I have had chance to reflect on the 2007 vintage and whilst reading one or two comments of other people who have tasted the wines I am just sat here wondering whether they are being too cynical. I have a story to tell you about a wine maker tomorrow . . . but today I want to address this cynicism. Everybody is talking about prices and when you read and hear that Mouton has its lowest production since 1969, producing only 10,000 cases this year, and that Margaux is down 40% in production due to lack of fruit at harvest, I can understand that people are wondering why this is the case. There is speculation that some sort of cartel is in action to limit production in order to hike the price.
In my view there is no manipulation of pricing here (well, no more than normal anyway) – Mouton has had a lower yield of grapes this year due to their strict policy of literally selecting only the very best grapes to make their wines. Obviously production will be down if the vineyard manager is discarding a significant amount of his crop in order to select the crème de la crème of the bunch.
At the moment we are all waiting to see what the prices will be – the Châteaux owners themselves will want to take notes and compare pricing based on the competition. It’s like waiting for the starting gun to go off. Last year Jean Gautreau of Château Sociando Mallet bit the bullet and released his prices first alongside Anthony Barton with his Châteaux Léoville Barton and Langoa Barton. Both Châteaux owners produce consistently good wines and both are always fair with their prices.
In general lower yields have been blamed on the weather – of course wine makers are going to have to be scrupulous about grape selection and rejection in these circumstances. In a year where Nature threw cold rain and mildew inducing, damp fug at the vines I am not surprised, being a gardener myself, that some vineyards suffered despite the Indian Summer that saved the day at the end of the season. Unless prudent vineyard practices were religiously done – such as deleafing the vines so that as much sunlight as possible could find its way through the foliage to ripen the grapes – then some crops will have not reached full ripening. 2007 is a year where the diligent vintners will stand out from those who were not quite so careful.
You will often hear wine makers say that you have to have good grapes in order to make good wines and good grapes don’t come about by chance. Vines have to tended just as you would your roses or the vegetables in your plot. You need the right soil to suit the particular vine you are growing, the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight and the right amount of care – and that’s only to keep the vine alive let alone coax it into producing fruit! Too much rain when grapes are developing on the vine produces grapes that are wishy washy as the flavours aren’t concentrated. Depriving them of water actually aids the grapes intensify their taste. Too much sun and grapes shrivel and vines die.
Hugh Johnson famously announced that vintages do not really matter any more back in November 2007. He told the Times that numerous techniques had been developed by wine growers to ensure that their crops are no longer ruined by bad weather or diseases and he claimed that any year is now a good one for drinkers. I disagree, on two counts. Firstly a vintage can be wrecked by Nature and not every winemaker has the knowledge, facilities or luck to combat that kind of Act of God and secondly if this was the case why is a great vintage like 2005 so different from the rest? You rarely see a vintage like that in your lifetime and I am so pleased that I have.
I have immense respect for Hugh Johnson and he does have a point – mankind can tinker with the wines and the vines to make good wine out of a bad situation. You only have to look at the consistency of the New World wines to see this and I don’t think it takes too much grey matter to work out how they do it. But we can’t rescue wine from a catastrophe. Look at Australia for example – years of drought have lead to miles of vineyards being abandoned and scrubbed up. Bordeaux however is in the temperate zone and has a cooler climate and the terroir is all important. The micro climates the vines grow in help to balance the resultant flavours and it has taken years to get the balance right. The skill of the vineyard manager is just as important as the skill of the wine maker.
I have also noticed that there is a trend with wine critics to be rather harsh with the 2007 vintage. This is nothing new – 2006 was underrated in my book and I said so. A year later and some people are doing a U-turn. I think that when the critics come to taste the 06 again they will be surprised by the quality of the wine.
As far as some of the lower scoring of the 2007 wines are concerned – with everything taken into account and on the little I have read – it has made me rather cross because I wonder if some critics understand the whole concept of Bordeaux. I appreciate that they may be looking for excellence but it stands to reason that it is not going to be excellent every year when vintages are grown in circumstances beyond our control.
What the Bordelaise have done, considering the conditions that the powers above have given them, is a damn good job.
It will not be the critics who will be the final judges on this vintage but you the customers. You will decide if the 2007 vintage is worth buying and I can tell you that those who do buy will not be disappointed!