Unbelievable, beyond imagination, improbable and even unthinkable - a few words which best describe for us winegrowers the year 2021 : in fact, who would have thought at the beginning of the year that we were to experience such climatic conditions which were to severely affect the vine’s growth cycle through to the harvest ?
All started end March/early April with excessively hot conditions – as high as 27°C - and an explosion of vegetation growth and consequently early budding on the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines most exposed ; this was followed by forecasts warning of the risk of nightime frost, unthinkable at the time but confirmed during the nights of 6 and 8 April and the return of wintery conditions with some snow and temperatures of minus 7/8°C.
As a result and in spite of all the measures taken to counter the effects of these harsh winter conditions, there was serious frost damage to the buds and furthermore, the cold spell lasted until the end of April.
The damage was assessed as very high and the vine recovered with a lot of difficulty, particularly as the month of May was cool with little sunshine.
In June, the contrast was spectacular with hot and sunny weather and erratic growth of the vine : by mid-June the vine had bloomed too fast and too early causing shatter and thus additional risks of loss in yield.
Field work conditions were unpleasant through heat, rain , the humid atmosphere and the excessive vegetation growth rate.
Rainfall in June and July was more or less high depending on the area with risks of mildew and oidium and special care had to be taken to keep the vine healthy including precise planning for phytosanitary action.
The weather in August was mainly dry ; the nights were cool for the season with risks of oidium particularly as the veraison development stage was late and did not start to show until the tenth day of the month but was in fact completed during the end of the month with the good seasonal weather conditions.
The degree of maturity varied considerably depending on how much the vines were hit by frost so it was necessary to monitor regularly the development and the sanitary condition of the grapes in order to fix the harvesting dates.
Harvesting started in Burgundy around 8 September for the Crémant wines and approx. 17/20 September for still wines ; great care had to be taken when sorting, particularly for the red wine grapes to ensure impeccable quality wines, fresh, fruity and elegant.
The 2021 vintage white wines can be qualified by their nature as well balanced with good intensity and aromatic potential.
"Beautiful and cruel"
Nature is beautiful : she can also be cruel but whatever the case will always have the last word.
This lesson was learnt the hard way just recently in Burgundy and in fact, almost the entire French wineland, when a historically severe frost occurred for 3 nights.
At this point in time, early May, it is impossible to assess with accuracy the extent of the damage which many say will only really be evaluated during the grape harvest. ; not a satisfactory situation for journalists in a hurry, like us, but the only sensible attitude to take.
It must be said however, that among winegrowers and others concerned, questions are being raised : for instance , after each period of drought or frost there is an open debate on the subject of
vine species able to be harvested later in the year or those species of old and long forgotten, resisting better to hot conditions. Winegrowers have always been able to benefit from research and trials to develop their techniques and skill all to their advantage and ultimately, to the satisfaction of their customers.
Of course, the vine is not like a cereal planted each year – the vine must live for 40, 50 ,60 years or more and when it is planted nobody has the faintest idea what the climatic conditions will be in 2061 or 2071 ! Predictions have been made and some, paradoxically, claiming that global warming will continue to rise but in our part of the world this could result in a temporary period of cooler conditions depending on the effects of the Gulf Stream. This leads to the question, how can we entirely rethink the entire winegrowing complex such that it can survive in extreme heat and yet be able to resist severe cold conditions ?
Nature is indeed both beautiful and cruel so it is going to be vital to find new ideas for the cellar and in the field, patiently and steadily, with a long term approach, just as in fact has always been done in Burgundy for centuries : it has had to face up to other situations in the past…..
Editor- in- chief « Bourgogne Aujourd’hui » magazine.
2020 has been complicated for all of us. It should be a special year, as the 20th anniversary of the Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne. At last I can start circulating again to visit my vigneron friends. I have just come back from Chablis where I was able to taste with Isabelle, Lucie, Nathalie, Athénaïs & Gaëlle, Nathalie & Julie, and Eleni, among others.
Today it has become normal, happily, and no longer a cause for remark if we taste with vigneronnes rather than vignerons. When I open a bottle, it does not occur to me to think about the gender of the winemaker, certainly not. However, I do care about who has made the wine. It is my incredible good fortune to have walked the vineyards and met the vignerons who make the wine that I drink – which I am sure enhances my pleasure because as I raise the glass to sniff the wine, I can see the contours of the vines and hear the words, the characteristic personal phrases or the smiles and laughs (it should be possible to bottle the laughs of some people!) of the vigneron responsible for the wine in my glass.
The years go by but are never the same. The vintage will be with us and I have just come across these words of Colette, Femme de Bourgogne, and a great admirer of wine, in correspondence with the négociant Louis Brocard:
"The vintage, a rushed joy, the urgency to bring ripe and unripe* grapes together to the press in a single day, a rhythm which is far removed from the dreamy cadence of other harvests, a pleasure , redder than any other, songs, little drunken cries - then silence, the sleep of the new wine now cloistered, become intangible, withdrawn from dirty hands…" (my translation)
*no longer the case today
Long live 2021!
I'm not unhappy to turn the page on 2020, a year which, as time went by, proved to be more and more complicated! Even if our association was able, from the beginning of the year, and thanks to the energy and positivity of all, to strengthen the bonds that unite us.
However, in this never-ending tunnel, our nerves have been and are still being put to the test! We have all gone through this year with varying degrees of difficulty, with ups and downs; but we are going through this crisis together and united.
Of course, we can't kiss each other to wish each other our best wishes yet, but nothing prevents us from thinking of the wonderful moments to come.
The year 2021 promises to be a complicated year, even if some bright spots are now visible. And it is realistic, but also confident and optimistic, that I approach this new year which will, I am sure, reserve us some very beautiful moments.
You can be sure that Femmes (et Vins) de Bourgogne will know, again and as always, how to share their passion with you and make you discover their beautiful bottles full of emotion...
Let's keep the energy together and remain patient, but also careful.
At this very special time, I simply and very sincerely wish you health, happiness and a bit of global calm for all of you and your loved ones.
Under a tropical sun.
While France was in lockdown in Spring 2020, the vines in Burgundy were full of life and required all our energy to coordinate work in the field under a bright blue sky where only birds could be seen flying.
The countryside was exceptionally beautiful and was rapidly changing through the effects of the hot conditions and a few sharp showers.
How was the 2020 vintage to turn out ? As the months passed by, still under bright sun and with insufficient rain - quite serious including some areas nearby – all the forecasts agreed on an early grape harvest and an excellent vintage.
The first grapes were picked on 12 August, just north of Macon in the southernmost part of Burgundy where the harvest is usually the earliest ; elsewhere, throughout Burgundy, the harvest was well underway by the end of August.
Because of the Covid 19 restrictions it was not always easy to recruit pickers ; moreover, there were numerous constraints : no meals together, individual water-bottles, snacks during breaks to be handed out by one person only, adapting the timetable, social distancing, pedal-operated cleansing gel dispenser, masks in enclosed areas, etc.
Aware of these special circumstances, everybody cooperated with good humour so that the harvest could be accomplished in the best possible conditions.
The sanitary conditions of the grapes were excellent and little or no sorting was necessary ; just prior to harvest time there was some slight rainfall in the southern part of Burgundy and in some others further North , which was particularly beneficial, as was light rain during the harvest which helped to ensure the right degree of sugar content.
The analyses on the first must samples showed good equilibrium with Ph, tartric acid, fruit and corresponding degrees all meeting our specifications.
2020 has reached our expectations and Burgundy can be proud of this vintage.
The yield varies according to the location and the amount of rainfall but we can be optimistic : on average, even though lower, the yield is satisfactory particularly for the white appellations while the effects of low rainfall were especially noticeable on the Pinot noir.
Nevertheless, a year like no other, 2020 will be remembered for its high gustatory qualities : » bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis » - a man’s heart is warmed by good wine (the book of Ecclesiastes chapter XL. 20).
Françoise de Lostende
Château de Vinzelles