Burgundy en primeur 2018: thoughts and feelings on the vintage

January has been damp at best. I fear the annual showing of Burgundy en primeur renders any future possibility of a dry month nigh on impossible for me and many alike. This past fortnight the Burgundians, with the help of London’s wine merchants, have offered the wine trade unrivalled access to their 2018 Burgundy vintage offering. In this article I will briefly share my thoughts and feelings on the wines, the vintage and what’s to come for Burgundy.

2018 burgundy vintage

This is not a 2018 Burgundy vintage report. I would however like to briefly summarise the growing season in order to perhaps provide context to some of my later comments and observations. If you are seeking a comprehensive overview of the 2018 vintage I highly recommend Neal Martin’s report over at Vinous.

Winter 17/18 was relatively mild in Burgundy, January was 4.4°C warmer than average. In contrast the month of February was 2.6°C colder than average, March saw a return to normal temperatures. The first months of 2018 saw a great deal of rainfall, 190% more rainfall in February than average. This would prove crucial as the soil would store water allowing vines to ride out the dry period lying ahead. Early April temperatures soared to 33°C, resulting in rapid growth of buds (similar to 2010-15) Precipitation continued at average levels to June with monthly volumes steadily decreasing month on month. However, rising temperatures led to mildew pressure particularly in Vosne which resulted in lower yields. Burgundy then saw a lengthy dry spell to harvest which fortunately held off further mildew pressure.

July was hot and dry with berries appearing around July 10. Some white producers in Puligney performed green harvest, this was something of a paradox as many growers maintain that high yields are important to mitigate sugar. Heat spikes, excessive warmth and wind lead to August picking for most with physiological ripeness achieved before phenolic. The usual 100 day hang time was reduced to 80. Overall yields were much larger in white but smaller than average in red due to warm dry weather impending accumulation of juice. A few interesting observations from Neal’s report were a large and unusual spread in ripeness noted by Dujac and many growers expressing concern that fruit bore the hallmarks of the vintage and not the terroir.

A point of particular interest in Neal’s report on the 2018 Burgundy vintage was a question he had asked at the beginning of the piece could 2018 be one of the first vintages where global warming shaped wines? He asked whether this vintage could signal a new style of Burgundy, one we would simply have to accept. The report concluded with an answer to this question, stating ‘Global warming is not on our doorstep, but making itself comfy in our favourite leather armchair in our living room’ Whilst I agree with him that many winemakers were able to demonstrate an ability to cope with this changing climate, I am inclined to believe that the warmth of the vintage had more of an impact (both positively and ‘negatively’) on style and final wine (particularly reds) than some producers may be inclined to let on.

Reds show a fairly significant amount of variation, both between appellations and in some cases intra-appellation. There were a number of wines which showed aromas of cooked fruit (alongside various other indicators of overripe base material) and in some cases they lacked the acidity needed to provide adequate structure. Additionally, there were villages which did not express characteristics one would typically expect of them, in some cases floral notes and overall ‘elegance’ were masked by overripe fruit; picking date and duration was key. Alongside Gevrey, which was consistently good, 2018 was the year of the underdog appellations, several ‘smaller’ villages such as Fixin and Auxey-Duresses performed particularly well.

Exactly why this is I do not know, I would expect elevation and pitch played some role in regulating sun exposure. Despite this variation, there were a range of producers who more than weathered the storm, they took appropriate action in both the vineyard and the winery and made beautiful wines, where they were good they were great. My advice to those wanting to buy would be to proceed with caution, make well-informed decisions and treat wines on a case-by-case basis. Producers (non-exhaustive list) to look out for include Mugneret-Giburg, Grivot, Fourrier, Hudellot-Noellat (I was particularly taken aback by their wines) Mortet and Marc Roy.

Whites were not only impressive but much more consistent across the board. In general yields were higher in whites (55hl/ha compared to 30-35hl/ha in reds) which likely helped mitigate the impact of increased sugar levels, allowing the grapes to retain acidity and balance. Several growers made standout Bourgogne Blanc, which in many cases performed significantly above price point and expectation. The wines showed impressive tension, minerality and only in a few rare cases leaned toward a more tropical style (which was not strictly negative) Buying 2018 white is a much less risky game than red, a safe bet for immediate drinking and mid-term ageing. Producers (again, not exhaustive) to look out for include Etienne Sauzet (incredible range top to bottom) Paul Pillot, Vincent Girardin and Ballot-Millot.

Looking to the future, the 2018 Burgundy vintage may well prove to be a vintage which provides growers with the experience they require to better understand the adaptations required to accommodate future vintages of this nature. I expect that we will see an adjustment in a range of vineyard practises, a number of growers are already ceasing hedging of vines (in the style of Lalou Bize-Leroy) instead opting to allow tendrils to roam free, feeling this method offers enhanced shade. Christophe Roumier noted recently on Levi Dalton’s IDTT Podcast that he now leans toward a slightly taller hedging than he has in the past, again providing increased shading. Moving forward, aiming to increase ventilation and shading of the fruit zone is likely to be a trend more growers adopt in order to buffer the climate, maintain elegance and preserve Burgundian typicity.

Special thanks to those extended invites to taste the 2018 Burgundy vintage including OWLoeb, Howard Ripley Wines, Thorman Hunt, Justerini & Brooks and Lea & Sandeman.

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