Burgundy Vintage Report 2013
The 2013 vintage was harrowing for Burgundy. With mostly poor weather mounting worry along the Côte d’Or during the last four vintages, it’s not just the vines that are feeling stress. But after painstaking work in the vineyard, winemakers have provided superior pleasure in the glass. Read on and you will understand.
Precipitation was twice the norm in April and May, and storms swept through during June’s flowering. This created a wet and muddy vintage. Crops were naturally limited due to coulure (gaps in the vine where no berries have formed) and millerandage (small, seedless berries amid a few normal berries.). Some vignerons used backpack atomizers to treat the soggy vineyards; other resorted to helicopters to avoid compacting the soils.
The vintage was also chilly and late, from start to finish. Budbreak was four weeks later than in 2012. May was 5.5 degrees F colder than usual. Harvesting began late in September in the Côte de Beaune and early October in the Côte de Nuits. Winemakers cited years like 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1984 as the last times they began picking so late. Burgundy’s rule of thumb is 100 days between flowering and harvesting. In 2013, it was 110.
At least July was warm. In fact, a few days were roasting hot, with temperatures reaching 95-99 degrees F. These drastic temperatures brought yet another devastating hailstorm to the Côte de Beaune, sweeping south from Savigny-lès-Beaune to Volnay. Some vineyards hit by this July 23rd maelstrom weren’t even harvested. Luckier vineyards only lost 20-40% of their crop.
But sunshine is more important than temperature, especially for Burgundy’s signature red grape, Pinot Noir. With a bit of good weather, ripening was easy with the naturally low yields. Though Burgundy saw 10% less sunshine on average, according to Bouchard Père & Fils, the season’s length assured good ripeness.
Still, rains threatened harvest. So did an almost tropical-like humidity, which quickly brought on grey rot. Within a few days, however, temperatures plummeted. This delayed botrytis onset for those with the wits or need for additional ripeness to hold out.
Some winemakers worried as the grapes entered their cellars. Many experimented with different techniques to compensate either for the possibility of less-than-premium ripeness or dry tannins in reds.
It turns out the wines had all they needed – in both colors. The wines show vigor and, at least in the top tiers, very good purity. The wines also show their terroirs over their growing season. This kind of terroir transparency makes Burgundy lovers swoon.
Alcohol levels are very reasonable, even if most were chaptalized (the process of adding sugar to unfermented grape must in order to increase the alcohol content after some fermentation.) Take note: chaptalization is far from sinful! Done judiciously, it prolongs fermentations to add complexity, possibly improving ageability. It also balances mouthfeel, adding roundness to even out crisp acidity in the 2013s.
The reds show impressive color because of the small berries. In most cases, acidity rather than tannins supports the reds. The tannins are almost creamy they are so beautifully ripe.
In the white category, while some wines may show exotic notes akin to Alsace and Sauternes, I found very little botrytis in the 2013 vintage. Also of note, the hard phenolic edge that was fairly common in the 2012s is absent from this vintage.
Crackling acidity and solid integration will allow these wines to age well. Cheers!