conditions: A hot, dry year
However, disaster struck on the 4 June, with a severe hailstorm that inflicted varying degrees of damage on many of the plots in the vineyard. When the grapes were eventually harvested, losses of between 15 and 80% were recorded depending on the area.
A period of heavy rain at the beginning of August enabled the vines’ metabolism to pick up again after being slowed down by the dryness. The start of the ripening came quickly and was more uniform than might have been expected, given that the flowering period had been long, despite the fine spring weather.
The hot, dry period that followed enabled ripening and the harvests to take place in excellent conditions.
Work in the vineyard: A busy summer
However, the canopy management required a lot of care and extra work, as the damage caused by the hail and the lack of rain caused considerable unevenness in the growth of the bunches.
We concentrated very early on the selection of bunches, removing not only the small under-ripe ones, as we do every year (the later ripening bunches that grow on the side shoots), but also all the bunches or parts of bunches that were lagging behind at véraison (the point at which the grapes start to ripen). This meticulous work meant that the grapes were uniformly ripe for the harvests.
While we were satisfied with the improved quality resulting from this method, the unloading of the containers at the vat room was very inconvenient, and we wanted to find a way of automating it.
Given the substantial size of the containers, we were obliged to change to small crates to facilitate the handling of the harvest on its arrival at the vats.
We thereby benefit from all the advantages of small crates without any of their inconveniences.
The system is combined with a downstream sorting table that we had previously used in the vineyard at the end of the rows.
We therefore decided to adopt the so called "cube" system that operates on the principle of the harvesting machine but on a fixed basis in the vat room (i.e. no impact on the vines compared to the machines). The bunches are subjected to vibrations for a period and at a frequency that can be modulated. The grapes and whole stalks fall onto the mechanical sorting system that then removes any irregularly sized grapes and the stalks. All that remains are the perfectly formed grapes that then arrive on a final sorting table to ensure that only the "caviar" goes into the vats.
already used mechanical sorting for previous harvests, we particularly
appreciated the new de-stemmer, which avoids the production of any
juice and substantially reduces green waste.
Ripening: An early
Note: ApH1 gives the total quantity of anthocyanins
ApH3.2 represents the proportion of these anthocyanins available by extraction
Mp (%) Polymerization index of seed tannins
Merlot plot on dry gravel
plot on dry gravel
This earliness originated at the beginning of the growth cycle with the exceptionally hot, dry conditions in the spring while that of 2003 was due to the heat wave during the summer (i.e. at the end of the growth cycle).
Rather than an acceleration of ripening, we observed a much earlier start, with the véraison occurring approximately two weeks earlier than in recent years.
The graph below clearly illustrates the differences between 2003 and 2011. It should be noted that after the beginning of ripening, 2011’s temperature evolution was the same as that of 2005, and comparable, although earlier, to 2009 and 2010.
Sum of the average daily temperatures above 10°C
It should be mentioned that this earliness was welcome this year due to the considerable threat of botrytis. We could not have waited much longer in order to harvest certain plots when the grapes were fully ripe.
Vinification: Caution and control
We carried out short, gentle extractions at low temperatures. The ripeness tests for 2011 show that it was not characterized by record seed maturity. Levels being high, it was important to extract at the beginning of fermentation rather than after fermentation (when there would be a risk of extracting too many hard tannins from the seeds).
Nevertheless, good levels of concentration of phenolic compounds and good pomace/juice ratios enabled fairly rich wines (high TPIs) to be obtained without over-extraction; the press wines also displayed excellent quality and will be useful at the blending stage.
Download Harvest newsletter 2011