Of course it is far too soon to make an assessment of the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux (the critical month is August), but it is interesting to look at the weather conditions so far to see how they may affect the final outcome. For some unfortunate growers in the northern Médoc, we know already that they will have vastly reduced crops because of the hail storm that struck on Whit Sunday (8 June). In four or five villages to the east of Lesparre-Médoc, nearly 50% of the vineyard was affected and some growers are reporting up to 100% loss. This was the critical flowering period, and hail is very effective at stripping the vines of their leaves. No leaves means no photosynthesis and therefore no crop. Fortunately for other producers, hail is usually very localised. Outside the northern Médoc, others are more upbeat about climatic conditions so far.
In Margaux, Château Palmer reports that the winter was particularly rainy, allowing a build-up of water reserves at the property, and weather conditions in May and June were favourable for the growth of the vines. Heat conditions were generally favourable for flowering, despite some coulure and millerandage for the older Merlots, though this was not at all at the same level as last year. Green harvest work will soon be completed on the youngest vines and the Petit Verdot. “At this stage of development of the vineyard, we can hope for a good 2014 vintage, if we have a hot and dry summer,” concludes Château Palmer. The harvest is expected to start in the last week of September.
In the Graves, Rémi Edange of Domaine de Chevalier, also reports a rainy winter with build-up of water reserves. Pruning was finished at the end of March. Spring was rainy and cold from the middle to the end of May. Bud-burst was good and took place in the third week of March. Inflorescence was quite poor because of the cold and rainy conditions in 2013. This was followed by rapid and regular growth until mid-May and a return to good temperatures with flowering from 5-8 June. Early summer was quite warm with occasional showers without hail (except in Martillac, but this did not cause any damage, according to Rémi). Yield estimates are quite low for the whites (35 hl/ha) and average for the reds (40 hl/ha). As of now, mid-July, the vineyard is in a healthy state and has the potential to deliver an average yield, says Rémi.
On the right bank, Olivier Darcy from Château Teyssier in Saint-Emilion, reports a very early start to the season following a rainy but not very cold winter. Bud burst started at the end of March. The growing season was normal until the end of May, when a cold spell delayed flowering. A return to warm weather led to flowering on 4-6 June, which is the same as in 2010 or 2012. “The vines are growing well and we are just waiting for the next major stage, the onset of ripeness,” says Olivier.
In conclusion, the 2014 vintage so far looks promising (except for those hit by hail), but as always it is “août qui fait le moût” – the weather in August will be decisive.
David Rowe wrote this article. David is a wine consultant based in Bordeaux and the former editor of Decanter Magazine