A report on the 2021 harvest in Burgundy and its place on the world market
Burgundy’s most prestigious vineyards and producers, like those in the Côte d’Or, never have a problem selling every bottle they can produce, but the rest of Burgundy – which has a range that runs from Chablis in Beaujolais – must compete with the increasing number of wines each year on the world market. To find out about the 2021 harvest and how things are going in general in Burgundy, I spoke with Frédèric Drouhin, President of the Burgundy Wine Committee (below).
Can you give me a general overview of the 2021 harvest?
The harvest mainly took off throughout Burgundy between September 18 and 20, after a trying year punctuated by difficult climatic events. Crémant de Bourgogne (sparkling wines) started earlier. The very first grapes were picked on September 8, but most growers started on the 10th. Pinot noir grapes were ready earlier than Chardonnay, which is unusual. The chardonnay was delayed after the April frost. It took a few weeks before the vines could resume their vegetative cycle.
Sorting was sometimes necessary and, as almost all estates and traders are very well equipped, this was not a problem. Fermentations started fairly quickly, both for the whites and the reds, proof that the yeast population was quite active. Today the devatting has started and the first tastings are positive.
Has it been a difficult year in other regions of the French vineyard?
Yes. Almost all the wine regions of France suffered from the April frost. Some regions also suffered from rains, sometimes causing powdery mildew, mildew or hail. The French government has said that the total volume of wine in France could drop by 28-32% in 2021, but we don’t know how much will be lost. We will have a first idea in November. We are currently conducting a field survey collecting results from at least 400 producers. On November 21, during the press conference of the Hospices de Beaune auction, we will be able to give a first estimate of our volumes. Final figures will be available in February 2022.
With global warming in the vineyards, can you discern an effect on this year’s harvest?
This year, if we leave aside the consequences of the frost, not really (we had the coolest July in 50 years!). April frosts are quite common in Burgundy. The problem mainly comes from mild winters. There has been a 1 ° C increase in average temperatures since 1987. Various studies suggest that the vines have had an earlier vegetative cycle since 1988. Flowering occurred on average two weeks earlier since that date, compared to the 1961 period. -1987. . This explains why the April freeze is now a risk we need to be aware of. On the other hand, this advance allows us to obtain good maturity each year.
Was there a lack of sun and heat to accumulate sugars?
Indeed, monthly average temperatures and average monthly sunshine were lower than normal, at least from early July to mid-August. Subsequently, the last 2 weeks of August and the first 2 weeks of September were sunny, which made it possible to complete the maturity. This explains why we went back to the traditional 100 day delay between flowering and harvest (last year we were more like 90-92 days). We have reached a normal level of sugars and acidity (lower than in recent years), which can be the case for a typical Burgundy vintage, with a nice freshness.
Is the increase in the alcohol level in Burgundy a concern in the future?
So far, the rise in temperatures has been a plus for Burgundy wines. Burgundy has a cool climate, and, traditionally, we harvested in October, with a low sugar content (chaptalization was then the annual rule). Whatever the grape variety, global warming improves the balance in terms of potential alcohol, acidity, etc. The two main grape varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are now found in wine regions much warmer than ours, and the Burgundy Wine Committee is currently studying the behavior of these grape varieties in other warmer regions. Our objective is to establish to what extent these grape varieties are able to adapt to a changing climate, and thus to anticipate what adaptations might occur. With the 2021 vintage, we are returning to a classic style with a beautiful expression of fruitiness, balance, freshness and low alcohol content.
Can you tell me what is the vocation of the Cave de Prestige des Vins de Bourgogne?
The Cave de Prestige selection is now both a tool and a real showcase for Burgundy wines. First, the selection process is very rigorous: only 12.85% of the samples were selected this year (203 out of 1,580). This rigor is essential. We (the Burgundy Wine Board) will use them for all training, promotion and marketing activities over the next 12 months. These wines are a reminder of how Burgundy has a really wide offer that goes well beyond a few emblematic names. They must represent all the excellence of Burgundy wines, whatever the level of AOC.
The 2021 Chablis Wine Festival is coming soon. Can you tell me about this event?
Since its first edition in 1949, the Fête des Vins de Chablis has continued to evolve, but its success is still based on a single concept: Conviviality! On October 23 and 24, the city center will once again welcome a wide range of events featuring the Chablis vines and more broadly the Grand Auxerrois region. The festival is organized by the Office du Chablis in partnership with the Burgundy Wine Committee.
We are expecting 4,000 to 5,000 visitors. Each of them can buy the dedicated Glass (6 €): then, all the tastings are free. On Saturday, there is the Chablis Marathon; on Sunday morning, there is a walk in the vineyards, with a departure every 15 minutes. If you prefer, there will be a Bourguignon market all over the streets with local produce. About forty producers will present their wines. The list will be available mid-October.
Each must present a “health pass” proving vaccination or Covid free status. Then you can do the walk-in without a mask.
Can you tell me more about the progress of La Cité des Vins and Climats de Bourgogne (above)?
2021 marked the official launch of the three sites of Mâcon, Beaune and Chablis. The content will be gradually enriched with opening dates set for 2022 and 2023. The other major point of 2021 is the definitive definition of the name and the image: it will be known in the world under the name of Cité des Climats and Burgundy wines. The notion of “Climate” now comes first, to remind the world that Burgundy is the place where the notion of terroir has been pushed to its maximum. The three sites of the Cité des vins et des climats de Bourgogne network each have different dimensions and timetables, with work beginning at different times during 2021. It was preceded by the symbolic laying of the first stone in the presence of the organizations. public partners. Regarding content, work is accelerating as the definition of the content and services offered in each location widens: tour, wine-related events, one-off events, shops, wine tips, private rentals, a discovery bar, workshops, tasting courses and training courses the Burgundy Wine School.
How is the world market for high-end wines like the DRC doing?
The Grands Crus represent less than 2% of the total production of Burgundy. They represent the best of what Les Climats can offer. Past vintages have been very good, offering wines that can be drunk early but also have a great aging capacity. The demand for these Grands Crus increases every year and, even if the production does not meet the demand, many merchants and estates try to distribute the Grands Crus to as many markets and customers as possible.
Overall, Burgundy wines are doing very well this year. In the first seven months of 2021, exports are up 24.8% (number of bottles) and 34.3% (turnover). The numbers are even better than in 2019, which had been a great year.
2020 has also been a good year, despite the pandemic. The volume of exported Burgundy wines continued to grow in 2020, close to the equivalent of 90 million 75cl bottles (down 0.3% compared to 2019). Export turnover remains above one billion euros, despite a slight decrease of 0.7% compared to 2019. Nevertheless, in 2021, all AOC groups are doing well. Regarding the top-of-the-range Premier and Grand Cru AOCs, the figures are very good:
• Grand Cru Blanc in AOC Côte de Beaune / Côte de Nuits: up 203.6% in volume and 21.5% in value
• AOC Chablis Premier and Grand Cru: + 76% in volume and + 47% in value
• AOC Grand Cru Rouge in Côte de Nuits / Côte de Beaune: + 38% in volume and + 28% in value