A few words from Jean-Baptiste Bourotte, owner of Château Bonalgue, on the 2019 vintage.
The 2019 growing season was dry and hot. How did you cope with the drought and heat during the growing season?
The beginning of spring (and especially the beginning of June) was rainy: water reserves had been built up, which the blue clays of Pomerol, thanks to their elasticity, were able to exploit later in the season. It is this ability to "smooth out" climatic accidents that makes great terroirs.
In addition, with the exception of two short episodes of heat wave (26-27 June and 22-25 July), the nights remained generally cool, allowing the vines to rest (and promoting aromatic development). Only the plots of very young vines (less than 5 years old), saw their cycle disturbed by the lack of water and in some extreme cases blocked. They have of course not been included in the blends of the first wines.
Rain came around harvest. How did that affect you?
The harvest was “cut” in two by the rains at the end of September: the early plots, harvested before, show density in the mid-palate, lots of shine and liveliness (low pH); the later plots, harvested in October, are less compact on the palate, but with higher pH values which give roundness and charm. The blends had to deal with these two realities to find their balance.
Based on the specific climatic conditions of 2019, how did you cope with alcohol levels?
The level of alcohol was generally similar to those during vintages such as 2018/2016/2010. We have been able to manage this for several years: the Clos du Clocher for example has been vinified with indigenous yeasts without any fermentation problems. The question is more to know if, with fairly high degrees (for Bordeaux, because other regions have long been accustomed to even higher degrees), we still find balance and elegance, that is “Bordeaux style”.
On the early-picked plots, the liveliness has been maintained (the pH is around 3.60), the tannins are ripe and in good quantity (thanks to a significant green harvest which helped to mature a reduced number of bunches): this allows not to have an alcoholic perception on the palate and to find very “Pomerol” balances in these 2019.
Tannins play such a vital and defining role in the quality of Bordeaux red wines. How did you manage tannin extraction in 2019?
Complementing our plot selection, our densimetric sorting system allows us to carry out another sorting of the berries, based on the state of maturity of each one (via the density): even if they come from a same plot, the berries inside the grapes, for example, have seen less sun than those outside, and we must work differently with them. Since 2016 vintage, it has become for us a fundamental tool in our winemaking process: each tank is thus more homogenous and our extraction can be adapted to each one.
In addition, the work of recent years has clearly softened in the way of processing berries and their tannins. We are more into infusion techniques than forced extraction.
Can you tell us about the specific blend you used for the 2019 vintage?
70% Merlot / 30% Cabernet Franc. The Merlots, on early soils and when we have limited their vigor, gave very tender, very sweet wines, well in the Pomerol style. The Cabernet Francs, always late in maturation, could have suffered from the rains at the end of September (losing density especially in the mid-palate, a sensitive point on this grape). But, the old plants from Clos du Clocher (63 years old) had advanced well in maturity before, and the work we had done to reduce their production (no more than 5 bunches per vine) helped their concentration and health. They were harvested on 5 October and, representing 30% of the final blend, they bring back length in the finish and reinforce the general impression of elegance rather than power demonstration.
Can you describe the 2019 Clos du Clocher at this early stage?
The colour is very intense-purple. The nose offers a beautiful aromatic intensity of black fruits, which is typical of both Clos du Clocher and the vintage. The attack on the palate is tender, with a finesse of tannins that can be found throughout the tasting. The fairly high degree of alcohol (14.5%), equivalent to that of 2018, contributes to this perception. The “Pomerolais” pH (at 3.62, that is to say higher than on the limestones of St-Émilion, for example) reinforces the charm and the roundness in the mouth. The finish is long, rising as we like on this wine, and completes a vintage more of delicacy than of strength. The Cabernet Francs still support this impression of slenderness more than demonstration.
How does 2019 compare to other vintages?
Many points bring the 2019 season close to several fine vintages of recent years: the early degradation of vegetal aromas (as in 2005, 2015, 2018), a moderate but extended water deficit (more than 2018, a little less than 2010 or 2016) involving maturation of polyphenols and fairly high degrees of alcohol, very good concentrations of anthocyanins (2010). The rains at the end of September undoubtedly lowered the level of alcohol and “relaxed” certain musts: there is a clear link to 2016/2018, but less density, demonstration and power.
What are your personal memories of the harvest?
It was the first harvest that my 5-year-old son Paul joined in the harvest under the watchful eye of my father Pierre, who has 59 harvests to his credit! I couldn’t count on them to fill my tanks: they ate more grapes than they actually brought to the cellar!
Read the full report: Bordeaux 2019 A Vintage Preview