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December 21, 2018

Burgundy 2018 Harvest Report

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For the last 2 years the wine trade, and particularly Burgundy, has been in turmoil about global wine shortages and soaring prices. Therefore, it is with enormous relief that 2018 vintage is largely being hailed as one of great quality and bounty, already drawing comparisons to many of the great vintages past; 1947, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2015 amongst others. As much of the rest of France this year, the growing season was complicated by an unseasonably warm and very wet spring followed by a long, hot ripening season. This of course, is becoming less and less the anomaly as the effects of climate change become more apparent. Substantively, hail and frost were largely absent, in no small way contributing to the much-needed yield increase despite the Mildews best efforts. Furthermore, even considering the swollen yields, the grapes were of outstanding quality, ripening evenly and fully with very little defect (in areas unaffected by rot), the vines were also given respite in the form of cool nights allowing for high acid retention where proper vineyard management was employed. Further to this, whereas at first it had been cause for concern, the early excessive rain fall provided requisite underground reserves of water to support the vine through the baking summer months. Again, much like Bordeaux, another issue that Burgundy is increasingly struggling with are rising alcohol levels; rumoured to have reached a whopping 16.5% in some of the more southernly communes of the Maconnais. It remains to be seen whether regulations will be amended in future vintages to account for this.

Chablis producers have widely reported 2018 to be the ‘best in the last 20 years’. Louis Moreau, president of the Chablis Commission of the Bourgogne Wine Board went on to explain in an interview with Harpers “2018 will be a full, round fruit-oriented vintage with a hint of minerality. So, a more forward vintage compared to leaner, terroir-oriented vintages like 2017, 2015 & 2014,”. They were also, unsurprisingly, the least affected by this year’s aggressive bouts of Mildew. There had been worry pre-harvest that due to the lack of rain during the latter end of the growing season that the harvest may suffer in quantity, but thanks to exceptional vegetative growth in late spring, the vines were plentiful where the grapes were small and concentrated, a perfect storm.

Further south, the Côtes de Nuits had one of the most challenging harvests in Burgundy, not only battling mildew but unfortunately bearing the brunt of what few hail storms there were. Aubert de Villaine, Co-Owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Vosne-Romanée, as reported by Decanter, echoes the sentiment of much of Burgundy and indeed France ‘We have been fighting mildew. This is the first time we have had to stop de-budding to pick up the vine shoots to protect vines.’
The Maconnais area was one of the worst affected  this year though thankfully the most important communes of Saint Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé were left untouched by hail and overall the region still came up with a substantial yield increase on last year.

In all, despite a complicated and challenging growing season which will have tested the wineries vineyard management teams to the max, where successful, the vintage looks to have produced wines of largely good to exceptional quality and much needed quantity. However, don’t fall into the trap of believing that this will have a softening effect on prices at the top end. Demand is still insatiable, the market for top Burgs ever expanding into Asia and beyond.

Gemma Wood