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BORDEAUX  WEATHER  REPORT  N 1 / 2002 - 2003

S E P T E M B E R     2 0 0 2

Shall I have to eat my words?  I would really be happy to do so!  I said at the end of August that it was almost impossible to make fine wine this year after the most terrible August.

If as the French say Aout fait le mout, then Septembre fait le vin and it has tried very hard indeed to do so.  Will these efforts be rewarded?  We had throughout September 21 days with rain giving a total of 64.4mm which is in fact not a lot, indeed it is pretty dry for a September (the average is 89 mm, record low 4 mm in 1977 and maximum 249 mm in 1993).  Of the total 33.4 mm of this fell on the 21st, and 10.2 mm on the 8th and 8.8 mm on the 4th, which is most of it.

The other nine days had just 12.0 mm between them all.  Sunshine was magnificent with a total of 260 hours.  This is not far short of the record of 278 hours in 1985.  The main problem was not the sunshine but the low temperatures which slowed down ripening, but even these had their advantages as they helped keep rot in check and reduce the excess water in the grapes.

It is thought that the grapes lost 25% of their volume during September.  However these low temperatures impeded ripening, since apart from two days at the beginning of the month and eight days in the middle  (total 10) the other 20 days never reached 25C, and it was only 19C on the 23rd, 17C on the 24th and 18C on the 25th, which is really unripening stuff even though the sun shone generously.  It actually got down to 6C on the night of the 26th.

From the 1st to the 10th, seven days out of 10 had rain giving a total of 28.8 mm (as mentioned 10.2 mm on the 8th and 8.8mm on the 4th).  The sun shone for a moderate 64 hours 10 minutes.

The first three days were radiant with over 36 hours sunshine (over 12 hours per day), and it was 27C on 2nd and 27.6C on the 3rd but from then on down to a maximum of 23.1C with poor sunshine hours.  We all still felt very bad!  None the less early Sauvignon was picked from the 7th onwards.

The 11th to the 20th had only three days rain, and these were tiny amounts totalling just 2 mm, and after three cool days we had the eight consecutive hot days of the month touching 28.9C on 20th.  This made us all feel that disaster had not yet struck completely and did a world of good to the vines.

Hopes rose again!  The white wine harvest was general and in full swing and came in under the best possible conditions.  The sunshine hours were splendid with 96 hours 9 minutes, which is over 9 hours per day on average.  From the 17th to the 20th night temperatures remained above 17C which was grand.  There were brisk winds which helped dry out excess moisture.  Muscadelle however, being delicate, had quite a lot of rot on it.

The afternoon of 20th hail struck suddenly and brutally and all over the place.  The pattern is very hard to trace but in some places was fairly disastrous.  In the Medoc it was particularly bad in Saint Estephe, Listrac, Vertheuil, Moulis, Arsac and Cissac.  It touched Margaux but did no harm.

It did damage in parts of Merignac but not in others as the weather station recorded no hail.  It did not touch Mouton but it did touch Lafite slightly.  I had a visit arranged to Haut Marbuzet on the 26th but they cancelled it as they were over 50% destroyed by hail and had to pick urgently and so could not receive us.  Vertheuil had places with up to 90% damage.  In the South it was particularly bad between Langon and La Reole.  It lasted from 20 to 30 minutes and split grapes and cut stems.  In some places the hailstones were like pigeon eggs and fell several centimetres deep.

The 21st to the 30th could not keep up the previous fine spell.  After this hail the 21st remained hot with 26.5C but due to the heat build up a pretty violent storm broke loose and deluged, with 33 mm of rain falling in Merignac.  On this day there were only 4 hours 9 minutes of sunshine.  Then it turned fresh with five days not even reaching 20C and four others only just above.  However only two days had rain so, together with the breezes, the drying out process continued even if the ripening process did not.  The two days of rain was of course the deluge plus a trace of 0.2 mm on 28th.  Sunshine was again splendid with almost 100 hours - fabulous for the end of September.

Autumn came in on 23rd at 04.55 GMT (Universal Time).  This is the fall, or the moment when the sun passes the point, presently lying in the constellation Virgo, where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator!!!!  Nights grow longer than days.

Around the 27th, 28th people started picking Merlot in the Medoc.  Basically however serious picking got under way from Monday 30th.  Margaux only started its WHITE wine picking on 28th.  Saint Emilion got under way rather earlier, about 24th

Growers of sweet white wine are cock-a-hoop as Noble rot grew like mad or mould (which it is!).  We had it climbing up the walls, crowed Chateau Guiraud.  The first TRI was taking place as early as 16th September.  Yields are very small.

We need a TRULY Golden October to save the day.  Merlot musts may reach over 13 but Cabernet is far from ripe and Petit Verdot is still green.  It would give me pleasure, as I started by saying, if I had to eat my words which are perhaps less sour than the grapes!!

Healthy grapes this year are the result of much work and expense.  Careful spraying with Anti-Botrytis sprays as and when needed (very costly), de-leafing for direct sunshine and against humidity, extensive green pruning, all these were needed badly.  Small berries helped get some concentration, as did coulure.  Winds and cold helped protect against rot.  Not simple all this!

I must make the point again about microclimate.  The weather station did not record any hail, as there was not hail where they are, but hail there was in many places, and their 33 mm deluge was much less and even a little more in other locations.  It  is not possible in this report to diffuse the reports from the 50 weather stations in the Gironde, but I DO look around and now get help from Chateau DYquem, Mouton-Rothschild and Cheval-Blanc.

For a spot of flash information Chateau Le Pin picked on 24th and 25th and made 40% less than last year (18 barrels) finishing reasonably happy with the quality at 15.45 on the 25th.

John Salvi

John U. Salvi, 4 Impasse du Pez, Le Pez, 33460 Soussans, France

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