Burgundy 2015: Vintage Report
The 2015 growing season was relatively carefree. There was no frost damage and only one hail storm in the Côte d’Or, on May 20th, affecting Puligny-Montrachet to a small extent. The early summer, however, featured warm to hot days and cool nights with a consequently high risk of oidium. Late in the season there was also some mildew pressure.
The flowering was early and took place rapidly in good weather conditions; but a naturally small bunch set and the dry conditions through most of the summer limited the size of the harvest. Many Pinot vines in the Côte de Beaune set small crops, having suffered so much from hail over the three preceding vintages. The wood is much more fragile on Pinot compared to Chardonnay.
It was an exceptionally dry and often hot summer, though happily the water table had been well replenished during the previous winter. Some vines shut down some of their functions during July’s heat wave, retarding véraison, especially in the Cote de Nuits, though welcome rainfall in August partially offset the drought. Young vines and those planted on the upper slopes with very little topsoil may have suffered nonetheless. One feature of the summer which may well have a positive effect on the wines was the extraordinary luminosity: consistently clear bright skies, rather than heavy, lowering heat.
Picking for whites began in late August; growers reporting golden grapes, tasting ripe, with adequate sugars and lowish acidity levels – especially the malic acid which burns off during hot weather. Red grapes were further behind, with the skins not yet phenologically ripe.
The first pickers could be seen on Wednesday 26th August (Arnaud Ente), Thursday 27th (Jean-Marc Roulot, Comte Lafon) in fine weather, which became very hot over the weekend. Le Grand Départ for the Côte de Beaune whites began on Monday 31st, again a very hot day though expected to become stormy overnight. In the end the evening rain was relatively gentle (except in Chablis), continuing a little the following day which saw a change of wind to the north, and therefore a significant drop in temperature.
The Côte de Beaune pretty much finished picking in good weather over the following week, and the Côte de Nuits got underway the week after, some completing the harvest before the wet weekend of 12th/13th September – heavy rain on Saturday afternoon and storms on Sunday. The following week was unsettled with showers, occasionally heavy, and sunny spells, which will have been less pleasant for the pickers in the Côte de Nuits and the Hautes Côtes but unlikely to have caused much damage to the healthy grapes.
It was interesting to note that the leaves remained a relatively vibrant green into the harvest, which normally suggests that they have more to give. Overall, the fine warm summer interspersed with occasional rainfall provided close to ideal conditions to encourage the production of great wines. Indeed there seems to have been remarkably consistent success throughout Burgundy with the following limited negatives:
- Young vines which may have suffered from drought
- Vines on very poor soils (high on slope, no topsoil) suffered from drought
- Vines overrun by mildew
- Those who de-leafed systematically risked sunburnt grapes
- Late pickers of white grapes
- Hail damage in Chablis
A vicious storm moved up from the south, hitting the appellations of Irancy, St Bris and Chitry in the early morning of 1st September, a deluge of rain accompanied by outsized hailstones. The corridor of devastation breached the Chablis vineyards at Courgis, then into the heart of the appellation through parts of Montmains to Grands Crus Chablis and Blanchots, as well as the Premiers Crus Montée de Tonnerre and Mont de Milieu. Given that the grapes were ready to be picked when this happened, vignerons could at least go into their vineyards straight away and harvest what was left. The affected vineyards typically lost half their crops but without any obvious effect on quality. The storm was actually good news in those areas where only rain fell as it re-inflated the somewhat dehydrated grapes and not only restored some quantity, but enabled a better juice to skin ratio.