October 6th. Napa, CA 71 degrees, Bordeaux, France 84 degrees. Since arriving on Sunday, the weather has been almost uncomfortably warm. In Bordeaux, the risk of rainy and cool weather in September typically increases. Indian summers in the fall can save wet summers and rainy Septembers can ruin a fine summer. This year, rain in mid-September was actually welcome.
The 2009 vintage is turning out to be one of those potentially great vintages with higher than average sunshine and temperatures and lower than average rainfall from June through September. In August, Bordeaux received 27 hours more sun and in September, 50 hours more than the 30-year average. At the same time, rainfall in the two months was about 1 – 1/2” less than normal, positive for tannin ripeness and color in reds, as well as less disease (mildew) pressure. The fruit was so clean of disease that producers like Chateau Beychevelle, a Grand Cru Classe chateau in Saint Julien, skipped the first sorting of cabernet sauvignon the day we visited last week (the second sorting is of the individual berries after de-stemming). Rain on September 15 actually relieved excess hydric stress and promoted phenolic development. Like the great 2005 vintage, nights have been cool, allowing acidity to be preserved which could lead to naturally balanced and long-lived wines.
So how does 2009 stack up to 2005? According to winemaker Vincent Cruege of Chateau La Louviere in Pessac-Leognan, it is the best vintage so far this century. On a relative basis, there was three times more rain in August in 2009 vs. 2005, which was positive for the vegetative cycle of the vine, and three times less rain in September, which promoted concentration of fruit and aromas and ripe tannins. At the same time, botrytis was under control and the nights were cool, preserving freshness. Basically, the vintage allowed them to do what they wanted to do, such as controlling the “cuisine” of sugar.