~ 2018 Vintage Report ~
by Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler MW
The opinion is universal – it is a good year – but the devil, as always, is in the detail; with sixty kilometres between the top and bottom of the Côte d’Or, and with two grape varieties with very different requirements, generalisations serve a purpose but remain superficial. With a few exceptions, the growers were very happy with their lot in 2018, having harvested a decent amount of ripe fruit for the second year running after a relatively benign growing season. Once again, Marion Javillier was relieved to pronounce ‘on est contente!’.
The 2018 Growing Season:
After a very wet winter in 2017-18, the vines were slow to stir but a warm, sunny April brought them back on track; little to no frost, for a change, meant that the vines continued to grow unchecked. Despite mildew pressure and rain just before flowering, the weather cleared up and flowering was on time with a good fruit set. The summer then arrived in earnest, with no rain, bar the occasional, localised hail shower, particularly south of Nuits St Georges, and with almost uninterrupted sun, bringing temperatures well above the seasonal averages in July, August and September. The mean April to September temperature is 17 degrees C, but in 2018 it was 19 degrees C and, more importantly, there were high levels of light – 30% more than usual – which has a crucial effect on the ripening of the grape skins, particularly for the Pinots. The net effect was that many grapes appeared ripe from the point of view of sugars, but had yet to reach phenolic ripeness, particularly of tannins and acids.
The date of harvest was, in general, earlier than usual, with most starting in late August and finishing by mid-September; there was, however, a debate between growers as to whether to harvest early to maintain acidity in this hot year or to allow the phenolics to ripen fully whilst jeopardising the acidity and propelling the alcohol levels ever higher. As a result, we came across wines which came in at over 14% (reds and whites) with insufficient acidity, as well as others which registered a more reasonable 13% but with green notes which we couldn’t reconcile with the sunny nature of 2018. Many found themselves harvesting their vineyards over several tries in order to be sure to pick only the ripe fruit – a truly labour-intensive process when your vines are scattered across several parcels located in more than one appellation. For these growers, the results were wines with real purity: fully ripe with fine acidities and supple tannins, something Pierre Boillot says he hasn’t seen since 2010.
More than ever, this is a vintage where the vineyard soils are key, and where the premiers and grands crus demonstrate precisely why they have their superior designations – the difference between villages and cru wines is more starkly marked than I think I have ever seen. Jérôme Flous of Domaine Faiveley pointed out that the cru vineyards with their clay subsoils, particularly in the Côte de Nuits, were able to resist the effects of drought for almost a month longer than the lighter soils of the villages vines. That is the difference between reaching maturity or stopping growing until the next rain arrives.
Having seen the forecasts and heard first-hand of the high temperatures and low rainfall, we were expecting blockbuster wines – fat Chardonnay, jammy Pinot – but the reality is quite different. The best whites, from regional bourgognes blancs up to the grands crus have a purity and tension, a mineral note which underscores the ripe fruit and brings balance to the wines. They are incredibly approachable already but have the ingredients to evolve and mature for several years, although most will probably drink before the 2016s.
For the reds, the picture is more complicated and more dominated by the choice of harvest date, with the best wines showing incredibly ripe, pure red and black fruits with a refreshing cranberry sourness and no jammy notes – Nicolas Rossignol of Rossignol-Trapet in Gevrey Chambertin noted that the very wet spring, and subsequent good groundwater levels, meant that his vines didn’t suffer from drought and therefore showed no overripe characteristics. Most winemakers were very restrained in how they handled their red fruit, with little or no pigeage (punching down) to avoid over extraction and only aerating the must as necessary to keep it fresh. Inevitably, there were those who wanted to extract every last ounce of tannin from the skins – and you won’t find their wines offered here. The debate on destemming versus whole bunch fermentation continues, with some systematically destemming 100% and others including up to 100% stems, and it would appear that, in a ripe year like 2018, the judicious inclusion of stems added some structure and freshness to very ripe fruit, but equally there were no negative effects on those wines which had no stems included at all.
Every vintage comes with its own set of market conditions, and for the 2018s the dreaded B word must inevitably form part of the picture, particularly as far as exchange rates are concerned. With a second plentiful harvest in a row, the majority of growers have kept their prices at the same level as 2017, although some, like Domaine Truchetet, hard hit by hail yet again, have had to raise their prices to cover the shortfall. In terms of quantity, the global market continues to expand, with demand for Burgundy as high as ever, putting pressure on the top crus and the top growers as never before; many of these growers are now using a quota system to ensure that buyers are not cherry-picking the top wines and ignoring the rest, and this is something which is gradually being passed onto the final customer; the expectation being that if they want to buy the grands crus they need to follow the more lowly appellations too.
To discuss the vintage, learn more about the wines and for help in preparing your wish list, please call us on 01353 721 999 or contact your usual salesperson using the details on the following page.
The Burgundy 2018 vintage will be offered in bond and will be shipped in the spring and autumn of 2020.
Please let us know at the time of ordering if you would like to store your wines with Private Cellar Reserves LLP or take delivery of the wines Duty Paid.