Part II – Notes from the French Harvest

Last week, we told you about how the vignerons of France toil at the intersection of three gigantic climatic forces: the Atlantic Ocean, the African continent, and Eurasia. The upside is an almost unmatched diversity of terroirs… if these forces act as expected.

So far, so good, according to French winemaker Julien Miquel. 2019 could be the best vintage since 2016 (three of the wines in your upcoming French shipment are of the 2016 vintage – they are fantastic!)… But one element must stay in place.

More on that below… First, be sure to catch this week’s tasting with Julien Miquel, in which he pits France’s Bordeaux against Spain’s Rioja, two “reference” regions that you must know if you like wine… He also explains how to distinguish between the two… where you would select one and not the other… and why their histories are very much intertwined… 

Let’s begin by putting the 2019 French harvest in context. Every vintage for the past decade or so has been, to quote the experts, “weird.” 2016 was a great weird. 2017 was not. 2018 was a good weird (particularly in Languedoc and Beaujolais). 2019 may just be a great weird, depending on what happens this week.

In Bordeaux, heat waves and drought have produced highly concentrated berries, with rains arriving in early August – just in time to keep them alive and juicy. But the race is not yet run. Conditions in October tend to decline quickly towards rain, hail, and rot. 

Winemakers in the region are standing by nervously, haunted by the specter of 2017, when a bone-chilling frost destroyed 40% of production. 2018 brought the Grand Châteaux back to life, albeit with a touch of gunpowder zing common in wines from wet years. But smaller producers are still nursing their wounds. 

The good news for them is that if the weather holds, the extreme heat of the 2019 summer will produce a very special vintage – concentrated with complex flavors and perfect tannins.

Meanwhile in Burgundy, winemakers have their own historical specters to contend with. Bourguignon tradition holds that years ending in 8 and 9 are always superior. But so far, all we know is that the grapes are small this year (could be a great sign for concentration), and that the harvest will be later than usual (heightening the risk from bad weather)…

Some winemakers are handling it better than others. Jean Natoli of Languedoc sums up the general mood well:

“It’s like being on a rollercoaster.”

Oh, but what fun that can be for the rest of us…

A bientôt,

Bonner Private Wine Partnership