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Bordeaux Harvests: Quality vs. Quantity

I really should be returning to my posts on minerality today, but first up something of a plea for distinguishing between quantity and quality. They are different, and it is misleading to use qualitative terms to describe quantitative problems.

A recent release from the Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) on the forthcoming harvest for 2013, as distributed by the Associated Free Press (AFP), a not-for-profit news organisation based in New York, is the story I have in mind when I write this. The AFP release has been re-run on a number of websites, such as this Wine Searcher article.

The headline declares that the 2013 Bordeaux harvest will be the “Worst Harvest Since 1991“, which is an impressive piece of future-gazing as nobody yet knows the quality of the 2013 harvest. The fruit has yet to ripen, it’s only early September, picking probably won’t begin until October at the earliest, and if the weather holds I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bordelais picking into late-October. So, the Bordeaux 2013 harvest does not exist, and quality cannot therefore be assessed. It’s not like to be very high, with a late harvest projected, but late harvests (such as was seen in 2000) don’t always immediately equate with disaster.

Read the article though and a new meaning emerges; as it turns out Bernard Farges, appointed president of the CIVB in July this year, actually said “In terms of volume, the 2013 harvest is going to be the worst since 1991“. This is of course a very different matter. There is no doubt quantities will be reduced this year; this much can be predicted, with some degree of accuracy, from looking at the crop being carried by the vines. It’s a matter of extrapolation of course, but at least the statement is based on something. Nasty weather during flowering caused a lot of coulure, like that pictured above (in 2012 rather than 2013 to be honest) in a Margaux vineyard. The bunch has both coulure (the stems where the berries are missing), as well as millerandage (the hen-and-chicken appearance of the fruit).

So let’s please get it straight. The Bordeaux 2013 harvest will be small volume, the smallest since 1991. This will be bad for the bank balances in Bordeaux perhaps, because fewer grapes means less wine to sell, but as for quality, only time will tell. It could be dreadful. It could be very good indeed. I will go out to Bordeaux in late October to try and get a handle on it for myself, first hand.

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