Vintages Around the World

Telling It Like It Is: Stephane Derenoncourt Calls Out Bordeaux’s 2013 Vintage

March 17, 2014, by: Montesquieu

On the heels of strong reviews of their 2012 wines, Napa winemakers are giddily predicting another outstanding vintage in 2013. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Bordeaux.

Bordeaux’s 2013 harvest saw its share of problems, and in the months since, many chateaux seem to have projected a cautiously optimistic attitude while saying as little as possible — perhaps to avoid deflating demand.

Not Stephane Derenoncourt, though. The world-renowned winemaker who consults for a number of Bordeaux properties has now delivered an early assessment of the region’s 2013 vintage, and he’s done so with refreshing candor.

“There will be some good wines, but it’s a s— year,” Stephane told recently.

Stephane Derenoncourt in his natural habitat -- tending vines

Stephane Derenoncourt in his natural habitat — tending vines

This isn’t the sort of thing we’re used to hearing from winemakers on either side of the pond. After all, they make their living on producing marketable, desirable wines, and you could forgive those who seem to keep quiet or downplay criticism when the outcome isn’t what they’d hope.

But Stephane isn’t your average winemaker. He calls it like he sees it. He abhors marketing-speak. He knows that at the end of the day it’s all about what’s in the bottle, and we can’t make more out of a vineyard than what nature gives us – to try is pure folly.

“We can’t do anything against the whims of the sky, a tsunami, a storm, a terrible spring, a lack of maturity,” says Stephane. “Nature is neither kind nor forgiving. Our job is to understand it, outwit it. Sometimes, it is too powerful and we have to submit to it. 2013 teaches us humility.”

Stephane’s honesty about such things is one reason we at Montesquieu Wines love working with him and our clients adore the wines he’s made and sourced for us. If a wine doesn’t live up to his standards, even if he made it himself, he’ll tell you. And conversely, if he tells you a wine is great, you can take that to the bank.

The Bordelaise have perfected the skill of telling us their wines are great. They’ve made three different “vintage of the century” announcements in the past eight years alone (2005, 2009, 2010). But like many other winemakers, they’re far less eager to admit when their wines are subpar – perhaps out of a fear of losing profits and market share in the hyper-competitive global wine market.

In Stephane’s case, the owners of Chateau Malescasse are putting their money where his mouth is. The 110-hectare property in the Haut-Medoc, where Stephane is winemaking consultant, has announced that in 2013 it will not make a first or second wine, but instead will sell all of the juice to negociants. The decision is expected to cost them at least 800,000 Euros.

Chateau Malescasse's wines are not up to Stephane's in 2013, so they're skipping the vintage entirely

Chateau Malescasse’s wines are not up to Stephane’s standards in 2013, so they’re skipping the vintage

“I’m not saying that the wine is bad,” Stephane told Le Figaro when explaining the decision, “but it does not measure up to our ambitions. Rather than squeeze something out of a wine we don’t like, we prefer to cut off our own arm and move on.”

Talk of severing limbs and moving on to the next harvest isn’t what the Bordeaux wine associations want to hear as they gear up for the annual Bordeaux Primeurs trade tasting in a couple of weeks. But it’s exactly what discerning wine lovers need to hear – a frank assessment from an expert who isn’t afraid to tell us like it is.


Montesquieu Winery 2011 Harvest Review: At Home and Abroad

November 9, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Red Hills Lake County November 4, 2011 photo by Hélène Mingot

A Challenging Year Bears Us Brilliant Fruit

Napa and Sonoma

No two harvests are exactly alike—each year brings its own unique mixture of variables to the table work with. As the years pass, we at Montesquieu Wines understand more and more just how fortunate we are to have a team with so much experience to draw from. This year is no exception, as growers and vintners around the world were on their toes with an especially challenging growing season! View Full Post


Montesquieu Winery 2011 Pre-Harvest Update: Late and Light, Balanced and Concentrated

September 8, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Perfect weather at Ink Grade September 8, 2011 photo by Hélène Mingot

We caught up with our winemaker Hélène Mingot on the run between her bustling vineyard and cellar work to hear how pre-harvest conditions are shaping up for our parcels in Napa and Sonoma so far.

The vintage pattern in 2011 for both Napa and Sonoma shares some general similarities with 2010, which have been showing a trend for almost a decade now of cool growing seasons with later harvest times. This year, we are seeing a longer season due to a cool spring and late rain, with bloom and fruit set that was behind two to three weeks. The summer was cooler and milder than usual, with foggy mornings followed by mild sunny afternoons—only a few days in the 90s so far! This kept the pattern similar to last year, pushing projected harvest dates two to three weeks later than the norm. View Full Post


Experiencing Harvest in Argentina: Falling in Love One Cluster at a Time

May 9, 2011, by: Stephen George

In sports, it’s the championship game.  In law, it’s the closing statement.  In business, it’s closing the deal.  In almost every profession, there’s that watershed moment when everything you’ve been working toward comes together in one critical effort.  It’s a moment when everything is on the line, when your future hangs in the balance, when you’re making decisions that could realize your hopes and dreams or dash them on the rocks.

For the best winemakers – those talented savants who form the beating heart of the wine industry – this critical moment is harvest.

Michel Rolland's Val de Flores vineyard Uco Valley, Mendoza Argentina

Michel Rolland's Val de Flores vineyard, moments before harvest

Naturally, the moment of harvest is shot-through with excitement.  It can be tense and nerve-wracking, certainly. But for those of us who are romantics at heart, who love adventure, it’s the best time of the year.  We risk-takers live for these moments, and we thrive in the thrill they provide.

So imagine our level of anticipation as we woke up before dawn, on our third day in Argentina, to head out to the Val de Flores vineyard to begin the Uco Valley’s Malbec harvest.  We were a tired group – dinner the night before had ended around 1:00am, and after the customary post-dinner frivolity, most of us crawled into bed much later than that (’tis the Argentine way, we were learning!).  But nary a grump was to be found on our team.  We were too excited – our eyes glimmered with the possibilities of the day. View Full Post


Early Returns on the 2010 Harvest: Montesquieu Winemaker Reviews Progress In The Cellar

January 4, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Artistry In The Cellar

Montesquieu Production Facility Arkenstone, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley

Hélène and Stéphane monitoring fermentation in our cellar

After one of the most eventful seasons in quite some time, we’ve shifted from vineyard work at the end of October 2010 and negotiating all of Mother Nature’s whims, to cellar work in November and December with more controlled variables.  This might appear to some to be a break in the hectic pace of things.  But our winemaker, Hélène Mingot, tells us this is not the case — it is merely a change of focus, not unlike dancers transitioning from a quickstep to a tango.  A change of rhythm and technique, yes, but both dances are equally challenging to perform.  Similarly, Hélène and Stéphane are light on their feet, striving to allow the raw quality of the fruit to blossom in such a way as to make the best and most expressive wine possible from each of our parcel’s terroir.

Achieving this goal requires a delicate balance between doing just enough in the cellar to harness the full potential of the fruit, but not intervening too much in order to avoid manipulating the character of the wine.  Such an approach is extremely time consuming, as it demands the kind of care and attention that is anything but automated or formulaic, nothing like the mechanical procedures employed by so many corporate-run, high-volume wine producers.  This goes beyond simple execution. It requires artistry and having all senses attuned and ready, watching, listening, interacting, — no “one size fits all” here!

As we look to what 2011 promises to bring, let’s review exactly how we got from point A to point B — what’s happened in the cellar from harvest until now.

View Full Post


Montesquieu Winery Reviews the Roller Coaster 2010 Harvest

December 6, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

The dramatic grand finale of harvest in Napa and Sonoma culminated with Mother Nature delivering a few more curveballs before completing one of the most challenging and unique seasons in history.  Here at Montesquieu Winery, we’re pleased to report that our parcels fared extremely well under the vigilant care of our team.  Their focused coordination and execution – from canopy and irrigation management to the puzzle of when to harvest, and every variable in between – showed that when push comes to shove, care and experience in the vineyard make all the difference.  Aided by the ideal locations of our parcels, we were able to bring in a pristine and healthy harvest – which we’re thankful for after such a roller coaster season.

Hélène Mingot Samples Montesquieu Grapes, Tasting for Optimal Ripeness

Montesquieu Winemaker Hélène Mingot Tastes for Optimal Ripeness in October

One of the more difficult aspects of this growing season to manage was the unusually low and variable temperatures — and October was no exception.  September closed as the first month during the entire growing season with above average temperatures, and the first half of October was dry and warm, with daily highs in the mid- 90’s.  But the weather flipped the second half of the month, resulting in below-average temperatures for the month as a whole.

But October brought with it new dramatic challenges: rain during harvest!  Heavy precipitation threatened to invade the vineyards near the end of October, causing many growers to panic and pick early.  But Stéphane and Hélène exercised patience. Having experienced more than two decades of harvests in rain-prone Bordeaux, Stéphane knows how to navigate wet Octobers without sacrificing grape quality. View Full Post


Assessing Bordeaux’s 2009 Vintage, Part 2: A Tale of Two Styles

November 24, 2010, by: Stephen George

In Part 1 of this post, we argued that you can’t rely on scores to assessing individual wines or a vintage as a whole – instead, you should listen to the qualitative judgment of people whose palates you know and trust.

So what do we at Montesquieu think of 2009 Bordeaux?  Based on our tastings at Primeurs, here is a list of some of our favorites:

  • St. Emilion: Pavie-Macquin, Clos Fourtet, Figeac
  • St. Julien: Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Barton
  • Pessac-Leognan: Smith-Haut-Lafitte
  • Margaux: Brane-Cantenac, Prieuré-Lichine
  • Pauillac: Pichon-Longueville, Lynch-Bages

But2010 Bordeaux Primeurs the 2009 Leoville-Barton St. Julien the far more interesting assessment, especially at this early stage, is of the vintage as a whole rather than individual wines.  Stated briefly, Bordeaux 2009 is a tale of two styles.  Both have richness and power, but the first style – which we prefer – remains fresh, vibrant, and elegant; the other is extracted, thick, and loaded with alcohol.  Thanks to plentiful sun, warm temperatures and a perfect harvest season, in 09 almost every producer was blessed with fully ripe grapes. And therefore, almost every wine is powerful and intense with ample tannins and sugars.

But as our team tasted through the wines of each appellation, it was clear again and again that those chateaux that managed to retain the acidity and freshness in their grapes by picking judiciously and handling them gently got balanced and lively wines.  Whereas those chateaux that picked late and/or over-extracted their grapes got cocktails of oak, tannin, and alcohol that were more obvious and brutish than delicate or refined.  Among this latter group are a number of very famous houses, including many in the commune of St. Estèphe. View Full Post


Assessing Bordeaux’s 2009 Vintage, Part 1: Primeurs and the Problem with Points

November 22, 2010, by: Stephen George

As Bordeaux’s skilled marketing teams begin to praise the newest harvest, it’s worth spending a moment to look back at the early returns of the much-lauded 2009 vintage.

At Primeurs week every April, hundreds of Bordelais chateaux pour samples of their newest wines for the thousands of critics and merchants who gather in Bordeaux to check in on the latest vintage.  We at Montesquieu make sure to participate every year we can.  Attending Primeurs helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the wine industry, and especially Bordeaux (the epicenter of the international wine scene), by tasting first-hand the new vintage that everyone is wondering about.  As with the new 2010 vintage, the Bordeaux hype machine was in full swing well before Primeurs began this past April, with many proprietors declaring 2009 to be “The Vintage of the Century.”

But is it really? 2009 certainly offered favorable growing and harvest conditions that produced fruit with immense potential.  But recall that “once-in-a-lifetime vintage” fanfare was also showered on 2000 and 2005 – have there really been three “vintages of the century” in this century’s first decade? View Full Post


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