Bordeaux and California Harvest 2008

It looks as if both Bordeaux and California’s harvests are going to lower yielding this year after difficult growing conditions. The weather is to blame – both wine producing areas have suffered from frosts which have damaged the buds and caused uneven flowering.

California has not had enough rain and Bordeaux has had too much at the wrong time – and on top of all this California has had bush fires caused by lightening strikes. The Bordeaux harvest is late and the California harvest looks as if it will finish early.

In Bordeaux the white grapes are the first to ripen and traditionally Pessac Leognan is the first appellation to harvest.

However Pessac Leognan’s harvest of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes is 10 days later than last year. Semillon has just started to be harvested but the Merlot is worst affected and may not be ready until mid October. Harvest dates all over the region are around 2 weeks behind usual, due to a lack of sunshine throughout the growing season.

The vineyards have had less rot and mildew to deal with than in 2007 but what they really need right now is heat and sunlight. August is supposed to be the warmest month but it turned out to be the wettest but the weather has picked up in September with more sunshine in the 5 days between 11th – 15th than in the previous 10.

The weather reports for the next week show Bordeaux having a maximum temperature of 23ºC and a minimum of 8ºC, with dry but overcast skies.

In the vineyards they are working hard stripping leaves to give proper ventilation to the grapes and to let the sunlight through. The bunches are cleaning the bunches and keeping them dry to fight off rot and help them ripen.

It’s labour intensive and very hard work – but worth it. If Bordeaux is blessed with an Indian Summer like last year it would ease a lot of vintner’s minds.

Many of California’s coastal wine growing regions experienced heavy winter rains in January and February followed by an unusually dry spring that was only 2/3rds of the rain that they would normally get. In April and May the vineyards were affected by heavy frosts.

As some of the vineyards use water for frost protection, this frost used up some of that precious water from the reservoirs. A June heat wave came next with temperatures about 40ºC. followed by days of strong winds – often over 100kph – and then there were lightening storms, setting off brushfires state wide.

The Napa Valley suffered the worst frosts since 1972 with some vineyards losing 40% of their potential crop due to the cold snap.

The smoke from the California fires may have shielded the grapes from the scorching sun but hopefully it will not taint the wines.

The grape varieties that are likely to be in short supply are the Varieties that will be most affected are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon as there is a surplus of Merlot and Syrah plantings, and this lower harvest will simply bring those varieties into balance.

The harvest has been one of fits and starts with high temperatures at the beginning of September that punished the grapes finally giving way to foggy days and cool nights which has allowed the grapes to recover and mature.

With the fluctuating weather patterns as global warming takes effect it is more and more apparent that strict vineyard management is the way forward.

The problem is that it can be very labour intensive and is therefore expensive which puts the little guy under a lot of pressure to compete.

And, of course, there is only so much that you can do in the face of unpredictable or extreme weather. Let’s hope that the weather over the next couple of weeks doesn’t turn a drama into a crisis.

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