Bordeaux climate and Primeurs 2012: Terroir’s best kept secret.

chat la couspaude façanaFour words describe this post: Primeurs. Merlot. Climate. Bordeaux.
Château la Couspaude opened its doors in April 2013 for the 58 wine Primeurs tasting within the Association de Grands Crus Classes de Saint Émilion. Saint-Émilion, with 5,400 hectares of vines, its vineyards represents approximately 6% of the production of red wines of AOC Bordeaux. The Primeurs is a purchase or subscription sales system particularly interesting, in fact it helps to buy premiere wines of the last harvest currently farmed in the properties of Bordeaux before the provision, allowing economy about 10 to 30% depending on the Chateaux. To take advantage of these conditions, the professionals buy wines between April and June 2013 by paying cash, and so this formula allows the buyers to benefit from the best price by guaranteeing delivery for the first quarter of 2014.

Particularly interesting is the fact that in some wine regions, topography, orientation and microclimate of the plot can result in significant variations in the composition of grapes and wines and may be more exposed to the vulnerability of global climate change [1]. In addition, the climate of the vintage, is a key determining factor for the quality of the grapes that come mitigate or exacerbate the potential quality of the harvest. [2] Natural environmental factors (soil and climate) have a decisive influence on the quality of the harvest, which may vary depending on the vineyard parcel. The local climate plays an important role in the development of the vine and the ripening of the grapes, together with the effects of the soil are considered increasingly important to develop and maintain the typical personality of wines of a given region[3]. Late vintage, 2012, was very capricious and demanded the growers to work hard throughout the year before the successful delivery of the harvest under the sun of September and October. It is clear that the quality of wine deserves a careful monitoring of the vineyard in the great terroirs of Saint-Emilion. The harvest took place over more than a month in a sunny and dry weather to finish in the final days of October. To better understand the characteristics of the vintage 2012 and the economical importance of climate variability on grape quality, we would like to emphasize in this article how the unusual climatic conditions characterized the quality of the grapes on Primeurs 2012.

Climate of the Gironde and Climatic conditions for vintage 2012

The climate is oceanic in Gironde. It is characterized by mild winters with an average temperature that vary from 5 to 7 ° C in January and 19 to 21 ° C in summer. There are, 15 to 20 days on average per year in Bordeaux where the temperature exceeds 30 ° C. The rainfall is relatively frequent and abundant in winter and autumn. Contrarily, summer and, often, the early fall is much drier. The annual total rainfall varies from east to west, from 700 to just over 1000 mm.

Diagrama ombrotèrmic Bordeaux, Mérignac 2012After consulting the database of the weather station of Bordeaux, we have developed a chart that shows the annual temperature evolution and rainfall. This helps to better understand what happened in 2012. First of all, it seems that the year 2012 was unusual and quite complicated. Although the 2012 annual climate data are not very different from the 30 year average data (1990-2011), we have to emphasize some highlights of the 2012 climate and its consequences: the spring and early summer was cool and wet, with notably rainfall in April, a moderately early flowering happened in late May (near 2010), whilst later on the weather was very sunny and warm (with a heat pike the 17th and 18th August) and dry with a significant water deficit. This fact provoked a ripeness in early August, and spread slowly. The harvest continued in September, which followed under the sun until the end of October. September and October close to normal mild (27-28 ° C October 5th).

Climate variability from week to week makes the vineyard management harder than usual to maintain quality of the grapes. Joining forces, working hard and keeping an eye on the vineyard every now and then is the key of success. Also extreme and unusual heat periods  makes up or slow down unexpectedly and must react to these changes quickly. Thus, according to Vanessa Aubert interview in The Wine Cellar Insider by Jeff Leve ‘With the growing season for 2012 La Couspaude, we had two stressful times. First in July, due to the difficult beginning of the growing season. The end of August was stressful as well because the maturity was late. This year we harvested between 2 and 3 weeks later than usual.’ says Vanessa Aubert.

And he continues, ‘During harvest we were stressed because of the rains. We had to interrupt the harvest for 3 days at the end of October in Château Saint Antoine because of the rain, but as we were near the end of picking, it wasn’t a problem. We just needed to wait a little longer, which wasn’t a bad thing.’

Viticulture & Winemaking

foto 2 viticulture and winemakingGrowers had to react very quickly to climate change from one month to the other, alternating periods of rain and cold and hot and dry weeks. Observation of the vineyard, was of great importance, where appropriate, balancing the load, to carry its optimum good maturation of the grapes. The precocious terroirs of Saint-Emilion had a good ripening Merlot grapes for climate degradation before the end of October.

Spring and early summer have to fear the worst: the rainy weather has allowed the development of mildew and powdery mildew, resulting in a spread of flowering and veraison. However, the hot and dry months of August and September helped overcoming differences in maturity and reduce yield losses. The harvest of merlot went well, instead those of later Cabernets were conducted under a slightly rainy sky.

Also Vanessa’s performance of fermentations: ‘The merlot performed better in this year.’For the 2012 La Couspaude, we chose to work gently, seeking a soft extraction. The pigeages will be shorter, but more frequent. Also the temperature of vinification should not exceed 28 degrees Celsius. The goal was to not extract too much this year because the seeds and tannins are not so interesting.’

Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation have been well mastered. Resulting wines have strong colors, good tannicity and harmonious in the mouth. The winemakers and winegrowers effort truned into considering that the 2012 vintage, even if it does not reach the quality levels of 2009 or 2010 will be very good  and high quality. After a good month of August, grapevines, could bring the grapes to mature. Strong thermal amplitudes have favored the concentration and preservation of flavor in the skins of grapes [5]. The color is deep and  tannins are silky and despite of the heterogeneity, the color concentration succeed with very fruity wines.

This is how Vanessa Aubert defined the vintage: ‘First, it’s a vintage with great aromatic richness. At the beginning of fermentation in the cellar, you can smell strawberries and the beautiful complexity of various red fruit and spice aromas. The other important fact for this vintage is the balance, with a good acidity and a coherent alcohol level.’

Winemakers had to better adapt the vinification for each tank depending on its content and the cellar work concerning blending will be particularly important. The talents of winemakers and viticulturists in a difficult year it appears in the bottle, where it still makes a difference.

The potential of grapes

foto 3 the potential of grapesTo better understand how the vintage affects the quality of each bordeaux variety, this is additional information that might help you to clarify the behavior and individual potential of each variety. Merlot has a good potential, characterized by its richness in anthocyanins, a maturation with an optimal short period of maturation make it to be harvested quickly.  This variety is also very susceptible to weather changes and, thus, once you reach the optimum maturity point, it degradates very quickly after a few days to a very poor product.  It then becames a heavy Merlot, flat, neutral without any expression. This variety should be harvested with a slight ripening but preserving its freshness [6].

On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape that may have the greatest potential, characterized by its richness balanced tannins and anthocyanins. It requires more time and heat than Merlot, but can be harvested later from when it reaches the optimum. If deficient in maturity, it produces wines less pleasant than the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon can, if properly exploited, an extraordinary richness. Besides its resistance to Botrytis is excellent. A small percentage of decay will be lower than the impact in Merlot. Finally, Cabernet Franc is the grape that often has the more limited potential. It is characterized by very little tannins and anthocyanins. It has an intermediate behavior Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Character of Primeurs Saint Émilion 2012

Aa a result, both climate and variety, have been ideally combined to achieve a very good result: the slow harvest until the end of October, brought a beautiful quality Merlots, with very heteroegenous loads depending on the situation. The thick skins indicate a concentration of anthocyanins (pigments wine) excellent.  Merlots and Cabernets degree will range between 12,5% vol and 13,5%vol. in all situations with balanced acidity, bringing the correct concentrations of malic acid (less than 1g /l) indicating good ripeness. The complex fruity flavors, no vegetable note, a round mouth, structured, fresh, soft and crunchy mouthful of fruit.

The year 2012 has been a tumultuous gestation who requested attention at all times. In the end, this vintage has revealed the diversity and richness of terroirs and the know-how of Saint-Émilion wine. After long and careful vinification, wine bloom beautifully during aging and reveal the many wonderful expressions of the great vineyards of Saint-Emilion. The Merlots develop their potentials beautiful roundness and ripe fruit aromas. The Cabernet Franc suggest a good balance between flexibility, freshness and black fruits. Cabernet Sauvignon, concentrated blend slowly. The first assemblies have a deep color, a beautiful palette of ripe fruit and a mouth mouthful of fruit, fresh and sweet at the same time.

foto 4 copes de viThus, it seems clear that climatic variability during the growing season and specially during fruit ripening [4], affects the quality of the grapes, as well as the concentration on the resulting wines. Knowledge of the climatic conditions that characterized a specific harvest, can help wine professionals better understand the characteristics of each wine and area, and it justifies the work and the effort made by each winery to offer again next year the Primeur wines.


[1] Nadal M., Mateos S., Lampreave M. Influence de la topographie et du mésoclimat sur la composition des raisins et rendement dans le terroir de l’AOC Priorat. VII Congres Int. Terroirs viticoles 19 – 23 mai 2008 Nyon, Suisse, 2008; 2:590-595.

[2] Barbeau G., «et al.», 1998. Comportement du cépage cabernet franc dans différents terroirs du Val de Loire. J Int S Vigne Vin, 32, n 2, 69-81.

[3] Asselin, C., «et al.»,  2001. Approche de la composante climatique à diverses échelles dans le zonage viticole. Bull OIV, vol 74, 301-318.

[4] Sánchez-Ortiz, A. «et al.» 2010. Influencia del mesoclima en el crecimiento y producción de Vitis vinifera Carignan en la DOCa Priorat.  X Simposium Hispano-Portugués de Relaciones Hídricas en las Plantas, Cartagena, España, 6-8 octubre.

[5] Nadal M., 2010. Phenolic maturity in red grapes. In: Methodologies and results in grapevine research. Delrot S., Medrano H. Bavaresco L., «et al.».Springer Science, Heidelberg, Germany.

[6] Dupuch V., – Chambre Agriculture Gironde – service vigne. Maturité phenolique et dates de recolte: les aports de la mathode Casv. Contact : 39, rue Michel Montaigne – 33290 Blanquefort – Tél.  Date de publication : 8 juillet 1998


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