Without a doubt, this 2020 vintage will remain etched in our memories. It’s an early-ripening one and I can already anticipate the quality.
Never in my career have I harvested this early. We began on the 19th August with the Sauvignon Blancs of “Ferbos” and ended the white harvest on the 3rd September with the Sémillons of “Haut Gardère”. We needed 9 days to harvest our 80,000 white vines in optimal conditions, carefully and precisely choosing the right moment to pick each plot.
At the start of August, we realised during our first ripeness tests that acidity levels were dropping off quickly. Those who know me well know that this parameter is one that I judge to be extremely important for the whites, but also for the reds. I believe that the freshness and tension of our wines is what defines the finest bottles of Old World wines, Bordeaux, and dare I say it, FIEUZAL.
As is the case each year, grapes are harvested by hand and transferred to the pneumatic press using small baskets to preserve the bunches and avoid any oxidation. The pressing is a key process for the quality of our future wines and, aside from selecting the appropriate pressing program depending on the quality of the fruit each vintage (duration, pressure increase, time at high pressure…), we have put in place a very precise juice selection process to further increase the ‘colour palette’ during blending of our Abeille de FIEUZAL and FIEUZAL whites.
As a native of Champagne, I consider the pressing process to be crucial to the future quality of our white wines.
A brief aside: I am constantly questioning myself and what I have learnt, which I appreciate can be ‘exhausting’ for my colleagues. Since I arrived in Bordeaux, people have always been talking to me about skin-contact maceration, a technique that goes against what I’ve been taught. I have tried it this year and for this particular vintage I’ve not been convinced by it. The process might have a positive effect on the aromas of the wine but I strongly doubt that it helps the overall balance of the wines and their acidity, which is lowered due to the extraction of potassium from the skins.
Once the juice has been pressed it is immediately protected by a cloud of CO2 to prevent oxidation, which is harmful to the aromas and colour. Try leaving any fruit juice on your windowsill for a few days and you will see oxygen’s effect on it.
Next is the clarification process, which takes place at low temperatures in small stainless steel vats. The purpose of this is to allow the particulates of ‘lees’ in the juice to settle at the bottom of the vat. This year, the quality of the juice allowed for the process to be light and we have put the wines in barrel with relatively high levels of turbidity, at around 300 NTU or even greater. It’s like being in the kitchen!
As I write, some fermentations have finished and the wines are being stirred with their fermented lees to make the most of the high quality of these solid particulates. We will soon be tasting the whites and I’ll write again to let you know how they are coming along.
We began harvesting the reds on the 8th September, about 10 days earlier than in previous years. We started with the Merlot plots from the “Bouges” area and “La Petite Sibérie”, and we finished harvesting them last Wednesday 16th September. They are superb, since (I think I can now say it with real assurance) I have managed to preserve their freshness…. Freshness, freshness and more freshness.
Harvesting took place in perfect weather conditions with cool nights from the 11th September that will have helped to round off the tannins.
We will start again with the Cabernets on the 23rd September and hope to finish by the 1st October. I’m telling you… It’s a historic vintage.
Stephen Carrier, Winemaker