A few words from Maylis Marcenat, commercial director of Château Clos de Sarpe, on the 2019 vintage.
How would you define the 2019 growing season in a few words?
May and June were cool months: we had to be especially vigilant as there was the risk of mildew throughout May and June. Fortunately, we recently invested in more efficient equipment to avoid the disaster of 2018, when we were hit hard, losing more than 40% of our crop. July and August were two very hot months; the rain of early August was beneficial.
How did rain in September affect your vines?
At the end of August, we were quite worried: the potential alcohol of the berries was already quite high: some berries were already at the equivalent of 14% but the grape was absolutely not ripe: the flesh was green, the seeds were bitter. Thanks to our calcareous clay soil, the vines did not suffer from the heat this summer but they kind of fell asleep. The soil was dry and the ripening process did not change much. The rain in mid-September unlocked all this. With this rain, the vine received the necessary water to release and was able to complete the ripening of the grapes. We were able to wait to harvest the grapes at perfect maturity. This rain also stopped the potential alcohol from flying too high. In the end, the wine will have an alcohol level of around 14.5%.
Tannins play such a vital and defining role in the quality of Bordeaux red wines. How did you manage tannin extraction in 2019?
We changed our vinification in 2016 towards less extraction and less maceration. I want more natural freshness from the start of the wine’s life, which was hidden by a lot of tannins so I rebalanced everything. In 2019, we continued to adapt the vinification: we didn’t have to extract a lot to have tannins. The wine stayed on skins for 30-33 days with gentle temperatures – I prefer to macerate a little bit longer but at lower temperatures. During this period, we taste the wine every day and it’s really the tasting which decides at what time we need to stop the maceration or change the temperature.
Can you tell us about the blend for the 2019 vintage?
At Clos de Sarpe, the blend is the same every year: 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc. It is a 3.7 hectare single vineyard estate The Merlot is very expressive at the moment with its soft touch and creamy taste but you also have the structure and the freshness from the Cabernet Franc.
Can you describe the wine at this early stage?
I’m very happy about the result. It is a delight to drink. Today, it presents a deep and intense colour. The nose is characterised by notes of cherry and blackcurrant, which is the Merlot expressing itself fully. There are also cherry and black forest notes, the oak is integrated. On the palate, the wine is dense, the power of our limestone-clay soil is counterbalanced by a fresh finish that balances the wine. Our wines have got one of the lowest pH of Saint-Emilion and high acidity that means you can keep the wine for a very long time.
How does 2019 compare to other vintages?
2019 is going to be a very good vintage for Clos de Sarpe – a classic vintage but with a little more smoothness. It will have slightly less alcohol than 2018 and I think it is more balanced. The tannin texture reminds me of 2016 but it has a freshness of its own. This vintage also reminds me of 2001 and I am sure of its ageing capacity.
The entire industry was saddened by the postponement of En Primeur week due to COVID-19. What does the event mean to you and the château?
We sell 70% of our production En Primeur so the postponement of this week is complicated for us but also for the other estates. Everyone is a little frustrated that they can’t taste so we try to explain everything. Primeur week is always an important moment of sharing with our customers, they come to us to get an idea of the vintage.
We really look forward to doing this because there is nothing more pleasant than exchanging views over a glass of wine. It is also an important moment because it is really a moment of coming together for Saint-Émilion. That’s one of the things I miss most, the exchange between people.
Bordeaux has been undergoing an evolution towards greener practices. What is Clos de Sarpe doing?
We have always chosen organic farming. We have never used pesticides in our vines since acquiring the property in 1923. The wine is not fined nor filtered and we limit inputs in the wine. This means that in some years we produce less but our choice is clear , the quality of our wine is more important than the quantity. We can produce organic wine and still have good yields: in 2019, we produced 40hl/ha. We remain true to our ethics. Being involved in organic farming is not a challenge, it is our daily life for us. We have never considered changing.
Read the full report: Bordeaux 2019 A Vintage Preview