When I enter my ticket and pay the admittance fee at one of the Toll-stations that marks the entrance to the magic garden of Burgundy, I know I’m home where my heart belongs.
It’s the home of the greatest wines of the world, the most famous terroirs and more importantly some of some of the greatest and most lovely wine people I have met.
This is where not only grapes but also passion grows and thrives.
The long march towards the promised land
This year I decided to travel by car from Denmark – approx 1400 km each way – as I needed to bring home a few cases of wine.
Being a wine writer the budget for buying Burgundies does not allow for that much, but I do have to have a few heavenly drops to take me trough the dark Danish winter or family visits.
As I turned 50 a few years back – three to be precise – I gave up driving non-stop and took a overnight break in Germany to be safe and not sorry on the autobahn – and gave my old VW a needed rest in Kassel hills. He managed the trip and back this time – hope he will remain faithful for the October trip to taste more 2017s.
Global and local warming
The heat wave over northern Europe did however put a stop to my dreams of transporting “all” the wines back to Denmark – and had to settle for what could be in the small mobile fridge I acquired in Beaune (worked surprisingly well).
I have never seen a heat wave like this in May, and the trip toward Burgundy was not very pleasant with a partly failing aircon …. although a small price to pay when Burgundy is waiting ahead. So while feeling like a giant boiled Mcnugget – rather revolting to be honest – I managed to reach Nuits-Saint-Georges in time for my tasting schedule.
It did however made me wonder about the state of the climate, and the climate of Burgundy specifically. This was also reflected in the 2017 vintage I tasted and even the work that were going on in the vineyards during my two weeks in Burgundy – solaire and early – are words that spring to mind.
!I do really start to worry about the climate!
The temperatures were high each day in Burgundy – for full two weeks. Temperatures beyond 25 celsius each day – thunderstorms with threatening hailstorms many of the days – an expected early harvest in 2018 – just like the 2017 vintage currently under review.
It was hot – and too hot and humid for my liking – with all visits to the cellars were a welcomed break from the global climate and the hopeless world leaders. The local climate in the cellars – while affected by the outdoor temperatures were so far pleasant, as were the wines I tasted – nice freshness and balance.
Make no mistake though – the climate is changing and so is the aggressive sides of the global warming as the thunderstorms were both powerful and frequent. Only luck and hard work with the hail-cannons have prevented hail damage thus far this year.
The flip sides of the heat
Global warming has given Burgundy higher ripeness, and now its possible to harvest good and ripe grapes almost each year – which was not possible before. Many vintages in the 1970s were rather mediocre as the climate made it difficult to make wines in a northern place like Burgundy. But in recent years the ripeness levels have been good – and one have to go back to 1994 to find the last relatively poor vintage in Burgundy.
!So all is good? .. not quite!!
The global warming has made the climate more violent and seemingly more random – and have accelerated the growing season. Earlier harvest, more rapid maturing of the grapes, and set a new focus on the viticultural choices.
The frost, the growth, the drougth and the rapid ripening
The 2016 frost influenced the 2017 vintage quite a lot, and induced a some of the problems I see in some of the 2017 wines – and this is a symptom of the modern Burgundy with global challenges – both climate and financial wise.
The frost gave extraordinary vigour in the vineyard – as the wines really wanted to make up for lost ground in 2017 and produced a lot of growth and grapes if allowed. Prudence was needed and early management of the yields were important – de-budding preferable. It’s understandable that vignerons with empty cellars let the yields grow in 2017 – perhaps on the liberal side – and some clearly went too far.
The vintage 2017 is by some decribed as fairly easy after the notoriously difficult 2016 vintage. The 2017 season was somewhat hot with an early vintage – that really put the vignerons skills at test when the harvest was timed and brought in.
The speed of the ripening was again high for the Chardonnay – and some seem to have missed the timing and somehow found a ripeness level matching the 2015 vintage. Perhaps not a disaster like some 2006s … but more ripe than I prefer.
Sun and drought and the viticulture
Warm conditions can however create drought in the vineyards, and it’s to me clear that organic and biodynamic viticulture was an advantage in 2017, as the vineyards apparently have coped better under the dry periods in 2017.
The organic and biodynamic produced wines seem to have better energy and acidity in the 2017 vintage. After the 2016 problems for these producers it just seems fair that they have harvested the fruits of their hard work.
!What can I say – go Bio!
The risk, the edge and the passion
The 2016 vintage really made the producers aware of the financial risks – as yields in some cases were reduced radically. Also it seems that the yields in general are going down – and that the term “normal yields” is being modified. The last vintage with a high yield was 2009 … eight years before the relatively abundant 2017 vintage.
So producers really wanted to harvest some grapes in 2017 … and will be happy to do so in 2018.
The need for a good harvest sadly seem to have reduced some growers interest in going bio – organic or dynamic – as they seem to need all the grapes they can get.
The focus on revenue, the focus on business is stronger than ever, and while this is natural it dose pose some problems. Firstly – in the short run this focus might be good – but I fear that this is the wrong direction in the long run.
Expansion seem to be the theme – getting new vineyards, renting more vinyards, buying grapes – it’s appealing and will make the estate bigger, higher earnings ….. increasing the revenue to expand further.
It does however also make timing of the viticulture more difficult, as ensuring optimal ripeness at the harvest. Even worse it make Biodynamic viticulture even more difficult to manage, and this is even used by some growers as an excuse for not working organically. Some have even gone back to some of the more “traditional methods” – spraying and poison farming.
!This is indeed worrying ..!
Business or Passion
I’m not a big bio kind of guy – as such – but I do think that the truth is in the glass. Many of the top end estates are already organic or biodynamic – and are producing great wines in balance with the nature.
I do however find it sad when I see financial expansion is set over the quality ambitions and the health of nature – this might work in the short run – but rarely in the long.
In my view great Burgundies are made from passion – and the passion is often visible and tastable in the wine – in the energy, the clarity, the definition and balance – as is the biodynamic coherence in the vineyards.
Business has clearly taken over at some estates – and it has brought wealth to the people – but with that also a larger exposure to financial failure – made winegrowers to business men – and taken some of the innocence out of Burgundy.
Luckily there still are a lot of growers with plenty of passion in Burgundy – and I do appreciate the estates that are going Biodynamic despite the short run cost – and showing the passion for quality. It will no doubt ensure the long run revenue ..
There are however many organic growers that struggle after the small yields in 2016 and the previous years, who don’t get very high prices – they do the work based on passion and should be rewarded.
I do not travel for business
Back to my good and trusted VW Golf … I would hate to explain to my four wheeled friend that he made the trip to look at wine business. I need to feel the passion – the history – the people and the region.
Luckily I meet a lot of inspiring people, people with passion for the terroirs. You can’t make wine indifferently and business like …. passion is the fundament – and what I love about Burgundy.
A few disappointed me, but luckily even more invigorated me … new vignerons introducing and creating new estates, making new wines.