Burgundy 2019 Vintage Report

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In our vintage report from last year, titled ‘The times, are they a-changing?’ we wondered if 2018 would be an outlier, or if such warm vintages were the new normal. Having tasted the 2019s and talked a lot about the historically precocious 2020 vintage, we can certainly see a pattern developing. Too early, perhaps, to say if this is a permanent shift in conditions, but it is certainly a question at the front of most growers minds, alongside their strategies to cope in the future.

We visited Burgundy during the week of the 26th of October 2020, compressing our normal two weeks into a whirlwind series of tastings and meetings. Our timing proved good. We were in a restaurant in Beaune, enjoying a curfew enforced early dinner, when Macron made his public announcement – France would begin locking down from the next day. We sympathised with the restaurant owner, who kindly poured champagne for each table. These are difficult times for the restaurant trade, at home as well as abroad.

However, we were able to complete our tastings on the Thursday, the only guests at the Hostelrie des Clos in Chablis. We were very happy to have been able to make our visits and see our growers and friends in the region. Despite the curfew and general situation we found people welcoming, domaines hard at work and, until that Wednesday night at least, restaurants full. It takes a lot to dampen the Burgundian spirit.

The 2019 vintage was largely warm and dry. The winter was mild, and spring continued so, meaning bud break was early, increasing the risk of frost. Thankfully, the devastation seen in some recent vintages was absent. The weather cooled somewhat as flowering commenced, leading to some poor fruit set and lowering potential yields. After this period, conditions set fair and warm, sometimes hot, and stayed that way through the summer. Although there were some extremely warm days, Michel Coutoux mentioned 39oC, overall conditions were steady rather than extreme. Canopy management is becoming an ever more important topic, well trained and carefully pruned vines can give the grapes some shade and protection from the sun. Drought was the biggest issue, the lack of water can prove difficult, especially in young vines, or well drained vineyards exposed to the sun, causing ripening to stop as the vine can no longer photosynthesise. However, the dry summer meant little disease and at harvest, and with some sorting, the grapes were in excellent condition, small, with thick skins and concentrated juice. A cool north wind blew before harvest, which further concentrated the grapes and yields where between 15-25% below 2018. This drying effect, when grapes lose water by evaporation, concentrates both sugar and acidity, and this is another factor in the wines freshness. Sebastien Cathiard made the point that as malic acidity was lower, the malolactic fermentations didn’t have a big effect on the wines textures, while higher tartaric kept pHs low – again, this may be a reason the best wines seem so well balanced. Harvest took place later than in 2018, with many of our domaines picking whites from around the 6th-10th of September and the reds starting later in the month.

The whites are often rich, but the best have freshness and acidity to balance their ripe textures and sheer concentration. From limestone vineyards the terroir is unmistakable and adds another dimension of lift to the wines. Michel Coutoux said that the thick skins had given particularly aromatic wines and this was born out at his domaine and elsewhere. The reds are ripe and pure, showing concentrated fruit balanced by fine sweet tannin and good acidity. Laurent Lignier called 2019 a ‘Pinot +’ year; the wines are ripe but fresh, concentrated yet balanced. They are much more classical than I imagined they would be, and we found some brilliant wines. Based on our tastings, for the reds of the Côte de Nuits, at least, 2019 could be extraordinary, while the Côte de Beaune isn’t far behind.

Unfortunately, the low yields have translated into reduced quantities, and in turn we may struggle to allocate as we did last year. However, we will always do our best, so please let us know what you would like and we will try to fulfil as much as possible.