VINTAGE REPORT FROM JOHN GILMAN (View From the Cellar)
The first of the 2016s are also starting to appear at this time and I have included plenty of notes from this far more classically-inclined vintage in this report as well. The more I taste wines from 2016, the more I am convinced that this is an absolutely exceptional vintage in the region, and I am starting to wonder if the best of this vintage will eventually eclipse the riper, but less classically styled wines of 2015. In fact, at this point, 2016 at its best may well be my favorite Beaujolais vintage since the brilliant 2011s. But, this is another heterogeneous year for Beaujolais, as severe hail damage was epic in certain communes and in some climats, the crop was all but wiped out completely. The spring of 2016 was early out of the blocks, but cool and damp weather came soon on the heels of the early warmth, putting the growing season a bit behind schedule by the start of May. The first depredation of the vintage arrived soon thereafter, as significant frost damage at the outset of May was extensive in some vineyards, causing serious worries for the potential size of the crop in the affected vineyards. The frost damage was only the first concern for vignerons hit by the frost, as soon thereafter severe hail cut a swathe through the northern end of Beaujolais at the tail-end of May, with Chiroubles in particular hammered by this first, brutal round of hail. Sadly, this would not be the last hail storm, for on the evening of Friday, June 24th, yet another bruising round of hail swept through this same northern section of Beaujolais, with Fleurie the epicenter of the second hailstorm (reported crop losses were over seventy percent in this Cru), with Moulin-à-Vent and northern parts of Morgon also receiving quite a bit of damage from round two and Chiroubles again hit (as if vineyards here had not received enough damage the first time around). The second storm also was accompanied by whipping winds and sheets of heavy rain, with the following weeks’ weather warm, rainy and humid, which sparked outbreaks of powdery mildew that further threatened bunches still remaining on the vines. Almost as quick as vignerons could get out in the muddy vineyards and apply treatments against the mildew, rains would wash these away and make necessary yet another trip out into the vines. For those affected, the last weeks of June were a trip through Dante’s Inferno.
Happily, Mother Nature relented a bit after the mid-summer weather battles of 2016 and August and September in particular were glorious for the remaining bunches, so that a later than normal harvest was brought in under absolutely ideal conditions. Where the crop was abundant (in Crus further south, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly had been spared from the hail, and to the north, St. Amour and Juliénas were also outside the path of the two hailstorms and had been spared as well), the grapes came in looking very good indeed. In the southern half of the region, where there are no Crus, but plenty of fine vineyards for producing Beaujolais-Villages, there was no hail in May or June and the crop load was quite correct and of excellent quality. During the good fin de saison weather, skies were sunny, temperatures warm, but not too hot, and evenings stayed cool, allowing acids to remain at good levels and the resulting wines have a very appealing, crunchy freshness to them from the combination of excellent sugar levels and beautifully-retained acids. So, the biggest problem with the 2016 vintage in Beaujolais is going to be yields in the Cru villages that were pummeled by the hail in May and June, which caused some vignerons in these communes to go out and get négociant licenses for the first time and buy grapes, so that they could produce a reasonable amount of wine in 2016. For example, the Dutraive family who owns Domaine de la Grand Cour in Fleurie lost more than ninety percent of their production in that commune, but were able to purchase grapes from a friend in Chénas and have made a couple of superb bottlings from that commune to give them some wine to sell in 2016.
However, beyond the very catastrophic impact on yields for those in the path of the two hailstorms, the producers lucky enough to be spared from the storms produced very good, “correct” yields, and this will allow productions levels for the Beaujolais in general to be at least reasonable in 2016. And where there were bunches to pick in 2016, it was very, very high quality fruit and the resulting wines have an energy, sappiness and bounce to them that is really exciting. These are not the larger than life styles of Beaujolais found in many portfolios in 2015, but quite classic and zesty wines, cut somewhat along the lines of the very traditional 2014s, but with more depth, more sheen, superior sappiness at the core and greater generosity and length on the backend of the palate. The best 2016s that I have tasted so far are really, really good! Within the happier news of high quality wines in 2016 in Beaujolais, which somewhat offsets the severe crop shortage in the villages affected by the hail in May and June, is the cautionary fact that hail has once again decimated the crop in the same band of Cru villages in 2017 and it is still too early to tell if some of these vines (many of which are quite old), pummeled now two years in a row by severe hail, will be able to survive on into 2018, or will they have to be replanted? For fans of Beaujolais, it will make sense to buy more wines for the cellar now than what you might typically go through in a year, as one may not have the same wide array of tasty options on the market a year down the road as we have today, for besides the best of the later-released 2015s and the newly-arriving 2016s, there remain some excellent wines still in the market from 2014 and even the ripely tannic and exceptional 2011 vintage can still be found on some shelves. So, stock up while you can, as next year the Beaujolais market may seem a lot leaner than it does at the present time! So, there is an awful lot of very ageworthy Beaujolais on the market (the best 2016s are going to be very long-lived wines and may well compete with the top 2015s for longevity!) and this is a very, very good time for stocking the Beaujolais corner of the cellar.