A few words from Omri Ram, winemaker at Château Lafleur, on the 2019 vintage.
How would you characterise the 2019 season and the wines it has made?
In terms of growing seasons 2019 has a lot of similarities with 2015 and 2017 – dry and hot throughout the whole year. It is different to the other two great recent vintages, 2016 and 2018, which had very cold and wet starts to the season and then a long warm second half of the year.
2019 however is fresher than 2015 and not as big as 2015. It has a similar concentration of tannins and high level of solids but the wine in 2019 is much more communicative than the 2015 was at this early stage. 2015 is a difficult vintage to taste young but the 2019 although sharing similar characteristics is more open but has the same seriousness, the same depth, creaminess and balance.
There are also similarities to 2018. The second half of the year was almost identical; the only difference being the beginning of the growing season in 2018 was very difficult.
How do you adapt your viticulture to cope with long dry periods like in 2019?
We carry out a surgical operation on the vines, to reduce the risk of transpiration, keeping the vines refreshed. Since the leaves are responsible for the biggest loss of water through transpiration we removed the leaves that were inside the canopy and cut back the secondary shoots.
We also coped with the relative drought by ploughing the fields, opening up the soil to capture as much moisture as possible and not waste any through evaporation. Showers in June helped them retain enough moisture in the grapes.
It rained prior to harvest but many producers are saying that this was actually welcome. Why?
It might not be normal to hear a Bordelais vigneron praying for rain prior to harvest but in 2019 the rain that fell around the equinox (21 September) was welcomed by all. At Château Lafleur, the rain really helped allow the vines to reinvigorate. It takes two to three days for the vines to digest the water, then a few more days to rebuild their aromatic, tannic expression in a perfect state for harvest.
It seems there is still a freshness to the wines despite the hot, dry conditions. Where does it come from?
Despite the drought and relative heat of 2019, there is a distinct freshness to the wines. It is proof that freshness does not just come from acidity but three elements – acidity, aromatic compounds and tannins. It is actually the tannins at Lafleur that create the freshness in the mouth. Aromatic compounds, particularly in the Bouchet grapes [a particular strain of Cabernet Franc ] also provides freshness in the palate with sous bois and fresh tobacco flavours.
How did you make the wines to preserve the freshness and prevent over extraction?
We picked the grapes very early in the morning so the grapes came in cool and allowed the grapes to start fermenting naturally. There was no reason to really extract: the better the ripeness, the easier the best tannins will liberate themselves from the skins.
There are always two extremes in the grapes that require careful extraction – when the grapes come in unripe or very ripe. In both cases, they need to be managed very gently. In a hot vintage like 2019 phenolic accumulation is high and therefore it is very easy to go too far and infusion techniques are preferred. Similarly, in a cool vintage you don’t want to extract the green tannins so extraction again has to be very gentle.
We also choose fermentation tanks based on the ripeness of the parcel. With the ripest plots we use the most narrow of their tanks. This reduces the amount of solids reacting with the juice enabling a gentler infusion. With the best plots in 2019, however, we used the widest taks because when the grapes are perfectly ripe we are happy to expose the contact between the solids and juice to the maximum because the balance is there.
How did you work on this year's blend?
We always blend early at Château Lafleur and the assemblage is very similar most years, typically 50/50 Merlot and Bouchet.
The 2019 Château Lafleur blend is 47% Bouchet, 53% Merlot. Les Pensées de Lafleur is 45% Bouchet and 55% Merlot.
What makes Bordeaux fine wine stand apart from other regions fine wines?
Bordeaux tastes like nothing else. There are few wines in the world that can be powerful, dense, complex as well as having balance, lift and delicacy. The wines can be intense and coherent without ever going to the extremes.
In addition, nothing can age as consistently as Bordeaux. I love tasting wines at seven years but also love how it tastes at 20, 35, 50 years old. The development with age in Bordeaux is extraordinary. There is no other region where such big quantities of wine can be made at such high quality. It is unique in this sense too.
Of course, Bordeaux has made its mistakes – and has too often in the past followed fashion than believe in itself. Pricing mistakes have also damaged its reputation, but the quality is unquestionable. Wine production is also better today than at any other time past. Looking at the great run of vintages in the last decade is incredible: Bordeaux wines have never been better.
Read the full report: Bordeaux 2019 A Vintage Preview