2018 was complicated, unusual and varied even by Bordeaux standards. Bordeaux was hit by extraordinary amounts of rain in the first part of the year starting in December (covering well over the annual average in a matter of a couple of months) followed by a humid early growing season and an exceptionally long, hot, dry summer culminating in perfect harvesting conditions. The potential for greatness is there, however, before that could be realised winemakers faced many challenges brought about by the peculiar weather patterns. The obvious risk in such humid conditions is Mildew; which was more wide spread than any other vintage this century and hit organic and biodynamic vineyards particularly hard. In fact, wineries such as Rauzan-Ségla who although not being certified, normally practice organic viticulture suspended this entirely for the 2018 vintage as the risk was just too high – they claimed otherwise they would have lost 80-90% of their crop. Those who didn’t (notably Palmer) were hit very badly. Even in non-organic vineyards, canopy and pesticide management and timing became the defining challenge of the year. Multiple producers speak of a infamous Sunday in May where delaying the spraying of copper sulphate by just one day resulted in massive, widespread loss.
A lesser challenge, though not to be ignored, was some intense, localised hail in May. Fortunately, this bypassed most of the top Bordeaux regions and was largely restricted to the Entre-Deux-Mer and Côtes de Blaye as well as some other southerly communes. Château Guiraud unfortunately suffered a devastating 95% loss of crop and have had to announce there will be no 1st wine for 2018. However, the few unlucky ones aside, after the widespread devastation that hail in 2017 caused, mostly the Bordelaise were breathing a sigh of relief with regards to hail, their attention elsewhere.
Stylistically speaking, getting the balance right in 2018 will be key to determining its success. With the early rain and subsequent long hot summer providing a natural propensity for some highly concentrated, structural powerhouses, the winemakers will need to keep a close eye on alcohol levels which can easily throw off the balance in a wine. Hopefully the late set cold spell in early spring and continued cool nights will make up for a generally mild winter and give the wines the acidity and structure needed to accommodate the intense fruit and alcohol, although this will of course come down to individual vinification practices too. Rather ironically, considering the amount of Mildew around earlier in the year it was a nail-biting harvest for Sauternes and noble rot affected wines. With September being so dry, noble rot refused to develop until a blast of rain mid-late October jump started it into action and saved the crop at the last minute. Yquem did not finish harvest until November! Of course, with such late picking resulting in high phenolic and sugar ripeness, acidity levels are at risk here too.
Overall it looks likes the 2018 vintage is likely to be the 5th very good/ exceptional vintage in a row – despite its challenges. However, it has also reinvigorated discussion surrounding the suitability of organic practices in Bordeaux and it will be interesting to see how various producers handle this conundrum.