The incredible freshness of Bourgogne 2020 results from better management of the vineyard

In the wake of a trio of warmer vintages, Burgundy winemakers are better at managing warmer vintages and have managed to harvest an “incredibly fresh” 2020, according to Burgundy experts.

Burgundy’s Côte d’Or

Catherine Petrie MW, Burgundy expert and buyer at Lay and Wheeler, toldhe drinks business that there has been progress in how producers in the region are handling warmer vintages, which is evident in the recent release of the excellent 2020 vintage.

“Viticulturists are producing wines with more verve and freshness despite the heat of the year,” Petrie said. “The 2020 vintage ten years ago would have been a very different set of wines.”

There is, she says, an increasingly light touch in terms of the handling of the fruit which is impacting the way the wines have been presented, and there has been greater attention to the health of the wines, as well only to better management of the vineyard.

It points to higher canopy formation, which requires a lot of vineyard management and labor, as well as reduced leaf picking.

“I think they avoided that in 2020 because they were so suspicious of the previous two hot vintages,” she says.

Corney and Barrow fine wine buyer Guy Seddon noted that with the 2020 vintage, “from time to time you have to keep an eye on the tannins and alcohol levels in the wines”, but said agreed that “overall” there was a better knowledge of how to handle Pinot Noir sensitively in warmer vintages.

Incredible freshness

The 2020 Burgundy vintages have been rightly praised for their “incredible freshness”. Giving his overview of the vintage, Petrie said that while it was likely to be considered the third in a trio of hot vintages, “what sets 2020 apart is its acidity and ability to age.”

This was evident in both red and white wines, she said, noting it was a “fantastic” vintage for both colors.

“The whites shone really nicely fresh, and they were even, too,” she said. “For whites, it’s such a good vintage that you can’t go wrong, whether you’re buying from Chablis to Côte de D’Or to Côte Challonnaise and Macon.”

The reds were more varied than in 2019, she argued, “but where they’re good, they really stand out because of the incredible acidity.”

The freshness means the wines will be able to age for a long time – although Petrie noted that the reds probably needed longer than the previous vintage before drinking.

“But where you find the highlights in the reds, you won’t find better wines,” she said.

Speaking on a recent vintage zoom call, Corney and Barrow fine wine buyer Guy Seddon said the 2020 continued the “intensity, power and initial beauty” of the 2019s, but noted a “simplicity” about them, as well as freshness.

“The 2020 is ripe for aging and will need time in bottle to show its colors,” he said.

Petrie’s particular strengths among reds were in Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-St-Georges and Pommard in the Côte de Beaune, she said, thanks in part to the producer Lay & Wheeler works with in those villages. . However, she also noted the high clay content of the soils around these villages, which withstood the below-average rainfall better.

“It was a very hot summer, so there was a lot of water stress in Burgundy in 2020 and the soils in these villages helped the vines a lot. Villages with more calcareous soil were where we saw the most water stress,” she noted.

Vintage conditions

The hot spring of 2020 meant early bud break followed by a hot summer, so the fruit was very ripe quite early, causing many growers to pick in late August.

Seddon argued that although the harvest was even earlier than in 2003, the length of the vintage itself was still the classic 100 days, down from just 85 in 2003. “So it’s a traditional growing season, she just moved on,” he said. .

He noted that high summer stress meant plots ripened at different rates, which meant growers had to track maturity plot by plot.

Petrie said the high acidity after such a hot summer with around 50-60% less rainfall than normal surprised many growers, as all the characteristics were for a warm vineyard with ripe fruit, full phenolic maturity and abundant tannins in the reds. .

Various reasons have been given for this, including noting the relatively low levels of potassium in the stems of the vines (potassium helps tartaric acid to precipitate, so there was less precipitation). Seddon highlighted the consistency of summer heat, with none of the heat spikes seen in 2019, and there was plenty of daytime variation, keeping things cool.

He also argued that the coolness of last summer could have had a ripple effect on the aging of the wines.

“I think you can see that more than anything in the red – the true flavor of Pinot Noir might have something to do with the cellars being very cool in the summer of 2021,” he said.

Rebecca Palmer, commercial purchasing manager at Corney & Barrow, also pointed to the “unprecedented” reservations of the vines themselves.

“The genesis of the 20s is in the 19s and I don’t think we could have gotten the result that we had with the 20s without the carbohydrate load, the reserves in the vines from the previous year”, she said.

However, 202o promises to be the last of the hot vintages for now, after the

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