Goods news from the 2012 Sauternes vineyards

Just to recap, we left off at my last clip in this year’s reference rank of vines on 24th October.  The botrytis was almost total, as it was in the rest of Sauternes-Barsac, but it just needed to dry out and concentrate.  I said then that all that was needed was a final bout of drying easterly or northerly air circulation, without rainfall, for all this to happen.

Well, we got the end of week rain Thursday 25 and Friday 26th, as forecast, and then, bingo, again as forecast, the wind went round to the North and blew strong and fine all the way through to Halloween night Wednesday 31st. I have to say, I hadn’t quite got my level of faith up to that of the growers and had never really believed, with the botrytis having been on the bunches for so long and so wet, that anything good could come of it. Consequently I missed filming what was to become possibly the best part of the harvest, Sunday 28th, Monday 29th, Tuesday 30th and Wednesday 31st October.  I enclose a picture of Raymond Lafon’s  grapes from last Tuesday as evidence.

The effect of this short weather change was instantaneous. In a matter of hours, the bunches dried out and concentrated, often from 16° to 19° potential, with several pressings reaching 21 or even 22°. These four days have saved the 2012 Sauternes for those who had the patience to wait it out (most of the crus classés but not many of the others). It will certainly not be of the aromatic quality of the last 3 vintages, having been rained on for so long, but the juice is concentrated, the musts are surprisingly pure, have not produced any volatile acidity of note and do not appear so far to be combining sulphur, which is always a good sign.

The yields remain tiny, especially as, in most cases, a large portion of the grapes had to be discarded by the pickers. But this final picking will probably count for more than half the final blend for most of those who could or did wait for it.

So the best of 2012 Sauternes will be composed probably of a very small early picking 4th – 10th October, of a sometimes not insignificant 1st or 2nd picking of those grapes that got to “rôti” stage 15th – 18th October, of a few bits from the “waiting week” of 22nd October, and a big wodge from the final pick last week. The character of the wines? It’s too early to tell. There are some finished wines in the cellars already but I won’t start tasting for another 10 days at least. And even then, it will be too early to see through the wines, I’ll just be trying to get my tongue round them, no more.

Meanwhile, there are still bunches out there. Some had hoped that today’s second round of northerlies would dry them out, but hope is diminishing fast after the heavy weekend rains.

Meanwhile, we have some analyses, which are very encouraging, with good natural residual levels,  My guess is that this will not be a great vintage, but could certainly qualify – totally unexpectedly until a few days ago – as pretty darned good. Then there will be two other classes of 2012 Sauternes: those who picked everything mid-October before the bunched concentrated and who either cryo-extracted them up to the required level or left them as they were, at inferior sugar levels.  Bill Blatch

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