On the Trail

The Reality of Burgundy's 2016 Vintage

David Driscoll

While we had nothing but spectacular weather last week in Burgundy, there was a little trepidation by many of the growers about the early Spring. A warm March can lead to early bud break on the vines before the chill of winter has left for good, which can cause havoc in the vineyards down the line. An example? The 2016 vintage. From Chablis all the way down to Beaujolais, growers were plagued by severe frost or extreme hail, or in some cases a whole lot of both. We talked with producers every single day who lost anywhere between 40% and 80% of their entire crop, either because the buds were frozen and destroyed by the cold, or the grapes were battered and busted open by hail stones the size of golf balls. Winemakers eliminated some expressions entirely from their portfolios. They blended parcels together and declassified certain vineyards from their significantly higher status. The weather didn't completely wipe out the vintage in Burgundy, but it tried to.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. The grapes that didn't get decimated by frost or hail hung on to produce quite lovely wines. In a number of cases, the lower yields produced concentrated and flavorful grapes that resulted in top quality cuvées, but just very small amounts. We tasted vibrant whites and seductive reds still in tank and in barrel as we moved from cellar to cellar through the Côte d'Or. There will still be a number of great wines from the 2016 vintage; that won't be an issue. The issue is going to be tracking down enough bottles to sustain you until the 2017s are released. Of course, there's a solution to that dilemma: buy as much 2014 and 2015 as you can afford and stock up. That's what I'm planning to do later today. The 2014 whites will stay fresh in your cellar for the next few years, while the village-level reds should soften up soon. The 2015s you can drink now or hold. There's plenty of wine for all of us right now. We just need to budget and ration our supplies.

You've got a head start. Make sure you use it!

-David Driscoll