That was one nerve-wracking month of May! While we were down in the Veneto with our tours, Burgundy was deluged with a-foot-and-a-half of rain, turning the vineyards to mud pits. We watched from a distance as our winemaker friends tried to cope with conditions that teetered on disastrous. The risk, of course, was mildew and grey rot. But no one could get a tractor into the fields to spray. So as they would have done a century ago, the growers hoisted tanks on their backs and trudged through the sucking mud to spray their vines by hand. Not to be overly dramatic… some producers sprayed by helicopter. (Though only after special dispensation from the regional authorities who normally forbid aerial spraying).
Then came the photos of the vines in Savigny and Chassagne, half-submerged in standing water. It wasn’t pretty. And the prognosis was not good. So when we re-posted that 1 June Decanter article about the state of the vine in Burgundy, we were worried. And we promised you a follow-up.
We got back to Burgundy a week ago today, and first thing in the door we canvassed our winemaker friends to see what had developed over the previous week. I sent out 20 emails; got 15 replies. And they all said the same thing.
From Champagne down through Chablis, from the Cotes de Nuits through Beaune and onto Macon, the reports were nearly identical. Don’t worry; everything is OK.
But every one of them said that it was tricky. Essentially it had been raining and cold since last October. Not in itself surprising for Burgundy, but it seemed that winter would never end. Then when it rained every day but five in May, and just as the vegetation began to pop (albeit slowly), there was a real risk of rot. Normally this in itself would not be a problem. Rot and mildew are preventable. But you do need a window of dry for the treatments to stick to the plant. And that did not happen.
What saved the situation were the unseasonably cold temperatures. These diseases need a certain amount of warmth to propagate. Also, because the vine’s growth was stunted by the cold, there was not much new growth that needed to be sprayed.
Still, it must have been something to see. The vines might not be growing, but that did not stop the weeds. And again, no one could get a tractor in to work the fields. So we had reports of growers in the there with lawnmowers and weed-wackers… doing whatever it takes!
And then, at the beginning of June, the clouds parted and conditions came back to seasonably normal. One winemaker commented that the vine is a remarkably resistant plant. Another reports a growth spurt in his vines of over 30cm in a week. We are expecting the forming grape bunches to flower any day now. And most of them report that it promises to be a good and bountiful crop if all goes well.
The other thing they all said is that this dismal month of May now puts the season three weeks behind last year. Which pretty much means harvest will not take place before September 25.
But all in all, more fear than harm. And as always, we are immensely impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the producers. It takes a perfectionist to make great wine, no matter what the weather.