Burgundy 2015 Vintage Report
Burgundy is the most exciting wine region on earth, a patchwork of unique vineyards tended by impassioned growers who are dedicated to producing the most elegant and complex of wines.
We were eager to taste the 2015s following reports of a very hot summer and an excellent harvest. The reds impressed us from the outset. Smooth tannins and supple flavours made them a pleasure to taste, even at such a young age, while the pure fruit gave clear expression to each terroir. The warm growing season was trickier for chardonnay but we encountered some terrific whites from those who harvested early. Put simply, it is easy to recommend the 2015 vintage.
However, the warm weather which so concentrated the flavours in 2015, also reduced the final yield. Growers whose vineyards were ravaged by hail in previous vintages fared even worse, struggling to produce even a modest crop. Meanwhile, disastrous frosts in 2016, which wiped out entire vineyards, have made growers anxious about what the future holds.
Burgundy has certainly had its fair share of challenges over the last few years but the quality of the 2015s in the Côte d’Or is without question. We hope that the notes we have compiled will help you navigate the wonderful opportunities this vintage offers.
The Growing Season
Burgundy’s 2015 vintage began with a mild and wet winter which provided much needed water reserves for the hot and arid summer. Both bud-break and flowering were over quickly and successfully though there were a few reports of millerandage and coulure. The precipitation which fell in the middle part of June in the Côte d’Or refreshed the grapes.
The month of July was extremely hot with a three week heat wave which stressed the vines and interrupted growth. Temperatures reached their highest level since 2003 and conditions were their driest since 1949. In parts of Beaujolais and the Mâconnais, which did not benefit from rain in June, leaves started wilting.
Growers mitigated some of the worst effects of the heat by avoiding excessive leaf removal and shoot trimming as at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux - the Reignots vines were not trimmed at all. On the positive side, apart from a few problems with powdery mildew, the dry weather reduced disease and increased resistance by thickening the skins which limited the treatments which were needed.
More normal conditions returned in August with sunny periods interspersed with light showers. The grapes made the most of this weather and were able to ripen fully while gaining in volume.
The harvest was early compared to previous vintages. Chardonnay grapes were harvested from the 27th August in the Côte d’Or with growers choosing to pick at lower sugar levels. As Brian Sieve of Domaine de Montille explained, it was important to “pick early on the acidity” to avoid over ripeness.
Most growers harvested their Pinot Noir in the first ten days of September. The weather was clear but cooler temperatures helped conserve the acidities as well as making life easier for the pickers. Some growers, such as Jean-Marie Fourrier, harvested in the morning to take advantage of even cooler conditions. The first serious rain for two months fell on 12th September which interrupted picking for two or three days but by Saturday 19th most producers had finished.
In Chablis, the situation was rather more complicated due to a pre-harvest storm in the early hours of 1st September with hail affecting some 100 hectares of vineyard. The weather soon cleared but rot threatened and growers rushed to harvest before it was too late. Fortunately, most of the grapes were ripe and, with a rigorous selection, the damage was minimised.
Growers in the Côte d’Or expressed amazement at the quality of the fruit. Michel Lafarge reported that he had rarely seen such magnificent grapes. The bunches were in excellent condition with lots of tiny berries. Sorting tables were barely used. “We didn’t have to do much of a selection because all the grapes were healthy,” remarked Caroline Parent-Gros of Domaine Anne Françoise Gros.
Drought and coulure, combined with problems such as hail in previous vintages, conspired to reduce yields in 2015. The grapes were healthy but there was less juice to press due to the thick skins and tight bunches. Growers reported reductions in yield of 30% to 40%, compared to the average, while Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux reported a loss of 50%. Vineyards hit by hail in the last few years in Beaune, Pommard and Volnay produced more fruit than they had done in those difficult vintages. Even so, the yield in 2015 was still much lower than what is considered to be the norm. “Recovering vines did not yield as many grapes as normal”, remarked Caroline Parent-Gros.
In the Cellar
Fortunately, low yields contributed to the quality of the vintage and to the intensity of the wines. Pinot Noir was very concentrated with thick skins and lots of anthocyanins while the whites were ripe and golden coloured with high sugar concentrations.
Despite the heat of mid-summer, there was a good balance between sugars and acids in the red grapes with decent pH levels. Excessive levels of alcohol were also avoided by most growers. Romain Taupenot was initially worried that there might be a lack of acidity thanks to the heat. Nevertheless, the vintage's small berries were relatively high in acidity and have provided an invigorating freshness. The ripeness of the stems was such that some growers, such as Benjamin Leroux, experimented with more whole bunch maceration. Others, such as Michel Mallard of Domaine d’Eugénie, reduced the stems to avoid any bitterness - everyone it seems has their own philosophy with regards to destemming! Most agreed, however, that it was important to avoid over-extraction in the cellar due to the high levels of phenols. As François Millet of Domaine Comte de Vogüé explained “the 2015s are terroir-driven so it was important not to force them”.
The hot summer weather was more challenging for chardonnay and the window for harvesting was much shorter. A few extra days could make a big difference and not everyone timed it to perfection. Those that did had the potential to produce wines with real freshness. Levels of malic acid were low, destroyed by the heat in July, but the more stable tartaric acids remained and stayed intact through fermentation. As with the reds, growers avoided over-extraction by pressing gently, also limiting the extraction of potassium in the must, thereby preserving acidity. At Bouchard the barrels were only rolled once to prevent the wines becoming too rich. Biodynamic growers asserted the importance of their unique approach in a hot year. “The work in the vineyard provided the vines with a natural energy which translated itself to the wines” according to Chef de Culture Sylvain Pellegrinelli of Domaine Leflaive.
How does 2015 compare to other vintages?
Comparisons with other vintages are always the subject of debate. Jean-Marie Fourrier suggested that stylistically the reds were between 2009 and 2010, while Christophe Roumier pointed to similarities with 2005, a great year for reds, though the wines are “much richer.” Meanwhile Philippe Prost of Bouchard Père et Fils described 2015 as a cross between 2003 and 2005.
The 2005 vintage is a good comparison, but many are surprised by how slow the reds are proving to reveal themselves in bottle. Most agree though that the tannins in the 2015s are more approachable than the 2005s and, while the 2015s will be pleasurable to drink young, they have great ageing potential.
Whites have broader textures than either the 2014s or the 2012s, so we recommend laying both those vintages down a little longer than the 2015s. Generally speaking, 2015 whites are not wines for long ageing, with the exception of a few growers who managed to maintain higher acidities.
Perhaps the last word should go to Michel Lafarge who, dismissing similarities with any recent vintage, drew comparison with 1929 – time to get those bottles out of the cellar!
2015 is a relatively short crop which has received critical acclaim and there is pressure therefore to increase prices. One or two growers have indicated their intention to resist this, conscious that Burgundy has become expensive and increasingly out of touch, but they will be the minority. An added problem is the 2016 vintage which was devastated by frosts reducing yields by 60%. Not only is this likely to increase demand for 2015, it will encourage producers to recover their losses by raising prices now. Once all these factors are taken into consideration, along with a weak exchange rate, price rises seem inevitable. The question is by how much.
The 2015 vintage in the Côte d’Or will be a very great year for the reds and an excellent one for many whites. The most sought-after wines will be available in smaller quantities and demand is likely to exceed supply even at higher prices. Customers will need to think carefully about their purchases and may need to seek advice but this vintage remains a great opportunity in our opinion. The outstanding quality of the wines also offers a chance to look more broadly at the variety which Burgundy has to offer, to explore wines from less well known but equally dedicated growers.
James Snoxell - Head of Buying