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Bordeaux 2013: Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Cheval Blanc

Having driven cross-country from Cadillac to Libourne it was dark when I arrived at my hotel. There was time to grab a bite to eat and also a beer (essential after a day of tasting wine, wine and more wine) in the hotel bar before I hit the sack. The next day I struck out for Château Cheval Blanc under skies that were grey, heavy and oppressive. Before long the heavens had opened and it was really bucketing down. With wipers on double-speed I edged my way among the vineyards of Pomerol to the edge of the appellation, where – just on the far side of the boundary with the appellation of St Emilion – Cheval Blanc can be found.

A few minutes later I was shaking hands with Pierre-Oliver Clouet, who has been technical director at Cheval Blanc for a few years now. We made our way through the new cellars, and up to one of the tasting rooms. After working my way through Cheval Blanc, Le Petit Cheval and Quinault L’Enclos from the 2011 vintage, I asked Pierre-Olivier about how things had gone this year.

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Pierre-Olivier: This has been a very complicated vintage, one that has been very difficult because at the beginning we had lots of rain. During the flowering 70mm fell on our vineyards, which made it very difficult for the vines to flower, and as a consequence we had reduced flowering and fruit-set, leading to reduced volumes at harvest.

It is not just about reduced volumes though, this has also been a growing season for very heterogeneous fruit, and during July and August we carried out a lot of work in the vineyard to remove the greener fruit in order to obtain a better homogeneity, to bring the maturity of what fruit we had closer together. Thankfully we had a dry summer, giving us very small berries, which is important for the concentration of the juice and the wine.

Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Château Cheval Blanc, October 2013

During September and October though, the weather was very difficult again, and we carried out a meticulous parcel-by-parcel harvest. I was pleased to discover that the fruit and wine did not taste vegetal, although I thought before I tasted it that it would. The wines seem balanced but without a great degree of concentration.

This was a vintage in which soil has been important. Vines planted on clay achieved a good ripeness, but on sand this was not so. We have about 15% of our vines planted on sandy soils and the fruit from these vines is not good – it is going to be sold off. The quality from vines on gravelly soils is in the middle, between the clay and the sandy terroirs.

It has been a vintage I would liken to 1984 or 1993 (I have to confess I wonder how well Pierre-Olivier remembers 1984 – I was still at school then, and I am sure I am quite a few years older than him). It has been very humid, and it is important to sort out the green and the rotten fruit which, as I have already indicated, was a greater problem with the more sandy terroirs. Here the rain caused a rapid swelling of the fruit after the vines took up the water. This was not such a problem on the gravel and clay soils though.

We started picking on September 30th. Overall I think we have discarded 5% of the harvest at picking, although it depends on the soils again; on some parcels everything was good, on others we threw away as much as 12%. In doing so we were careful to exclude 100% of the rot from the chai. We finally finished on October 15th, and our ultimate yield was just 20 hl/ha, obviously much lower than is usual.

Our meeting over, I bade Pierre-Oliver farewell. Outside the rain was easing, and as the day went on it became warm and very humid. This has been the story of the 2013 harvest in a nutshell, with a day or two of rain usually followed by great heat and high humidity as a result.

From here I went to Château Taillefer, although this was a much longer visit which I will use to update my profile of this Pomerol château. Thereafter I made my way to Château Le Gay, to hear more news on 2013, and it is from this latter estate that I will next report.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

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