Autumn means the return to the vineyards of Burgundy and earlier in September on a whistle stop tour, we met with growers and producers once their most recent harvest had been completed to taste the 2021 vintage. Gregory Swartberg, CEO of Cru Wines reports on a classic vintage, with fresh and energetic wines, but with tiny yields.
The 2021 growing season, as we know, was challenging for French winemakers. Established Burgundian vignerons, who learned valuable lessons from the 2016 and 2017 vintages, especially stood in good stead when it came to tackling this trying year.
After a warm, rainy winter, temperatures rose at the end of March triggering the start of budbreak and growth. This early vine growth is susceptible to the elements and unfortunately the elements took a turn for the worse. Temperatures nosedived in early April, going as low as -7ᵒc in some areas, turning almost all attempts of frost prevention futile as its icy grip caused havoc and caused widespread damage to the budding vines, particularly to Chardonnay.
Warmer temperatures in June helped to trigger faster growth and flowering occurred on time, but then another plot twist occurred in the shape of sporadic hail in the region.
The vignerons kept themselves busy in the vines over the summer period, coaxing the stressed vines back on track and staying vigilant to keep any rot and disease at bay during the cooler summer months. The grapes ripened slowly, leading to those pure and crisp aromas, and were helped along by the warmer and drier weather which arrived in August. Growers starting to harvest in mid-September, with most completing before the end of the month.
A first look
On our trip I was lucky to taste several reds and whites from barrel with a handful of producers to get an initial feel of the vintage. I honestly was blown away with the quality of the wines I was able to sample and have renewed excitement for the upcoming en primeur campaign. Despite clearing more hurdles than an Olympian would care for, producers have made some stunning wines in 2021 that absolutely will deserve a spot in your cellar.
The wines were fresh and approachable, with good acidity levels and I was incredibly impressed by the purity and expression of terroir that was on show. This seems to be a vintage that you’ll be able to enjoy from the off, and one that will give immense pleasure to lovers of classic Burgundies.
Feedback from the producers we visited mentioned that although 2021 was a hands-on season for their teams with much smaller yields, they are very pleased with the wine that’s been produced, back to their favoured “classic Burgundy”. I can certainly agree that the quality of the wines I tasted certainly makes up for the minuscule production values.
Our full verdict of the vintage will come early in 2023 once we’ve tasted more widely, but what is certain is that this will be a winemaker’s vintage, and heterogenous across the region. The quality will vary and we’ll be choosing wines carefully for our clients. Yields are historically low across the region, generally reduced by 60-70%, so allocations of the most desirable labels may be tricky to get your hands on, but the wine produced is classic in style and the best will exceed expectations.
The silver lining comes in the form of a highly encouraging 2022 vintage, with much higher yields which producers think will help to moderate the price increase of the 2021 vintage.