Bordeaux : A Glimpse of What 2014 Could Be

After a few weeks of extremely sunny and warm weather -something that doesn’t happen in June too frequently in the southwest of France- this year’s vintage definitely gets off to a much better start than 2013.

Of course, with 3 to 4 months to go, it is way too early to predict the quality of the upcoming vintage. Superstitious people, and there are many in this business, aren’t very optimistic about its chances as they will tell you that years finishing with 4 rarely end up being of great quality. Indeed, 1934, 1944, 1954, 1964, 1974, 1984 and 1994 were all average to mediocre years, as only 2004 stands out as a correct year.

However, superstition remains superstition and the rule works until nature decides otherwise.

Within the last two weeks, I went up and down the main vineyards in Bordeaux and overall I’m pleased by the current condition of the vines.

The grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon in Médoc are early this year with great flowering conditions : a good sign considering that any great vintage is precocious.

The flowering process just finished on the right bank (Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, Fronsac…) and lasted approximately 3 weeks. Early Merlots might have been affected by “coulure” a little bit but nowhere near last year. The vines look very good and strong and make the most of the current beautiful and dry weather.

Overall, the amount of sunshine since the beginning of June favored the flowering and then a fast and homogeneous pollination.

There are five main conditions that make a great vintage in Bordeaux for red wines. The first two (probably the most important ones) are already met : “Early, rapid flowering and fruit-set during weather that is sufficiently warm and dry to ensure pollination and predispose toward simultaneous ripening.”

The next step will be a warm and dry month of July that will favor water stress and thus slow down and then put a definitive stop to vine growth during véraison (color change).

I took time to compare the weather statistics of this year with the last 2 great years in Bordeaux, 2010 and 2009 :

Table I : Rainfall (mm) from March to June 2009, 2010 and March to June, 23rd 2014 (Météo France Bordeaux Mérignac) 

                  2010               2009               2014

March         68                    31                    88  
April            27                  116                    83
May            41                    78                     71  
June         102                   75                     51

Table II: Sunshine (hours) from March to June 2009, 2010 and March to June 23rd 2014 

2010                 2009               2014

March       187                     221                182
April          250                    160                 207
May         193                     235                 204
June        102                     293                 235

I could put up much more statistics but the results would be the same, the weather so far is very comparable to those last two great years and the numbers are actually better in 2014 than they were in 2010. Now add to that, big water stocks due to a lot of rain last winter and you can be very optimistic about the upcoming vintage in Bordeaux, no matter what superstitious people say!

As a conclusion, as impossible as it is to predict anything at this point, I really hope that 2014 will turn out to be a good year for wine in Bordeaux. I don’t say that for a handful of estates selling their wine way higher than they should, those people will be fine even if it rains all summer.

I do say that for those hundreds and hundreds of little winegrowers who take pride in making quality wine year after year after year. After three horrible and complicated vintages, I really hope for their sake and for all of you wine lovers out there, that they will finally be rewarded in 2014.