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Bordeaux harvest - day 29

Published:  23 July, 2008

Not a year for people who like their Bordeaux to taste of Port, says Philippe Bardet of Chateau Val d'Or (Saint Emilion) and Chateau Picoron (Cotes de Castillon). Alcohol is around 12.5%, but at least he hasn't chaptalised.

"The particularly long growing season this year (over 130 days between flowering and harvest) has led to some highly promising wines for those who waited to pick until the grapes reached full maturity.

"What I found when eating the grapes at harvest was that the pips seemed much riper and less bitter than usual. Consequently I took the calculated risk of macerating post-fermentation at higher temperatures than usual.

"This has produced the unusual combination of deep colour and yet relatively soft pip tannins because the pips are so ripe.

"Normally the malolactic fermentation does not begin until I have finished the macerations. However, in two tanks this year, the malo started while the wine was still on the skins.

"The risk of this is that it can lead to volatility if there is any sugar left in the wine, but my analyses show that levels of volatile acid are normal.

"I am now running off the Merlots that came into the cellar on September 24th, so they have spent over five weeks on the skins, much longer than usual and only possible because of the health of the grapes and the ripeness of the pips.

"I have not chaptalised since 1992 and did not do so this year. It is only necessary in St Emilion in exceptional years.

"I would not like to see it banned altogether but I think it should only be allowed in years like 1992 when potential alcohol is so low.

"Clearly the vigneron had to work hard in the vineyard, especially during the attacks of mildew in the summer and to reduce yields prior to harvest.

"Overall this is a winemaker's year. First in terms of finding the right time to pick (later than originally planned), and second in terms of managing the extraction of anthocyanins and tannin so as to achieve good balance of colour and structure.

"Those who yielded highly (over 50 hl/ha) may have produced dilute wines. However, although it is still early days, I would say that my wines are characterised by high colour, rounded and ripe tannins and relatively low alcohol, around 12.5%.

"This is not a year for those who like their Bordeaux to taste of Port - I am confident my wines will be well balanced and will provide good early drinking.