of Maximum Average Temperatures.
Maximum Average Temperatures
Clearly, the temperature progression during 2016 was unusual and extraordinary. Not shown, but also relevant, is a table constructed of average minimum temperatures: 2016 was about average, and slightly cooler than many other years in July; certainly not as warm as 2003.
ASSESSMENT OF BORDEAUX 2016 VINTAGE
Whilst the general weather picture for a vintage is a good prognostication of the quality of the wines not everyone will have been dealt the same cards. Terroirs are not the same. Not every estates’ ambitions are equivalent. Not every vigneron has the tools, techniques and vision to maximise the potential. Some producers will undoubtedly over-reach themselves. Comparing the general climatic conditions for 2016 with other remarkable vintages several features of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage stand out:
- First, 2016 had no phenomenological events of any significance eg frost.
- Second, the precipitation in the growing season and replenishment of the water table set it up for drier conditions later in the year. Of course, warmer humid weather at this time meant vigilance in case of mildew etc.
- Third, the uniformity of temperatures and the progression of average temperatures until August, without the heat spikes of 2003.
- Fourth, August was an unusually sunny month in 2016.
- Fifth: the dry, warm months of July and August were followed by a beautiful autumn.
On the face of it, the charts above, general as they are, demonstrate that 2016 was one of the most remarkable years that Bordeaux vineyards have ever experienced. One might, with some justification, call it a ‘benchmark’ year. Coupled with the advancement in oenology and the investment in First floors which have been undertaken in the last 30 years and if meteorology were the only factor in determining vintage quality (so ignoring viticultural practises, key husbandry decisions, winemaking approaches and trends, sharp temperature spikes masked by monthly averages) then 2016 could be one of the greatest, if not the greatest of Bordeaux vintages. However, the true quality of the vintage will only be demonstrated by the en primeur tastings which are about to commence.
Estates are surely crying (with happiness) over their wines and as for the rest of us, to paraphrase Goethe: “If you've never drunk wine while crying, you don’t know what life tastes like.”
Stay with Wine Owners as we taste our way through the Bordeaux appellations next week. Follow our tweets @WineOwners1. As ever we shall represent the voice of the wine lover and collector pointing out where there's value and where it makes no sense to buy early. Not forgetting the merits in back vintages that en primeur comparative evaluation often spotlights. We look forward to your company along the way.
Tables: compiled and coloured by Wine Owners from data by Infoclimat