Bordeaux estates including Chateau Pavie and Vieux Chateau Certan will bottle less of their flagship first wines in 2013 after weather setbacks in a season vintners described as chaotic.
Pavie, a top-ranked Saint-Emilion chateau, expects at most half the usual volume of its main wine, or “grand vin,” owner Gerard Perse said. At Vieux Chateau Certan in Pomerol, production of the top wine may fall as much as 75 percent, manager Alexandre Thienpont said.
The cloudiest May on record and a rainy June caused poor flowering and berry losses in Bordeaux, particularly for merlot, one of the main grapes in the most-prestigious wines. The region’s wine production is forecast to fall to the lowest since 1991, according to the region’s wine board.
“A very complicated vintage on the weather front,” said Thomas Duroux, chief executive officer of Chateau Palmer, a classified Margaux wine property. “By the end of flowering we knew the harvest would be late, and yields small.”
Summer brought a smile back on wine makers’ faces, with a “magnificent” July and August, said Olivier Bernard, head of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux representing the top estates. Then came September.
A hot and humid September caused botrytis, or gray rot, to spread in remaining fruit, prompting some estates to harvest earlier than planned and pick barely mature grapes.
“I’d describe September as chaotic,” Bernard said. “We saw something we haven’t seen for a long time, rot on grapes that weren’t ripe.”
The city of Bordeaux on Sept. 28 had 45 percent of rainfall it usually gets in the entire month, with temperatures rising to 26.1 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit), 2.1 degrees above the month’s average high, Meteo-France data show.
“The main complication this year was being able to harvest fast to avoid the damage that can be caused by botrytis,” said Philippe Dhalluin, managing director at Chateau Mouton Rothschild. “Conditions were very favorable for its onset.”
Palmer’s Duroux brought forward the merlot harvest to Sept. 27 from Oct. 5, hiring extra workers to pick the grapes in four days rather than eight, before moving to the later-ripening cabernet grapes.
Yields at Palmer were 22 hectoliters per hectare (235 gallons per acre), from 35 hectoliters in an average year, said Duroux, in charge of the estate since 2004. The main wine will be less than the usual 8,000 cases of 12 bottles, he said.
“We’ll make the best wine possible, if we have to make it 2,000 cases to ensure quality we’ll do it,” Duroux said.
At Beychevelle, a Saint Julien estate, the weather caused record-low yields of 31 to 32 hectoliters per hectare, from 42 hectoliters last year, Managing Director Philippe Blanc said. The chateau may produce 10,000 to 12,000 cases of its first wine, from 20,000 normally, he said.
Mouton Rothschild volume was “clearly down,” said Dhalluin, who didn’t give details. Quality should still be equal to or better than 2007 or 2008, he said.
Volume at Pavie fell 40 percent to 50 percent, and the first wine will be a maximum of 4,000 cases from the usual 8,000, Perse said. Vieux Chateau Certan had a “tiny” yield of 23 hectoliters per hectare and may have 1,000 to 1,200 cases of its grand vin, from 4,000 in a normal year, Thienpont said.
Potential alcohol, a gage of ripeness based on sugar levels in the grapes, was 12.5 percent at Palmer and Chateau Leoville-Barton in Saint Julien, 12.5-13 percent at Chateau Montrose, a Saint-Estephe property, and 13-13.2 percent at Beychevelle, according to the estates.
“Even if maturity wasn’t as complete as we would have liked, it’s not at all disastrous,” Blanc said. “We’ll try to reach a quality close to 2004 and 2007, wines with medium storage potential for more rapid consumption.”
Montrose had yields of about 30 hectoliters per hectare from 35-36 last year, with yields for merlot down about 20 percent and cabernet sauvignon stable, Managing Director Herve Berland said.
The first wine, usually made with 65 percent cabernet sauvignon and most of the remainder merlot, may be assembled with 70 percent of the main grape instead, Berland said. Merlot ripens earlier than cabernet, and its thinner skin makes the variety more susceptible to rot.
“We would have liked two, three days more for the merlot, sure, but the grapes reached technical ripeness,” Berland said.
Leoville-Barton expects yields of 35 hectoliters per hectare, similar to 2011, spokeswoman Magali Pourquie said. The estate has a tendency for early ripening and didn’t suffer weather damage, picking “very good-looking grapes,” she said.
Troplong Mondot in Saint-Emilion yielded 34 to 35 hectoliters per hectare from 37 to 40 hectoliters in 2012, according to Xavier Pariente, who runs the chateau. He said the estate’s relatively young vines of 30 to 35 years old are less susceptible to poor fruit set and uneven grape development.
The chateau is “on its way” to producing a better vintage than 2012 after picking ripe grapes with 13.7-15.5 percent potential alcohol, Pariente said.
“Conditions of the vintage were complicated from the start,” Bernard said. “Some people may have inferior quality wine. There’s a lot of variation, there will be very good products as well.”