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2019 in Burgundy… a Vintage for the Ages?

The 2019 vintage in Burgundy was the car wreck that you somehow pick a path through and escape unscathed. It was a year of disasters. And one of perfection. It was rainy and cold. Until it was scorching hot. It was a short season. That acted long. Vines did not flower well, grapes turned into raisins, everything was a mess. A mess that turned into gold that one Critic has called “the greatest vintage since 1865.”

In short, Burgundy 2019 was the worst of vines; it was the best of wines.

Grapes, like any fruit or vegetable, reach their peak under consistent weather conditions: punctual bud-break, with no late frosts to compromise the flowers; even, dry weather that allows flowers to come in consistently; and good rain in the early season, followed by steady sunshine in July, August and September.

Christian Dalbavie, the French Portfolio Specialist for Kobrand, the American Importer of Louis Jadot Wines, explains: “In 2019, a warm winter caused buds to break early. Frost hit in April. It rained heavily in May. In June, flowering was uneven due to cold and rain [a condition called Millerandage]. In July and August, Burgundy suffered some of the hottest weather on record, far too hot for grapes to grow optimally.”

Luckily, the frost was not too severe, and buds escaped relatively unscathed. The May rains replenished the water table beneath the vineyards, setting them up to survive the near-drought conditions later on. This may have been the saving grace of the vintage.

Burgundy 2019 will mostly be remembered for the unsung hard work Growers put in, cutting away bad fruit so that the good fruit could flourish. Grape Growers cull fruit before harvest even in the best of seasons, since doing so balances the weight of grape bunches in relation to their nutrient source, the leaves of the vine. In 2019, however, “Green Harvesting” was not a luxury, but a necessity.

“Growers cut a lot of fruit that had suffered from Millerandage,” says Dalbavie. This fruit is very obvious to the Grower; it looks like peas, or hard pebbles of fruit that never got going. “Later, the hot weather burned a lot of fruit. It, too, had to be culled and dropped.”

A short season would normally mean immature grapes, leading to thin, acidic wines. On the other hand, the sun’s heat should make the grapes fat and bland, without any complexity. Worse yet, the heat could turn grapes into raisins, giving the wines a vague Sherry flavor.

Dalbavie smiles: “In fact, in 2019, the replenished water table kept the vines hydrated despite the hot weather. The late flowering due to the Millerandage shortened the growing season, so that acidity levels were still high since the grapes were not technically mature by September. Meantime, the inordinate heat of the summer served to push maturity along, balancing out the acidity in the grapes.”

Naturally, harvest volume suffered due to the green harvesting. But the grapes that did make it through the plague season were some of the finest on record, with lovely amounts of flavor, potential alcohol, and acidity.

The hope is that the wines of 2019 will last a very long time, preserved by the acidity of this short season, yet they are also expected to maintain strong flavors and complexity because the fruit that survived was so dense with flavor.

In my next article: join me in a barrel tasting of 23 Louis Jadot Whites and Reds that Christian Dalbavie put on at Glenville Wine & Spirits. AND LEARN how to order these wines for delivery in September/October.

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