Burgundy 2015 Vintage
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Finally, a vintage where everything went according to the rule book, with a brilliant growing season, no extreme hail, frost or storms and perfect harvesting conditions. For the first time in five years, Burgundy had it easy, with many growers saying that you had to try hard to make a bad 2015 and, indeed, we didn’t come across any examples. Thierry Matrot, on flying form in November 2015, exuberantly stated that he had actually made wine in 2015 – his first nearly normal year for a while. There was, however, a downside to volumes, linked to hail damage in previous years, where the vines were still recovering and therefore did not bud as abundantly as they should have done. This was further compounded by the hot weather which reduced the amount of juice in the grapes, consequently keeping yields below what was once considered normal.
The Growing Season & Harvest
The winter of 2014 / 2015 was regular and warm, with no very cold patches, and the vines budded early as a result. June turned the heat up, with several days at a record breaking 40o C plus, and flowering came and went in just ten days. Rainfall immediately after flowering refreshed the vines and helped replenish the water reserves somewhat, and then July was very hot right to the end of the month. Early August was cooler with some showers which gave the plants a breather, after which the heat ramped up again at the end of the month with the fine weather continuing almost unbroken right into October. The effect of the late heat on the grapes was to concentrate their juices when normally they would be plumping up; many growers commented on the low juice : pulp ratio and the particularly thick skins on their red berries. The net result of this low juice ratio and thick skins was to bring yields down, with some growers reporting a reduction of around 40-50%.
In a year where heat has played such a part, high alcohol and low acidity could be expected but 2015 has avoided that thanks to the cooler August nights. The whites are very flamboyant, with bright fruits and lovely minerality; the wines are incredibly fresh and alluring and will probably drink before their more restrained, cooler 2014 counterparts. The 2015 reds are spectacular, combining super-ripe fruit with plentiful supple, ripe tannins and a zip of acidity. The colours are deep, thanks to the thick skins, the flavours fresh and racy, and the overall balance of the wines is superb. These are wines which will be alluring in youth and, at the top levels, will last way into the future, if only they are allowed to do so.
Yields & Quality Assessment
Despite initial optimism at the time of flowering for a bountiful harvest, the hail damage of the previous years and the hot summer months conspired to reduce yields yet again in 2015, with many producers reporting only half their normal production in certain crus whilst others remained more productive. Very few producers announced crops of even average levels, although all were unanimous in the quality of the vintage, and many believe it to be the best they have ever made. As a result, there is likely to be as much pressure on allocations of the top crus as in smaller vintages, and particularly when 2016 is taken into consideration.
The 2016 Effect
There can be no discussion of the 2015 wines and their pricing without considering the 2016 effect. Towards the end of April 2016, buds were bursting from perky vines but on 26th April a severe frost hit much of central France, affecting in particular Burgundy and Champagne, and the damage was such that by 6am the young leaves were no more than black slime. Most of the basic Bourgogne vineyards in the Côte de Beaune were hit, as were many of the villages appellations up and down the Côte d’Or, along with sporadic depredations in the Premier and Grand Cru sites. The effects were patchy – Montrachet was almost entirely frosted, whilst other Grands Crus alongside were less damaged; the southern part of Chassagne was protected by low lying fog in Santenay and produced a near normal amount of wine.
As if the frost wasn’t enough, May and June were far from easy in the vineyard, with persistent rain and cool weather, but the summer then turned hot, giving the vines some breathing space, and the latter part of the 2016 growing season was perfect, allowing textbook ripe fruit to be harvested, which needed very little sorting. Sadly, most growers have made less than half their normal production, with many reporting as little as 10 – 30% made, which will put huge pressure on stocks throughout the region and inevitably, therefore, the prices.
As a result, there is already pressure on the 2015 stocks, with négociants paying well over the odds so prices have been rising. That said, most of the smaller growers have been trying to keep these down as much as possible, despite successive years of small crops, to repay the loyalty of their regular customers and for that we are very grateful.
Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler MW