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2014 Bordeaux: Just What the Doctor Ordered!

You can rest assured that everyone in the business of wine in Bordeaux France today is breathing a deep sigh of relief and have wide smiles on their faces. The reason is that the 2014 vintage has been harvested in perfect condition and is heading for the fermentation vats.

The 2014 vintage will forever be remembered for being just what the doctor ordered, after the three extremely difficult and small crop weather vintages in 2011, 2012 (no question the best of the 3) and 2013, Bordeaux not only needed a good vintage but an abundant vintage, and 2014 has thankfully delivered on both counts.

The long story short on the weather conditions that framed 2014 is that for the first time in 3 years there was nice spring weather and budburst and flowering were early and the flowering was even and abundant. July and August had below average temperatures and a few strong storms that brought heavy rain and had everyone very worried. That worry was erased by 8 weeks of gloriously warm, clear weather in September and October. We call this “Indian Summer” in California and they call it that in France as well as the summer of “St. Martin”. Some people may call this late, great weather a miracle but many other vintages like 1986, 1996 and 2000 have been “saved” by this weather condition and made outstanding wine.

The potential for a fine vintage in Bordeaux gets me very excited and I have many close associates in Bordeaux that were kind enough to share their initial thoughts with you and me. We will start with the comments from the only Bordeaux that we represent at PrimeCellar the great value wine of Ch. L’Avocat from Cerons,and owner Sean Allison... We are pretty happy with the harvest! It is really a story of an excellent Indian summer as the weather post august has been really great so it allowed us to get out of a tricky situation. Because July and August bought monumental storms and short periods of intense rainfall we were robbed of the potential to make wines like 2009/2010, having said that, this is clearly the best vintage since 2010 overall and I think will be regarded as a “better than average”/”pretty solid” in the context of history! There will be some very good wines made and I think the fruit/tannin potential is there.

General Manager Herve Berland of the great 2nd growth Ch. Montrose in St. Estephe is dreaming of a great vintage!... “If only we could enjoy the same conditions every year! We had all the time we needed to do our work properly; waiting for each parcel to reach ideal maturity. As a result the entire crop was harvested in perfect health at exactly the right time for each grape variety and each parcel. Jean Rene Matignon the winemaker at 2nd growth Ch. Pichon Longueville Baron since 1985 relates to us... A miracle occurred with an exceptional Setember to push the ripeness: ideal for the great Cabernet terroir !My first impression for the Merlot is variations terroir to terroir: balance, elegance in some lots. Depth, concentration, tension in some others. The Cabernet Sauvignon has homogenate characters with black color, high tannins… and juicy fruit! The pH is low with good acid level without aggressive sensation: very safe for the barrel aging! Florence Cathiard owner of Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte in the Graves and vineyard manager-winemaker Fabien Teitgen were worried! “To be honest, it has been a very stressful vintage even since spring with very lunatic weather conditions. Up to August and a luckily not harmful storm episode on the 29th, we monitored very closely the vine growth and pampered the plant and its biotope as carefully as we could (restraining the use of copper despite mildew risks, thinning out leaves on the East side to grasp the sunrise light, dedicating a team member full time to cutting weeds, etc.). Our Bio-Precision working method was put to the test!

“Then we started breathing again in September, witnessing the arrival of a blessed Indian summer with less than 22mm of rainfall and 24 days of maximum temperature above 26°C during this month. Trigging maturations of both white and red grapes, September and now October offered great conditions for slow ripening: we just had to faithfully wait. We have all the reasons to think 2014 is very promising!

Paul Pontallier Managing Director at Ch. Margaux…We are indeed very happy with the 2014 vintage. The very fine weather that settled from August 20th until the end of the harvest (on October 10th) enabled the grapes not only to make up the delay in maturity due to mediocre weather conditions but also to reach excellent quality. We can reasonably think that 2014 will be a very good, or even excellent vintage, even if it does not reach the extraordinary quality of 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Veronique Ducasse Directeur General at Ch Phelan Segur in St. Estephe…The month of September was heaven with very high temperature in day time, nice wind and cool nights .We had 20 mm rain in September just enough to avoid blocking the maturity; The harvest started on the 29th of September and ended on the 14th of October. We had sunshine all through the harvest, we could choose to pick when we thought it was the best timing, no hurry, just serenity. We picked very beautiful fruit (not in huge quantity though). Very thick skins, with perfect potential alcohol. The Merlot are very much on the fruit, purity , nice density, very homogeneous, creamy. It is still a little bit early for Cabernet Sauvignon but it all looks very promising!

From Alexandre Van Beek Directeur General at Ch. Giscours and Ch. du Tertre in Margaux…The 2014 harvest was held under clear blue skies thus giving a great amount of sunshine with temperatures well above the regional normal average. It was a true Indian summer, during the entire month of September and the first fortnight of October.Thanks to these conditions, we were able to obtain optimal maturities, unexpected after the weather conditions observed during the months of July and August .From the first finished fermentation, we were able to enjoy both fleshy and tasty Merlots, plenty of flavors and a remarkable fruit.Concerning the first vats of Cabernet Franc they offer outstanding balances, that we rarely have the opportunity to reach.

At Château du Tertre, with the average age of our oldest plots of Cabernet Franc, planted nearly half a century ago on an exceptional and very well adapted soil, we have the chance to create colorful, powerful and extremely aromatic wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon also shows a great tension, extraordinary frame and flavor, completed by a very nice acidity. As for the Petit Verdot, they have a color reminding black ink, presenting an incredible precision and an extremely promising fruit. With this combination we can easily imagine the contribution the Petit Verdot will be able to bring to the final blend.

Negociant and Owner of Ch. Gigault from Ch. La Coline Blaye Mr Christophe Reboul Salze …As you are aware; the vintage was not very exciting at the end of August because of a lack of sun and warmness. Then, since the end of August the weather has turned sunny and warm with some ideal showers by time to time. Given the weather in July and August, it was really necessary to work in the vineyard instead of leaving for holidays. We have been very lucky to hire a new technician for Gigault in July, so he couldn’t have holidays and he did the job! There was no Botrytis pressure this year but a big pressure for mildew which has needed 11 treatments! We are so far delighted with the alcohol level and the balance, as well as quantities, but it is a little too early to know how good the vintage will be.

From Veronique Sanders General Manager at Ch. Haut Bailly…Regarding 2014 at Haut-Bailly: We had a wonderful month of September, hot, luminous and miraculous. That provided very aromatic merlots and concentrated cabernets. In terms of harvest dates we are close to the ones of 2008.

Thomas Duroux Winemaker and Chief Executive at Ch. Palmer in Margaux comments after a dreary month of July and August....

The situation again changed as vacation ended at the end of August: if our vineyard workers hadn't enjoyed the sunshine at the beach, they certainly did in the vineyard!! The extraordinary weather conditions for the month of September modified little by little the profile of 2014. Veraison levels evened out, berry size shrank and concentrated the key elements to this new vintage: sugar, anthocyanes and tannic levels all increased.

Today, the majority of the tanks have finished alcoholic fermentation and our first impressions are very encouraging: the Merlots are full and seductive, the Cabernet Sauvignons are clean and linear while the Petits Verdots are exuberant.

And last but not least from the greatest ambassador in the modern era of Bordeaux wine and owner of Ch. Lynch Bages, Mr. Jean Michel Cazes…

“The key factor in the success of the 2014 vintage was the mild and dry weather in September and October, with a perfect combination of fine, sunny days and cool nights.By the harvest, it had all the hallmarks of a great vintage: generous sugar levels, intense color and plentiful tannins, balanced by excellent acidity. At Lynch-Bages, we began picking the merlot grapes on September 25th after 5 weeks of warm and sunny weather. We stopped three days before starting with the Cabernets Sauvignon on October 3rd and we finished picking on October 10th under excellent weather conditions. Petit Verdot was picked on the 8th. Due to a hail storm in July that partially hit our vineyards, and some water stress in the last weeks before picking, the volume of the harvest was a little lower than we had initially expected. However, the concentration of the grapes, the ripeness of the tannins, and the fact that moderate summer temperatures maintained good acidity, all combined to make this wine very well-balanced, reminiscing of 2009 or 2010.”

As you may know Bordeaux is a huge part of my life with over 45 visits to the region and tasting over 1000 wines per visit, I am acutely aware of Bordeaux wines popularity in Hong Kong and all of Asia. As a Bordeaux wine specialist I will have to reserve judgment until I taste the entire vintage in early April 2015. Upon my return I invite you to contact me for a copy of my personal tasting notes and I would be happy to give you my opinion on any of the wines I taste.

Cheers to all of you!
Ralph Sands

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