It is that time of year again, Burgundy en primeur! The Burgundy 2016 vintage was spoken about even before 2015, largely because of the extreme frost that decimated many vines/vineyards. Leading up to 2015, winemakers and collectors had their eye on 2016, which would result in one of the smallest crops in recent memory. 2016 was subject to extreme weather conditions and byzantine metrological patterns that make any generalities a sweeping futility.
Global fervour for the leading producers and plots has meant demand has greatly outstripped supply for a generation and in recent years a new wave of passionate collectors from the Far East have pushed this even more, sending prices further north. Burgundy is also not subject to grand speculation, collectors generally buy to drink, a much smaller percentage to flip. Burgundy is a romantic collectable and prizing it out of collections is not easy. As a result of the small production and the weak pound euro pairing, prices have risen again. This is understandable, some of the smaller land-owning producers have even had to sell vines, to stave off bankruptcy. 2016 is not a profitable vintage for many winemakers, but one for an understanding bank manager. Fortunately, 2017 promises a return to a somewhat normalised crop, otherwise cellars would be nearly empty!
The growing season was probably the most challenging for two decades. The biggest woe was frost. The Bourgogne Wine Board report that 54% of vineyards suffered up to 30% loss of average crop, while 23% suffered more than 70%. Reports came in the last week of April that frost had descended over the Cote d’Or. Paradoxically in 2016, the elevation and aspect of the Premier Cru vineyards and Grand Cru vineyards resulted in the most unusual outcome. While frost is a danger to vines, most can resist extreme damage, hardy as they are. Yet, in 2016 it was the warm sun that directly shone onto the frost while it covered the vines that caused the major damage. The great vineyards are generally sited on an incline and resultantly have a natural protection from frost. They are also exposed to more sunlight, which in 2016 meant that the Grand Cru vineyards were subjected to scorching sunlight and damaged more than the lower ones, which were not subjected to the same intense sun rays. Indeed, different vineyards had varying degrees of cloud cover, or exposure to sunlight, making this the most heterogenous vintage possible.
Next came rain, with a wet period leading up until mid-June. This resulted in some of the worst mildew seen in years. At this moment, things could not have been more challenging. Then the sun came, making the remainder of the growing season very fine, dry and warm, which turned the vintage on its head. It was so warm in fact that vines suffered hydric stress, this slowed growth, but there were plenty of water reserves and the result was a vintage of enormous challenges, that resulted in some excellent fruit.
The varied quality of 2016 means it is a stock pickers vintage, with such variation that a granular outlook is needed. Some of the best plots are as good as 2015 among the reds. Wines with excellent critic reviews, and there are many of these, will be snapped up. If one were allowed to make a general critique of reds and whites it would be: the reds, at their finest contain a very appealing freshness, with plenty of minerality and terroir delineation. Some of the better plots are reminiscent of 2015, with excellent focus, ripeness and structure. The acidity in 2016 is also very appealing, giving them plenty of backbone. The tannins tend to be firmer and less round than 2015, but positively so, not astringent. Alcohol is half a notch lower.
Interestingly, the villages of Vosne-Romanee, Gevrey-Chambertin and Morey-Saint-Denis, some of the most aspiring and prime real-estate, were largely unscathed and enjoyed an excellent growing season and a plenteous crop. This is a very good area to focus the cross-hairs and wines will sell instantly. Gevrey-Chambertin sidestepped any devastating issues and while down in volume, produced excellent wine. Chapelle Chambertin and Mazis Chambertin are up there with any vintage, Chambertin and Clos de Beze as always are a triumph. Morey-Sant-Denis was not hit by frost and the wines are generally fantastic, they are worth seeking out. Vosne-Romanee was largely unaffected and as always this Village, its Premier Crus and Grand Crus are special. Vougeot experienced frost, but must have had a get out of jail card, as the wines are as good as ever. Volnay is a bit of a minefield, as is Nuit-Saint Georges, although to the north where it borders Vosne there is more consistency. Chambolle-Musigny was badly hit, although if you kiss a lot of frogs there will be a prince there somewhere.
We have seen allocations greatly reduced and we have focused in on the finest plots, not buying broadly as last year. As such, our coverage will be more limited, but focused on finding quality at the right price in wines that will stand the test of time and be in demand for years to come. As previously posited, some wines are as good as 2015 and with almost none made, the race is on to secure these. It is not a vintage to buy broadly, it is one to select where the quality shines through. Please do make your interest known quickly, rarity is a priceless commodity!