Driving through Burgundy last week, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the beauty of the vines. Everything was so lush, and green, it just radiated health and vibrancy. The color of the vines was almost spring-like. No yellow, brown or red as can be common this time of year, right before harvest.
No, this vintage is something else. The healthiest, most beautiful vines I have seen in the 5 years I have been visiting Burgundy before and during harvest.
Tasting grapes before the harvest teaches you a lot. The growers do it to decide when to harvest. We do it to understand the vintage. What are we looking for? Ripeness of skins (are the skins thick? Think? Bitter? Sweet? Tannic? Pink? Red? Blue? Black), ripeness of pips (are they proportionally big? Small? still green? or turning brown?), and most importantly COMPLEXITY of flavor (simply does the juice taste good?).
On August 28, 2009 Frederic Magnien took us to see ripening Pinot Noir in cote de Nuits. We drove up through the village of Morey St Denis, following Fred’s 4 x 4 off of the paved road and onto a vineyard road. A few seconds later, the rental car scraped the ground. We decided to walk the rest of the way. The ground we walk on seems ideal. Not parched, nor damp.
The parcel of Chaffots is one of the flagships of the Michel Magnien estate, surrounded on 3 sides (North South and East) by Clos St Denis (grand Cru). He de-leafed on one side in July (the northern side). This allows wind to keep things dry and sun to have even more direct access to the grapes.
What can we see in this photo?
The leaves are still vigorous and very green. The bunches of grapes are evenly spaced out, well aerated, making it more difficult for rot to set in (I did not see any rot at all in this vineyard). The yield appears regular and not excessive. The health of this vineyard is especially amazing considering that it was hailed upon earlier in July. (Hail that early on in the season is usually not detrimental to the quality, but rather lowers the quantity.)
I thought the grapes already taste really good. The pips were almost fully ripe and the skins, though still a bit tough did not seem bitter or invasive. The juice was sweet and flavorful. Fred thought that they are not yet ripe enough. ‘Skins are essential,’ he said, ‘I’m going to wait until they are ripe. I’ll probably harvest this around the 18th of September. Phenolic maturity needs some more sun.’