Pretty much every time we’ve written about Burgundy in the past five years, we’ve had to tell you about another round of terrible weather and limited yields. Between 2010 and 2013, the average Burgundy producer saw yields down 20-35% (higher in Pommard and Volnay) – essentially, growers have lost at least one full harvest over the past four years.
The news in 2014 was exciting – fine weather, fine yields, and very, very fine wines. After seeing Burgundy prices moving up 10-25% annually, the large and excellent 2014 vintage promised some relief for the market and financial recovery for growers. We’ll see those wines start to arrive soon and should have some choice selections for you over the next few months.
A Short 2015
The 2015 vintage was a “back to the future” experience. On the plus side: it’s an indisputably great vintage, with many experts calling it a cross between 2009 (wonderful richness) and 2010 (impeccable balance, fantastic purity, and ageworthy structures). On the down side, it’s yet another short crop as bad weather during flowering plus a hot dry spell in summer driving down yields 20-30+%.
Given the early praise for the 2015s, continued strong Asian demand, and vignerons’ need to make up for small harvests since 2010, we’ve known for a while that prices will take a jump. Events of the past six weeks will ensure that the “jump” will be more like an “explosion.”
An Epically Bad 2016 – Frost, Floods, Hail …
Between April 24 and 26, clear skies and plummeting temperatures created severe frost conditions from Champagne through Chablis, Burgundy, west to the Loire, and even as far south as Austria. Nearly half of Burgundy vineyards suffered damage, including higher elevation sites like Chevelier-Montrachet that are normally spared. Within affected sites, losses for the 2016 vintage range from 30% to 100%. The frost was so severe that it may have actually killed thousands of vines – the long-term impact won’t be known until growth starts next spring.
Then in mid-May huge storms pounded all of France, leading to the floods in Paris you’ve seen on TV and in the papers. In Burgundy, flooding further damaged some low-lying vineyards. But a severe hail storm on Friday, the 13th of May was the real back-breaker. Damage was scattered across the region, including in the Cote d’Or, but was worst in Chablis, Beaujolais, and Cognac. In Chablis, hail damage looks to have cut 2016 yields by another 10-20% – again, before accounting for damage that won’t be felt until 2017.
… Means Now’s The Time to Buy
What does all this mean for you? Simply put, if you hope to buy fine Burgundy anytime in the next three years or so, then you should do it this year. Prices on the 2014s were largely set 6-9 months ago, and while almost all are up a bit, the increases are still manageable.
Prices for 2015s were already likely to go up 10-20% based on the quality of the vintage and growers need to make up losses on earlier short crops. Now many estates face the prospect of having half as much 2016 to sell as they’d hoped and some may not have any wine at all. Both to offset 2016’s losses and ensure there is wine in the cellar to offer long-time private clients, winemakers will have no choice but to increase 2015 prices to historic levels.
Perhaps we’ll get lucky and early estimates of frost and hail losses will prove too high and conditions will come together for great and plentiful harvests in 2017 and beyond. Well worth hoping, but not a scenario Burgundy lovers should bet on.