Bordeaux Grape Crop Seen Two Weeks Late in Worst Year Since 1991

The Bordeaux region grape harvest is about two weeks delayed after a cold start to the season, with production set to fall to the lowest level in 22 years, according to the region’s wine bureau.

Some growers in Pessac Leognan will start picking sauvignon blanc grapes for dry white wines next week and most will begin Sept. 23, compared with last year’s Sept. 4 start, Valerie Descudet, a spokeswoman for industry group Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, said by phone yesterday.

The wine bureau has predicted this year’s vintage will slump 20 percent from last year’s 5.25 million hectoliters (139 million gallons), for the smallest volume since 2.58 million hectoliters in 1991. Bordeaux suffered from a cold spring that hurt pollination, followed by damaging hailstorms last month.

“We’re going to see the lowest crop we’ve seen in Bordeaux since 1991, so the pricing will be really interesting to see, how it comes out onto the market,” Tom Gearing, director of Cult Wines Ltd., a wine investment company based in Richmond, England, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “The Pulse” with Guy Johnson yesterday.

The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 index, which tracks leading Bordeaux vintages, gained 5.5 percent in the past 12 months.

Red wine grapes won’t be picked before the start of October, compared with a Sept. 24 start to the merlot harvest in Saint-Emilion last year, while harvesting of grapes for the sweet Sauternes white wines is expected to start in the first week of next month, Descudet said.

Descudet declined to provide a precise harvest estimate, saying production figures will be more certain at the start of next year after growers have declared their crops.

Low Temperatures

Vines across France suffered from failed grape development due to unpollinated flowers, a condition caused by unusually cold and humid weather or excessive warmth. Average June temperatures in the southwest region that includes Bordeaux were 1.6 degrees Celsius (2.9 degrees Fahrenheit) below the norm, with rainfall 53 percent higher than usual, according to Meteo France data published by the Agriculture Ministry.

Hailstorms at the start of August damaged 15,000 hectares (37,065 acres) of vines in Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers and Libournais areas. On 7,000 hectares, more than 80 percent of vines were damaged, Descudet said. The Pomerol and Saint-Emilion areas of Libournais were spared, with damage occurring in Cotes de Castillon to the east, according to the spokeswoman.

Bordeaux is France’s biggest producer of designated-origin wines and ranks behind Languedoc-Roussillon and Charentes in total wine volume.

“We know that this year’s harvest will be lower,” Descudet said. “The risk is to lose market share. France accounts for two thirds of sales, and exports for one third.”

Picking Delayed

Grape picking in Burgundy will also be delayed by the cold start to the growing season, with production hurt by poor pollination and hail, according to Cecile Mathiaud, a spokeswoman for the Burgundy Wine Board. The harvest is two to three weeks late and is expected to start at the end of the month or early in October, she said.

Burgundy growers have started harvesting earlier in recent decades, with the harvest generally commencing before the fourth week of September since the mid-1980s, Mathiaud said. Vines in the region typically require 90 to 100 days between flowering and harvest, and that holds true this year, she said.

“It’s late compared to the past 20 years, but historically it’s a date at which Burgundy has harvested before,” Mathiaud said.

Production in the region is forecast to be less than 1.4 million hectoliters, though “undoubtedly” more than last year’s volume of 1.26 million hectoliters, according to the spokeswoman. That compares with a normal level for Burgundy of 1.5 million hectoliters, Mathiaud said.

Hail Damage

About 1,350 hectares of vines in Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune area were damaged by hail on July 23, from Meursault in the south to Corton-Charlemagne in the north, according to Mathiaud. Damage in Corton was limited to 10 percent to 20 percent of plots, unlike the destruction in Volnay, Pommard and Savigny-les-Beaune, she said.

In the north of Pommard, 70 percent to 90 percent of vines were damaged, while 30 percent to 70 percent suffered in southern Pommard and neighboring Volnay, the Burgundy Wine Board reported in July.

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