Bordeaux 2018: Early Vintage Insight from the Producers

Excitement is building for the upcoming release of 2018 Bordeaux with the En Primeur tastings just weeks away. As soon as harvest began we started hearing from relieved vignerons who, after a tough start to the growing season, saw the weather turn in July for an uninterrupted long dry summer right up to picking. As the wine went through fermentation, excitement grew further as levels of concentration were seemingly off the scale, yet acidity readings were coming in spot on.

In November, Olivier Bernard, President of the Union of Grand Crus in Bordeaux and owner of Domaine de Chevalier in Graves, declared 2018 as “an outstanding vintage”. He attributed yet another “vintage of the century” to an amalgamation of technical improvements in the vineyards and cellars throughout Bordeaux and the recent effects of global warming in this marginal climate. For now, this is having a positive effect on the region, but how long for remains a concern. As it stands, Bordeaux’s vintages of the century so far – 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016 and now 2018 – are an unprecedented run of outstanding quality both in the vineyards and in wine production.

Pauillac: Chateau Pichon Lalande – Nicolas Glumineau

For Chateau Pichon Lalande, Nicolas couldn’t be happier with the results of the 2018 vintage but the growing season had a tough start. Pichon Lalande are in the process of working toward biodynamic farming which makes it particularly susceptible to mildew pressure. Nicolas how hard they had to work the first six months of the season, with almost continuous rain from January to early July, to protect the crop. By the end they had lost 15% of Chateau Pichon Lalande’s crop in 2018 – a staggering 75 hectares. Despite the rain at the beginning of the season the quality of the vintage is determined by the second half which saw dry, warm weather uninterrupted right up until the harvest. Drought became an issue towards the end of the summer for younger vines at Pichon Lalande, which saw crop levels further reduced.

However, despite the difficulties, Nicolas couldn’t be happier with the results stating that “the wine produced is of the highest quality and perfectly balanced”. The harvest period was ideal. Because of the clement weather they could stretch it over a month between mid-September and mid-October. Nicolas states they were able to pick each plot in their own time at perfect ripeness producing “juicy Merlot, balanced Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and incredibly refined and racy Cabernet Sauvignon”.

In the winery it was business as usual for Pichon Lalande who tend towards soft extraction, particularly when the juice is so good. “Alcohol and pH levels are a bit higher than usual but in perfect balance. Components of the wine are at a high level but…in balance!! That’s the key!!!” Overall for Nicolas the 2018 vintage is “impressive! Unique! After this tricky season (rain, heat, drought), what a wine!!! We feel so lucky and spoiled.” It is always difficult to compare new vintages but Nicolas suggests it could be on parr with 2016, 2010 and 1989.

Pessac Leognan: Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte – Fabien Taitgen

Fabien Taitgen at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte further south in the Graves had similar problems during the earlier period of the growing season: “The growing season was quite difficult this year. First we had a very rainy winter with 530 mm of rainfall. After the spring stayed wet and rainy, so the vine bud burst was quite late and the growing of the vines was slow. The increasing of the temperature in April and May helped, but as the weather conditions stayed wet we had difficulties with mildew…even if we used copper and plant infusions it was difficult to control the development of this disease. At the end of May we had the beginning of a hail storm which caused some damage in our vineyards…But luckily the weather changed to dry and sunny, and the end of the growing season was much easier and gave us very good things for the quality of the vintage.

“The harvest was long but nice. 3 weeks (August 24th to 17th September) to pick the white grapes, only in the morning, step by step, picking only the ripe bunches, waiting to find the good ripeness… 3 weeks (September 18th to October 10th ) to pick the red grapes in perfect conditions each parcel at the right time with a perfect ripeness… a real pleasure!!!

“When the grapes reached the winery, extraction was handled carefully. For the reds, this year the skins of the grape stayed thick and very rich with tannins. So we took care of extraction to have just the good quantities and the good texture of these tannins. The élevage was quite easy!! The 2018 wines are dense, rich of tannins with a good acidity which are very good bases for a good aging in barrels. The wines stay balanced with no reduction, the malolactic fermentation is now done and no problems.

Fabien’s overall impression of the vintage is one of optimism. “We picked grapes with a very good ripeness, I mean with aromaticity, polyphenolic ripeness and with a good acidity. So with a good slow extraction, as we did, and with a long and quiet aging in barrels we will have an excellent result with full body wine, complex, aromatic and well balanced by acidity. The wines are very aromatic with a wonderful fruity taste!!”

When asked to compare, Fabien states it is always difficult at this early stage but he expects it will be something close to 2010 but with a better expression of fruit.

Saint Julien: Chateau Leoville Las Cases – Antoine Gimbert

Antoine at Chateau Leoville Las Cases is ecstatic about the vintage describing their 2018 as one of the most outstanding vintages ever produced – “extraordinarily aromatic, ripe yet outstandingly fresh and acidic”. For Leoville Las Cases the growing season seemed to pose fewer issues than neighbouring Pauillac in terms of mildew pressure, despite the wet humid weather at the beginning of the year. Bud burst was slowed down by a sharp cooling at the end of March. On both banks, rain fell until early June and temperatures were particularly high for the season. The flowering was completed homogeneous, nevertheless imposing important canopy management tasks.

However it was the summer period that really marked the birth of this great vintage: a particularly hot July followed by an extremely dry August and September, giving the grapes an exceptional tannic potential, incomparable concentration and aromatic scope. Our vineyards were spared by the various pleas that have widely affected the Bordeaux area, such as mildew and hailstorms.

“We were lucky enough to avoid all hailstorms and we could contain the mildew to a few leaves, just using super-precise treatments (and most of it with extremely low proportions of conventional molecules) and more importantly, at the perfect timing.

“The harvest took place in idyllic weather conditions, allowing each plot to be picked in a perfect state without ever exceeding the height of its maturity. We could even extend the period of harvesting in Saint-Julien over three weeks. This has enabled us to expect the perfect maturity of each row of vine, without any precipitation.”

At harvest they noticed that each berry did not contain extravagant amounts of juice and the grapes even before harvest boasted an outstanding complexity, ripeness, acidity and freshness. All in one, the grapes were looking perfectly balanced.

Antoine doesn’t hold back on his overall impression of the vintage: “2018 may be one of the most outstanding vintages ever produced in Bordeaux. Considering all appellations in our region, the results will be heterogeneous, but this vintage is going to produce many wines that are truly built for history”.

We look forward to tasting during Primeurs and reporting back on what is looking to be a truly exceptional vintage from Bordeaux in 2018.