Reflecting on Harvest 2016
As 2017 begins hopeful and anew, we can now take a first look at the 2016 wines aging in barrel, in the quiet cool caves of our cellars.
The 2016 season brought some challenges, as all growing seasons do, but also some catastrophes, and ended surprisingly with almost ideal harvests, both here in Burgundy and in Oregon. As we reflect back, while tasting these young wines, we learn from the difficulties and celebrate the outcomes:
In April, Burgundy was hit by the worst frost in decades, followed by a downy mildew epidemic of an exceptional virulence. Rain fell day after day–even causing national French media to declare the cows depressed and a potential cheese shortage! In an almost opposite weather pattern, Oregon’s summer started earlier than we’ve ever seen in recent history, sparking fears of a summer harvest and very ripe vines.
Then, much to our surprise, summer corrected that hectic beginning in both regions: it was warm and sunny in Burgundy, shifting the region’s course away from what could have been a disastrous harvest, quality and quantity wise. In Oregon, it was cool and slightly overcast, significantly slowing down the rapid speed at which vineyards were ripening.
As a result, it took a lot of thoughtful decision-making, change of perspective, and inevitable hesitations to decide on the harvest date in Oregon. As warm weather resumed toward the end of August, ripening took off again; harvest, at some point, very civilly-scheduled around the September 12-15, was suddenly urgent again, given the speed at which sugar was rising in the grapes.
Burgundy had the reverse experience: harvest, due late given the spring conditions, advanced at a high-speed pace during the summer. When the region enjoyed a much-needed five-day episode of rain in the middle of September, the level of humidity overreached what was strictly necessary for the maturation of vineyards. Harvest had to be delayed again, to allow the vines to dry off from the surplus of rain. Restless and stressful nights ensued as we waited to begin….
Fortunately, in both cases, weather was close to ideal during harvest, with cooler days than past years, but still brilliantly sunny, which allowed for great picking conditions. Experts were at a loss and dismayed during much of the process, but typically regained confidence once it was all over … it was actually difficult not to be optimistic looking at the resulting grapes when they arrived at wineries.
Given the hectic and sometimes gloomy conditions of the year, the wines in barrel are surprisingly balanced and charming on both sides of the Atlantic. They display a very ripe, but charming character in Burgundy. The colors are dark, some fruit-forward aromas are perceptible, but the wines are not heavy or high-toned, and should be supported with discreet acidity. Clos Vougeot is likely going to be a bit more structured than usual, whereas the Vosne Romanée wines (village, Chaumes, Brulées, Cros Parantoux, and the two grands crus Richebourg and Echezeaux), together with the Nuits Boudots and Nuits Murgers, should be very seductive. On the Corton side, wines are a bit more serious and could turn out very interesting. Chardonnay on the whole, struggled to reach a correct ripeness, but where things have been done properly, should be very balanced.
In Oregon, the wines are showing a concentrated fruit quality, in every meaning of the expression: higher in alcohol than in 2015, but less so than in 2014. The result is very appealing wines that display a natural easiness, but which we suspect will turn out to be quite complex and long-lived. The balance is there. Wines from Bishop Creek show their usual strong tannins but seem to be more approachable than in 2015 at this stage, and are supported by dark cherry, intense minerality and a complexity that will rival the last two vintages. Nysa is quite pretty, as expected, showing its best face in an early pick decision of the old vine Pommard block–restrained, seductive and red-fruited without being cloying or high-toned. The wines, at this young and awkward stage, show a balance and purity that strikes a note somewhere between the 2014 and 2015 vintages.
One of the reasons winemaking holds such incredible appeal is that no matter how long we’ve been at it, no matter the history or tradition or familiarity with vineyards, we’re always learning. Each growing season presents a new challenge: just when we think we know where the vintage is headed and think we have everything figured out, we end up being surprised. 2016 is no exception, and what looked like doom and gloom early on turned into excellent harvests in both Burgundy and Oregon.