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Bordeaux harvest: day 1

Published:  23 July, 2008

Each day we'll be providing updates from the harvest as it progresses across the world's most famous wine region.

Finally they've started picking in some parts, as autumn sunshine has made up in part for warmth lost in July and August.

Read on for the first day, which has just been sent this evening from Alexandra Martet at Chateau Lavison, Philippe Bardet at Chateau Val d'Or and Chateau Picoron and Jean-Christophe Mau at Chateau Brown.

Day 1, October 4

"Good evening, this is Alexandra from Chateau Lavison. We have just finished harvesting the Merlot and I am as damp as an old sock.

"All due to the false weather forecast at the weekend - they announced fine weather and 15 mm of rain promptly fell, bravo!

"Really, you don't have to be a climatologist to foresee such things. Anyway, for 3 days, the weather forecast has been wrong. We have finished harvesting Merlot and the yields are very low, around 35 hl per ha.

"In the 10 years that I have been responsible here, I have experienced the hail of 2002, the drought of 2003 and the three plagues of 2007: millerandage (poor berry set), coulure (poor flowering) and mildew. Mum and Dad are tired and stressed."

"The Merlots are more or less ripe. Pretty amazing considering the awful weather we had in spring and summer. I'm going to leave the musts overnight in the cool and then I'll yeast them tomorrow.

"The colour in the Merlot we picked two days looks correct. That's enough for this evening, I just need to check the temperature in the cellar - for the last 3 days, we've been getting up at 5 and finishing at 10 at night."

Philippe Bardet at Chateau Val d'Or and Chateau Picoron:

"I have just finished picking my Merlot in both St Emilion and Castillon. It's clean and yields are about normal at 50 hl per ha.

"In some parts of Bordeaux the berries are unusually big this year, but it's not something I have noticed in my vineyards. Berry weight this year is 150-160 grams per 100 berries for Merlot and 130 gms/100 berries for Cabernet Franc, which are about normal.

"If the weight goes over 160 for Merlot, I do a light saigne in the cellar to bleed off up to 10% of the juice. What is important though is that the berry weight was up to 190 at the end of August, so it is clear that the dry, warm September, with consistent breezes, has done a good job of concentrating the berries.

"My vineyards on limestone soils have produced the smallest berries because they are better drained. I cannot believe the weather forecasting this year.

"The long term forecast, which was for fine weather in September and into October, was accurate. The short-term forecasts have been consistently wrong. Crazy."

Jean-Christophe Mau at Chateau Brown.

"We started our red grape harvest at Chateau Brown on Tuesday afternoon this week. Our team of 32 harvesters picked 2 parcels of young Merlot vines, 1.5ha in total, which has given our first tank of red wine in 2007, with the must at 13% potential alcohol and total acidity at 3.5.

"The skins are thick and the yields, which we expected to be higher in these plots, are finally around 45 hl/ha. Although it rained in the morning, it was hot in the afternoon, reaching 28 C.

"So the grapes were hot and we had to cool the tank to 17 C - we will keep it at this temperature for 2 to 3 days. The grapes were really healthy, meaning that we only needed 4 people on the sorting table, whereas last year we needed 8.

"Our consultants, Stephane Derenoncourt and Delphine Pierre, expected us to pick for 3 days on the run, but I have decided to wait a day to pick the older parcels of Merlot.

"This will give them an extra day of ripening, but I can't wait too long because humidity in the air is 95% so there is a real threat of rot in some plots.

"Stephane and Delphine are coming on Thursday to taste the cabernet berries with us - it doesn't look as if there will be a break in harvest between the merlots and cabernets this year.

"Our first impressions? A euphoric atmosphere amongst the pickers on Tuesday afternoon.

"They are used to beginning the harvest at the same time as our neighbours, but we started later this year and they were beginning to get impatient. A bit disorientated at having to wait until October to get going, but it was a great relief for all to taste the first must that evening."

Notes on the producers:

Chateau Lavison: an estate of 55 ha in the Entre-Deux-Mers surrounding a 13th century chateau. Currently owned and run by 3 generations of the Martet family and the fourth generation has just been born. Winemaker is third generation Alexandra Martet.

Philippe Bardet: his family owns 30 ha in Saint Emilion (mainly at Chateau Val d'Or) and almost 100 ha in Cotes de Castillon, 40 ha of which constitute Chateau Picoron.

Jean-Christophe Mau: his family own Chateau Brown in Pessac-Leognan and Chateau Preuillac in the Medoc. Chateau Preuillac is a 28 ha estate in the northern Medoc which the Mau family bought in 1998. Being at the north of the appellation, they tend to harvest very late.