Inside track to the 2016 Burgundy vintage

Early intelligence from Burgundy on the 2016 vintage points to terrific quality but yet another year of low yields. While this will be a disappointment for Burgundian growers, who will be envious of the contrastingly high yields in Bordeaux, it should be good news for investors. Yes, there will be limited stock available, but the old maxim of supply and demand will doubtless apply. The latter is bound to exceed the former, pushing prices up and making Burgundy 2016 a clear ‘Buy’.

As in Bordeaux, where a year’s worth of rain had fallen by the end of June, initially unfavourable conditions gave way to glorious weather in the second half of summer. “The first half of the growing season was the most difficult in living memory, the second half as close to perfect as anybody could have hoped for,” Jasper Morris MW, the Christie’s wine consultant, who lives in Burgundy, said. “Despondent faces at the end of June displayed relief by the end of September. The old expression ‘Juin fait la quantité, Septembre fait la qualité’ was never truer.”

Although hailstorms in Macon and Chablis caused damage, reducing yield there, they did not really hit the key area of the Cote d’Or. What badly cut most of the appellation’s yield, however, was a severe frost on the night of 26/27 April. Morris takes up the story: “That changed everything. A cloudless night caused temperatures to drop below freezing – not by much, but the effect was more like a winter freeze than a spring frost. A huge swathe of vineyard was affected including many famous vineyards in the Côte de Nuits while the Côte de Beaune bore the worst of it – especially Savigny-lès-Beaune and parts of Pommard, Beaune and Meursault.
Erratic weather conditions in the weeks that followed prevented the vines from setting a second crop where the first had been destroyed. There was also severe pressure from mildew.”

The longest day of the year, though, presaged a change in the weather, with a hot sun showing itself on 22 June. From late July all the way into September, the weather was superb, with day after day of sun. The odd cooler day of rain brought some respite to vines, but hot, clear and sunny conditions, with minimal humidity, predominated, allowing grapes to ripen beautifully.
“The exceptional late summer weather,” Morris revealed, “continued through until some heavy rain overnight on 14/15 September, and some showers over the next few days: welcome rain on the whole to relieve the vines, which were starting to suffer from hydric stress, and to reinvigorate the ripening process.”

The harvest began earlier than originally expected – on 19 September for the Pouilly-Fuissé, with the reds picked over the next 8 days. Importantly, the whole crop was taken off in fine weather. “The grapes were mostly very healthy with the correct balance between sugar levels and acidity,” Morris declared. “The reds were more advanced than the whites, and the vines themselves looked in fine condition but there were pitifully few bunches to be seen. The aromas emerging from the fermenting vats were pure and refined, and all seems set fair to make some excellent wines in 2016, but sadly in very small volumes for certain vineyards.”

Ludivine Griveau, winemaker at the Hospices de Beaune, hailed her reds after they had gone through a two-week fermentation in tank as ‘bien dans leur peau’ (literally, ‘feeling good in their skin’). “They have good colour, plenty of fruit and lots of flavour,” she said. ”There are no aggressive tannins, so they seem full- bodied but silky, just like in 2010. The whites are currently fermenting, having been picked with correct sugar levels, balanced by adequate acidity. Pure and supple whites are expected. Overall the mood is one of considerable relief after the difficult start to the year; indeed there is a sense of optimism for the vintage.”

A further challenge to the Burgundy vintage this year has been grape theft, with four official complaints registered with the police in Beaune by early October and wine-makers throughout the Cote d’Or region reporting incidents. Meursault-based Domaine Latour-Giraud lost the equivalent to 1,200 bottles of wine.

The severely reduced supply this vintage has also led to the significant step of six of the key producers pooling their grapes to create a joint bottling of Montrachet Grand Cru. The six being Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Guy Amiot et Fils, Domaine Lamy-Pillot and Domaine Fleurot Larose. The grapes have all been acquired by Leflaive which will vinify and age the wine, expecting to produce approximately 600 bottles to be shared equally by the six. This extraordinary step is not without challenge though as rules currently ban estates from sharing grapes so there will be legal hurdles to be faced by the estates.

Vin-X CEO Peter Shakeshaft’s view: “Burgundy 2016 will certainly be of interest from a supply perspective alone. The finest wines of the region command extraordinary prices, due to both their quality and rarity. With rarity already an increased factor and first indicators of a high quality vintage, 2016 will definitely be one to watch closely.”