A wave of optimism is sweeping Burgundy thanks to unhoped for levels of quality in the 2016 vintage. Finally Burgundy has come out winning, and a sense of relief has replaced the disappointment that was on everyone’s faces at the end of spring. This 2016 vintage, saved in large part by a favourable summer, has taken everyone by surprise.
Disastrous meteorological conditions
Even if it’s true that every year the winegrowers are subject to the vagaries of the climate and have to take a philosophical view of things, some years are just much more chaotic and complicated that others. And 2016 is one of them.
In April, Maçon and Chablis were hit particularly hard by violent hailstorms. The night of the 26th April will remain engraved in the collective memory, when a large part of the vines in the Côte-de-Nuits and especially in the Côte de Beaune (Savigny-lès-Beaune, Pommard, Beaune, Meursault) was subjected to unprecedented frost of winter-like proportions. On the 27th May the area around Maçon and northern Burgundy was once again touched by hail. Capricious weather conditions continued in the weeks that followed, with hot sun succeeding a period of heavy rain, bringing with it the risk of mildew. In mid-May prospects for the harvest were very low.
With a large part of the harvest already seriously compromised, the winegrowers had to monitor the evolution of the grapes closely, paying even greater attention to the health of the vines. The frost and difficult conditions gave them the worrying job of watching over the slow, but steady growth of shoots and foliage during the summer. This was to be a ‘hands-on’ season if they were to preserve grapes that remained on frost bitten vines, with sometimes 7 or 8 passages being needed in each row to ensure that the grapes were harvested at the right moment on all the vines.
A welcome turnaround, with a 2016 vintage that lives up to expectations
At the summer solstice (21st June), the trend was radically reversed, with sunny weather and hot conditions fortunately prevailing. A magnificent July and August created extremely favourable conditions for the vines, which caught up swiftly after the slow beginning to the growing cycle. Grape maturities also evolved spectacularly! Just the right amount of rain then fell on the 14th September at the perfect moment to counter the hydric stress that was starting to affect the vines, enabling the fruit to ripen in impeccable conditions. The ensuing dry and sunny weather allowed harvesting to take place in ideal conditions, beginning earlier than anticipated, on around the 20th September.
It can’t be denied that in parts of Burgundy the harvest was catastrophic, with very low, or sometimes even zero yields. This harvest will no doubt figure amongst the lowest of the last 20 years. But the vines that were spared attained excellent maturity with generous, healthy bunches, offering grapes with outstanding balance between sugar and acidity. Superb intensity of colour, exquisite fruit and generosity are the characteristics of the red wines that are still fermenting. The supremely supple whites herald wines of elegance and finesse. Finally 2016 looks very promising. But we shall have to be patient for a few more months before we can discover the full personality of these very auspicious wines.