The 2015 vintage in France can be summed up in one word. Exceptional! It was hot and dry. Many areas did not receive a drop of rain for over 45 days. However, as you read the reports for each area, it is evident just how delighted the vignerons are. We look forward to sharing with you, the fruits of their labour over the months and years to come.
We spoke to André Gruss (Domaine Gruss) early in October and he sounded tired but really quite excited. It seems the weather has yet again been kind in Alsace, as it so often is. This is what he said, ‘2015, a happy end! It started in Alsace with a cool winter, with only four days of frost, and a spring with good growing conditions which resulted in early flowering. The summer, as in all the wine regions of France, was marked by heat and exceptional dryness. We had no rain for many weeks with temperatures that reached 38-40°c; the dryness was accentuated by the north wind. The younger plots, especially on granite or sandy soils, suffered the most from these conditions.
However, unlike the 2003 vintage, rainfall in August transformed the vineyard and boosted the ripening.
On the 21st September we started to harvest the first Rieslings. These ‘golden grapes’ reached high maturities, so big potential here.
In the last week of September, we started with the different Pinot Gris and on the 1st of October, we picked the first Gewürztraminer. 2015 showed so many different facets according to the different locations and reaction of the vineyard to the dryness.
For the moment, the wines are fermenting and we are impatient to discover the expressions and the balance of the coming wines. But we are very confident for vintage 2015.
You are welcome to discover the wines next year at home!’
Christiane Lacondemine from Domaine les Roches Bleues described vintage 2015 as ‘an abnormal year, but an exceptional one!’ The canicule (heat wave) that was last seen in France in 2003 reappeared, but for longer. June, July and August were hot and dry. Harvest began on the 27th August and finished on the 2nd September. The grapes were beautiful and ripe but very small with less juice.
All grapes must be hand-harvested by law in Beaujolais, so the hills were literally alive with the sound of contented vendangeurs during this period. Sorting (discarding of unripe grapes or foreign matter) was not required – such was their health. Yields were 20% lower than average, but overall the quality is as good as 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2011. The Beaujolais Cru renaissance continues apace. We look forward to our quartet of gorgeous Crus from 2015 in Options 2017.
Picking for the white grapes – Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – at Château Monconseil-Gazin in Blaye began on the 17th September in beautiful weather. They started with their Merlot on the 21st September, again in ideal conditions and finished with the late-ripening Malbec.
At Château Mongravey in Margaux they began picking their Merlot about the same time. They were healthy and showed perfect ripeness. Jérôme Bernaleau said that because the skins were so thick, the grapes were able to withstand early September rains without any problems.
The initial ferments are going wonderfully well and we can perhaps expect wines of the style of 2005 or 2010 – big wines, deeply coloured with superb ripeness and concentration; wines which will cellar for a very long time. As Karin Bernaleau stated, with the usual Bordeaux optimism ‘for the moment, we are heading towards a very, very great vintage in the Médoc’.
On the right bank at Château Cardinal Villemaurine in St-Émilion, Paul Carrille beamed from ear to ear ‘it has been an outstanding year for us with a long, hot summer and just enough water at key times to keep the vines nourished. The wide temperature difference between day and night has brought about fragrant aromas, fresh acidities and deep colour. I’m very happy!!’
Harvest started at the very end of August and lasted 10-14 days for most. Spring was not particularly early, but the summer heat wave and beautiful weather during harvest ensured perfect ripeness, concentrated fruit flavours and thick skins with good acidity.
The ferments have been faultless so far and the young wines have tasted wonderfully sweet, plump and silky. Although it’s very early days yet, these deep, dark ferments are looking every bit as good as the legendary 2005s. Perhaps even better!
Jean-Michel Jacob of Domaine Lucien Jacob in the Côte d’Or commented, ‘It was a near perfect harvest for us. We needed it after the last few years of challenges, especially with low yields. Years ending in ‘five’ in Burgundy are normally excellent. This is no exception. The vigneron had much less work to do in the vineyard compared to normal. The grapes came in beautifully ripe and healthy, with good sugar levels and enough acidity. The ferments were faultless and the juice tastes really promising! It’s a year when the vigneron doesn’t need to intervene with nature.’
Chablis is over 100km from Beaune in the Côte d’Or and is prone to frost and hail in the spring and summer. On the eve of the 1st September a violent hailstorm whipped through the region, stripping grapes off the vine in up to 10-15% of vineyards. Once the storm disappeared the sun returned. To avoid rot, vignerons decided to harvest a few days earlier than planned in order to minimise this threat. Happily, the quality has been very good, but quantity very low.
Harvest began at Champagne Fresne Ducret in the Montagne de Reims area on the 9th September after a long, hot and dry summer. Although the grapes were very healthy, the quantity was down. The dry weather caused the grapes to be smaller than normal – which means less juice and less champagne. However, Pierre told me the flavours are ‘really interesting’.
In Épernay at Maison Lenique, the story was similar. Harvest for them began on the 7th September and lasted a week. It was ten days earlier than last year. Alexandre said that the grapes were in perfect condition with lovely flavours and good acidity. He describes it as a great vintage. Partners will have to be patient however, as vintage 2015 will not appear until Options 2020.
What better way to summarise the harvest in the southern Rhône than through the eloquent words of Christine Saurel at Montirius.
‘The song of the cicada on our Le Clos plot. This is what we call the ‘indicator’ at Montirius, to know when the harvest will begin. Since 2004, we have noted each year the first songs of the cicada on the domaine. We have noted also that on average we start the harvest two months and 19 days later. Last year, we were wondering if the cicada will sing right for the vintage 2014 because of the arrival of our nine free range chickens around the parcel. We thought that by scratching the ground fervently as they do, they could disturb our dear cicada. But this one is unflustered! For 2015 the song of our Cicada indicated a harvest date beginning on the 7th of September.
The climate condition for 2015. Springtime for us was raining and cold, but luckily this was after the flowering. The last rain was on the 18th of June. Some organic winegrowers in our area were decimated by black rot. The black rot is a terrible funghi which can destroy berries in a couple of days. We didn’t have it at Montirius because in ‘bio-dynamie’ (biodynamic viticulture) you anticipate what your plant needs, and our vines were balanced and strong enough to protect themselves.
When the summer heat arrived we had reserves of water in the subsoil – of course if the subsoil is alive! We saw some winegrowers end of July who were spraying their Vacqueyras vines with water!
We started to pick first our Syrah plots on the 25th of August (roughly one week earlier than last year).
We finished the harvest of our red grapes on the 25th of September with Grenache and Mourvèdre in our Gigondas plots.
The taste of the berries for our Syrah were red fruits, strawberries with balanced acidity, the Grenache has soft tannins, raspberry, white pepper and floral aromas and our Mourvedre has beautiful intensity, with black pepper and bilberry flavours. The quantity of grapes is good this year. We are very happy and our bankers are relieved.
I invite Partners to organise visits to Montirius, if you can, around the first fortnight of October. You then can taste the grapes, see the wine being ‘created’ in the vats and follow the various stages of fermentation in the cellar. You may also take part in the real time ‘birth’ of a Montirius wine; an extraordinarily short-lived time during which the balance of tannins and alcohol is achieved.
In the Anjou region at Domaine de Salvert, harvest began with Chardonnay mid-September, followed by Grolleau Noir and Grolleau Gris – they all came in beautifully healthy and ripe. There were a couple of days of heavy rain, but this didn’t affect the quality. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon started on the 6th October. The Chenin Blanc for their sweet Coteaux du Layon will be picked after the autumn mists have done their work to encourage the noble rot. This could be well into November.
Maxime Bureau, Georges’ son, was over from Beijing for the harvest and has been delighted with the way it has progressed, ‘It has been a wonderful year in the Loire. All the grapes show a high level of maturity with plenty of flavour and good acidity too. I am so pleased to be here to help my father in what will be a very special vintage.’