We tend to focus on the weather conditions in the lead-up to the harvest and while the grapes are being picked, but a key factor in defining how the 2018 crop turned out was the winter before, which was grim and excessively rainy. This proved to be a blessing however during the drought months of high summer which followed. The vines’ roots were able to drink happily from the replenished water table.
Nobody anticipated the eventual size of the crop, indeed most estimates were way off by a massive margin. There was much more juice in the berries than producers had imagined, especially for the white wines. Typically chardonnay is fairly forgiving of crop size, but first impressions of the 2018 White Burgundy crop show attractive wines made from healthy fruit but without the additional intensity of a great vintage. Delicious wines which will start to be ready to drink early on, but few legends.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, the generous harvest seems to have impacted the red wines less, despite pinot noir’s notorious sensitivity to high yields. There is excellent colour to the wines which are full of fruit, sometimes flamboyantly so. There is the potential for greatness in 2018 Red Burgundy but it is by no means a uniform vintage.
Everything depended on the timing of the harvest. This is not to do with specific dates in the calendar or adverse weather events during the harvest, but a question of ripeness – which will vary from one grower to the next according to their viticultural practices. Quite clearly however, 2018 has favoured the early pickers who brought in their grapes with potential alcohol levels between 13 and 14%. Under these conditions there were few scares during vinification and the wines look set to become modern classics.
This was not the case in every cellar however. Those who let their grapes hang too long found a surge in sugar at the end of the cycle which meant degrees approaching or even exceeding 15%, and stuck fermentations resulting in high levels of volatile acidity and bacterial issues, such as Brettanomyces. Many cellars have an occasional wine which went beyond the ideal while in some cellars this pattern is the norm rather than the exception.
The critics job in 2018 is to be able to make a clear call between the successes of the vintage and those wines which are living dangerously.
Thank you Jasper for your insight. Be sure to check out his in depth tasting notes on his website Inside Burgundy His full report on the 2018 wines will be published on his website early January 2020.