2012 Vintage Overview

2012 Vintage Overview


Something of a forgotten vintage, not written off as one of the failures, but a little overlooked as collectors concentrate on the big guns. Not much was made in the first place.

The weather The winter of 2011-2012 was relatively mild – warm and sometimes damp but rarely rainy. The river at the end of our garden dwindled to midsummer size and there were no severe frosts to give the flora a winter break. This changed with a vengeance at the very beginning of February with a two week cold snap, with temperatures hitting minus 15c, not in itself a dangerous level but the lateness of the snap and the fierce northerly winds was a devastating combination with widespread incidence of burst water pipes and possibly some damage in the vineyards which have been slow to recover from the intense cold of December 2009. There were definitely some losses in the Beaujolais during this freeze.

Warmth returned at the end of the month and March was ridiculously lovely, with close to summertime temperatures and a rush of vegetation. There was no rain at all, however, which was looking worrying at the time. April was cool, dreary and damp with some rainfall almost every day, excepting Tuesday 17th April where the crystal clear dawn delivered some frost damage in Chablis and Santenay. These unsettled conditions continued into the month of May. We wondered if a change of president might herald a change of weather, as it had in 2007, but gloomier, right wing, vignerons in Chablis remembered the double whammy of 1981 – first a socialist president in Francois Mitterand, then a devastating frost a few days later. In fact there was another localised frost attack, in Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay on 17th May.

The vines, which had been so much in advance after the March ‘heatwave’ had by now fallen back, and vignerons were becoming frustrated by the continued ‘one day on, one day off’ shower cycle which made it hard to get into the vineyards to plough or to treat against disease, with mildew becoming a very real threat. The poor weather continued into a third month, June, with repercussions for the flowering which got strung out and was affected in particular by the downpour with hail attached that hit several parts of the Cote on June 7th. There were multiple examples of coulure, where the embryo grapes abort instead of growing, and millerandage, when the grapes remain under-sized.

Frustration turned to despair as the rain continued throughout June into the first half of July. It did not rain every day, so it was possible to spray the vineyards, but the wear and tear on vignerons nerves and stamina began to show. Even the good days tended to be hot and humid, often culminating in storms and sometimes hail, with significant of both mildew and oidium. In order to stay on top of the problems, growers had to invest in vastly increased man hours in the vineyards, with the prospect of a much smaller crop at the end. Encore plus de travail pour encore moins de récolte. Further bad news took the form of a sudden heat spike on 12th July, grilling exposed bunches of grapes. Indeed the vignerons of Chablis ended up complaining of the scourge of the four ‘G’s in 2012 – le Gel (frost), la Grêle (hail), le Grillage (sunburn in august) and la Gauche (the left – election of President Hollande).

Finally the weather turned, over the weekend of 21/22 July, with welcome sunshine and a cool northerly wind. August brought real summer weather, with occasional bursts of significant heat, but still punctuated by stormy interludes. Many of these storms brought hail, eventually covering almost all appellations in the Cote de Beaune, with a particularly bad attack on 1st August. There was never a moment all summer when growers could relax and by now it was evident that 2012 would be the smallest of three consecutive under-sized pinot crops – or indeed five out of six with the run from 2007 broken only by the ample 2009 vintage.

September began with a beautiful, hot, first ten days of September. Then, the weather turned notably autumnal starting with yet another storm over Santenay and Puligny on the night of Tuesday 11th. The forecast was variable for the next week or so, with quite a lot of cloud and maybe some drizzle but nothing ugly, though expected to get worse from the 22nd onwards.

Arnaud Ente and Dominique Lafon were among a group who started on Friday14th, their sampling showing ripe grapes – rather than in response to less favourable weather further ahead. In fact the first week of harvest proved much better than expected but the threat of Atlantic depressions heading eastwards never disappeared. They finally materialised during the afternoon of Friday 21st with showers which turned heavy overnight giving way to a damp grey foggy morning on the 22nd.

By this time most Côte d’Or whites had been picked, the reds of the Côte de Beaune were well under way and the Côte de Nuits were beginning to start. Sunday 23rd was a busy day in the vineyards up and down the Côte, with hot sun forecast – though in the event it was misty-drizzly all morning and only cheered up after lunch. But at this late stage, with no rot apparent and protectively thick skins on the grapes, there was little fear of disease spreading or even of the grapes being diluted through sucking up large volumes of water.

Monday 24th was stormy with rain and strong wind in the early hours continuing through much of the morning, though much brighter in the afternoon. Tuesday began overcast, brightened up during the day though with occasional showers, before a heavy storm in the evening – a precursor of the week’s worst weather through the night and all day on Wednesday when it rained steadily. Almost everybody in the Côte de Beaune had finished by then, though some habitual retardataires in the Côte de Nuits, were just about to start. The clouds cleared on Thursday morning with the forecast now set fair, albeit cooler, for the rest of the harvest. As ever the early pickers and the late pickers remain firm in the certainty that their decision was the correct one, but everybody agrees that even the heavy rainfall of 26th September failed to do any damage, with no appearance of rot.

Yields were if anything even worse than expected. Not only were there fewer grapes than usual, which had at least been evident for several months, but there was hardly any juice in the grapes: thick skins and some pulp, but not a lot of liquid. Vignerons reckoned that the wines should be pretty good, with ripe flavours, good but not excessive sugar readings and the ideal balance of acidity. However, faces were long as they realised just how little wine they would have, frequently at or under 15 hl/ha in the Côte de Beaune where the storms had done most damage, not much more in Nuits St Georges where the flowering had been particularly difficult, but somewhat better in Chambolle-Musigny for example.

The Mâconnais and Chablis also fared better than Meursault and Puligny. Yields were variable in Chablis depending on frost damage and flowering conditions, but for most growers it was just a slightly low crop with a few sites worse hit. There were also some problems with drought through the summer – evidently rather different weather conditions in the Yonne! – and the rainfall in mid-September was very necessary to complete the ripening process. Some chose to pick relatively rapidly, finishing around the end of the month. Others only began to pick in October.

First Impressions The parallel of 1961 Bordeaux springs to mind: a tiny crop because of difficulties in the first half of the growing season, while fine weather later on produced wines of extraordinary concentration. Early barrel tastings of the red wines show immense promise, especially in the Côte de Nuits which escaped from the hail. In the Côte de Beaune many wines also show exceptional potential but care needs to be taken to spot wines which have been affected by the hail, evident in a lean, dry character rather than musty flavours.

It is slightly more of a mixed bag for the whites. The crop is small in the Mâconnais and Chablis, but not catastrophically so, and the wines are looking good. Most Chablis wines are unusually fruity but those which were picked early finish with the classical austere marine mineral notes of the region. Some late picked examples may tend to be a little soft. The Côte de Beaune is more problematic: tiny yields and in some cases compromised by oidium or by rot. However others are pure and exceptionally concentrated.

The wines in bottle

I have been more impressed than I expected by white 2012s: Chablis looked good from the outset but conditions were tougher in the Côte de Beaune. Nonetheless, there is a good weight of fruit and an electric energy to many of the wines.

2012 reds from the Côte de Beaune are scarce and some do show the slight dry patch caused by a hail affected vintage. Those from the Côte de Nuits look better, but the better wines should still be kept.


Tasting Notes

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