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The En Primeur Tastings: 2002 Vintage

By John Salvi


A belated, but none the less cordial, Happy New Year!
Quite clearly we are gong to have to talk a great deal about rain and drought this year, together with its potential effect on the 2005 vintage. This applies not only here in Burgundy, but even more so in other regions, as we shall see.

Here in Burgundy, and our figures are based on Beaune, January was not excessively dry, but equally it was not wet enough! It had 36.2mm of rain over the 31 days. For what is usually one of the wettest months of the year this did not do much to replenish the water table. It was nice and sunny with 76 hours sunshine, almost half of it during the last 11 days, which meant that these eleven were lovely and the first 3 weeks were gloomy. It was cold, particularly those last 11 days. The average temperature over that whole period was –0.6°C, which means a lot of subzero days. It got down to –8.6°C at night and the average of the night–time temperatures was –2.9°C. The warmest day of the whole month, not unusual for January, was only 11.5°C.

February continued dry – 21mm over the whole 28 days can be considered firmly as a dry winter month. Almost all of this, 19mm, fell in the middle of the month on two very wet days. Sunshine was almost exactly the same as 1st – 10th with 74 ½ hours. Once again it was damn cold and again got down to exactly –8.6°C. The very hottest day of the month was now at 11.6°C. The last 8 days gave the coldest spell of the whole winter when the average of the night time temperatures was –5°C, the average of the maximum temperatures was only just above freezing at +0.9°C, every single night had frost and a lot of days remained subzero.

March saw spring come in on 20th and very welcome it was too! The month started horribly cold – a continuation of the end of February. The average of the night time temperatures was –3.7C and we had the coldest night of the winter at –11.6°C. The second 10 days started equally cold with a –6°C night and then passed from winter to summer in a flash. That same decade, days reached 22.7°C (26.8°C in Bordeaux!). The average of the night time temperatures shot from that –3.7°C above to +1.1°C from 11th – 20th and then to +7.8°C from 21st – 31st. From 21st – 31st, daytime temperatures averaged 16.2°C as opposed to 3.6°C from 1st – 10th. Rain totalled 36.6mm and sunshine created a new record. The month had a total of 133 hours, which is already splendid, but the second 10 days had no less than 90 hours and 7 minutes, in other words very nearly an average of 10 hours per day. This is an all time record for Beaune and Burgundy. In spite of all that sun, and because of a lot of intense cold, as I write this article at the beginning of April, the vine has not yet started to bud. The sap has risen but the vegetative cycle has not yet begun. It looks to be in fine health and the cold has cleaned up the vineyards wonderfully. However, as we have seen, the total rainfall over the three months has been 36.2mm + 21.0mm + 36.6mm = 93.8mm. For a region, which has a long term average of over 1000mm per annum, this is a very dry winter spell. We need plenty of good clean rain, BEFORE the flowering, if Burgundy is going to be in a position to confront a hot, dry summer!


I have to say that this is much more difficult to write this time for the singular reason that "Météo France", the official meteorological body of France, with 336 weather stations in all regions, had trouble with their equipment and have produced less complete figures than usual. For example they have not given sunshine hours at all, so that short of finding a grower who has his own measuring equipment, and sunshine measurement is not simple equipment like reading a thermometer, I cannot tell you how sunny or how gloomy it has been. Luckily, while the vine is still dormant, there is no chlorophyllisation, so that at least we are saved trying to make a judgement on the amount of sugar being produced and the rate of growth of the foliage.
That said; let us look at what we have got.

January was bone dry, much dryer even than Bordeaux or Burgundy. No rain from 1st – 10th, 2.4mm from 11th – 20th and 2.8mm from 21st – 31st, giving a total of 5.2mm for the whole month. Nights were pretty regular, each decade having a goodly number of frosts. However the coldest night was only –4.3°C, which is mild compared to Burgundy. Daytime temperatures showed the pleasure of living in the South and each decade had temperatures reaching over 15°C. Overall January was a clean, dry, cold and healthy month.

February, like everywhere else, was the coldest month of the year. Over the last 80 years the coldest month has usually been January. Just as in January, there were a lot of frosts. The coldest night of the month was –7.6°C, which was also the coldest night of the winter. That was during the brutal last eight days, when the maximum daytime temperature never got above 9.4°C. What was more serious was yet another BONE DRY month. 0.2mm from 1st – 10th, 1.4mm from 11th – 20th and ZERO rainfall from 20th –28th. That gives a February total of 1.6mm, again an all time record for maximum drought in February in the Rhone Valley.

March and Spring. Here the first 10 days were even colder than the end of February. The temperature got down to –9.7°C, coldest night of the winter. Average night time temperature for the 1st ten days was –5.3°C, 11th – 20th –3.7°C and then it shot up to +5.7°C during those first days of spring. The instant warming produced a 24.3°C day on 20th, the hottest day of the month. Unusually, this is less than the 26.8°C recorded in Bordeaux on the same day. Rainfall was unhelpful. 0.2mm from 1st – 10th, ZERO from 11th – 20th and then at least SOME welcome rain with 11.8mm from 21st – 31st. The three months total is therefore only 18.8mm – quite incredible, and very dangerous. If we take the figure from the beginning of the year to the end of winter (20th march), then the total rainfall was only 7.0mm, which again is an absolute record by a very considerable margin.

Here at the end of the month the first bud break occurred on some young vines and some precocious ones, but it was not general. Water, plenty of it, during April and the first half of May, is the principal concern at present of all growers in the Rhone Valley.


We confront the same problem in Bordeaux as elsewhere – lack of rain. These reports therefore spend rather a lot of time talking about it. At the end of March, here in the South–West of France, the water table was between 50 – 75% lower than it has been on average over the last 80 years. Cognac is in fact the worst hit and regulations have already been introduced, restricting the watering of lawns and gardens and the washing of cars. Such restrictions are not usually promulgated until July. The worst hit are the regions of France that are far from the mountains, as they do not receive any of the massive amounts of water brought by melting snows.
Overall, January here was dry and dull. Sunshine was deficient with a total of 94 ½ hours, total rainfall was only 32.2mm (not enough, but a flood compared to the 5.2mm in the Rhone Valley). We CAN get heavy rains because, in 1998, Bordeaux had 225mm in February and on 6th January 1982 no less than 52.2mm fell in 24 hours. We should also remember that last December had 68mm of rain. We did not have nearly such cold weather as Burgundy, we rarely do. The average temperature over the 31 days was 6.9°C. It did try to snow twice, but over the entire month only 6 nights had frost. There were no storms. 15.1°C on 9th was the hottest day of the month and –4.3°C on 28th was the coldest night. We did not, unlike Burgundy, have a single subzero day.

February was cold and dry. Colder, but not quite drier than January. Total rainfall was 38.4mm, whilst our 80 year February average here is 82.6mm. Sunshine was deficient with 98 hours. The average temperature over the 28 days was 4.8°C, which is cold because the long–term average is 7.5°C. Fascinatingly it tried to snow no less than 6 times, twice from 11th – 20th and 4 times during the last 8 days. This caused a lot of excitement and brought out the photographers, but the snow did not settle. It was this last period that created most of the cold weather statistics. We had the coldest night of the winter so far at –5.8°C. It was the second coldest recorded average temperature for these 8 days over the last 80 years. It was no less than 6.2°C lower than the average. The hottest day from 21st – 28th was 9.2°C on 26th.

March was neatly described by Météo France as “the month of all excesses”. Rainfall was again deficient with a total of 38.2mm (identical almost to February). Sunshine was just 5% deficient but none the less totalled 176 hours. The average of the temperatures over the 31 days was 9.8°C. The month started bitterly cold, with 7 nights frost during the first 10 days and –8.4°C on the night of 1st, which far outstripped the previous coldest of –5.8°C in February. This –8.4°C and –6.6°C on 2nd were record lows for those particular dates since records began here. The coldest night ever recorded any time in March is –9.9°C on 6th March 1971. Then Bordeaux jumped from winter to summer without pausing for spring. On night of 13th it was –2.1°C and on the day of 15th it rocketed up to + 22.6°C. On 16th it reached 25°C and on 20th came the hottest day of the month at 26.8°C. This again was an absolute record high for this date since 1920, when official records were kept by Météo France. The absolute record temperature for any March day here is 27.7°C on 25th March 1981. Remember that we have not yet had the period either of the Ice Saints (Mamert, Pancrace and Servais), 11th – 13th may, or of the “red moon” or “lune rousse”, which is late this year, from 1st – 31st May. Frost danger is therefore still very much with us, especially as the ultra warm spell brought on bud break on some young Merlot vines during the last week of the month. Our water situation is serious, but if you look at the Rhone Valley statistics, not as serious as others. However we do badly need rain. The vine is healthy and springing to life. It is high time that Bordeaux showed some optimism and stopped wallowing in gloom and self pity!

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