Monday, 25 November 2013

Bordeaux 2013, Harvest Report.

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This is what rot looks like on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. These grapes were harvested, but then rejected during manual sorting at the winery. These were picked at a top wine estate in the Medoc.

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"We lost around 280 hectares out of a total of 300," said Vincent Cruège, a spokesman for André Lurton, who owns Château Bonnet in the Entre-Deux-Mers region. The estate normally produces around 1.5 million bottles of white and one million bottles of red a year.
Quite clearly the 2013 Bordeaux harvest will be a struggle.

 Perhaps a flippant summary for the 2013 harvest would be:

 'Rain, Rain and more Rain'

Stéphane Defraine, president of the Entre-Deux-Mers Winegrowers Union, said hailstorms will cost winegrowers across Bordeaux at least €300 million, or about $400 million, in sales.
The French agriculture ministry projects this year's Bordeaux harvest will be about 4.4 million hectoliters, down 19% from 2012. The small 2013 crop puts wine producers in a difficult spot: low volumes will make it hard to meet global demand, but the weak quality of the grapes will make it tough to compete.

A summary of the 2013 growing season in Bordeaux:

January/ February/ March were very cold and wet.
April had some warm days, but was also very cold.
May was wet and cold. Too much vegetation on the vines (from the wet spring) meant that extra shoots had to be discarded on each vine. Mildew was present.
June was wet during flowering. Caused Millerandage (malformation of bunches)and set for late harvest.
July was hot but with severe rain at the end of the month. Green harvest to expose the fruit and hope for sunshine to ripen the grapes.
August was hot but with hail at the beginning of the month in Entre Deux Mers caused losses equivalent to 78 million bottles.
September was wet and warm and humid. Rain Sept 27-29.
October was wet(3rd and 4th October big rain) and the evenings were extremely humid. The harvest was brought forward by many wine estates as rot was becoming a major issue on unripe grapes. Initially planned to start October 7th, but many picked from October 1st and all weekend. Harvest mainly finished in Medoc by October 16th.
I was at Mouton Rothschild when all the employees were 'invited' to work over the weekend....literally all hands on deck.
The best soils of the Medoc eg the higer plateaux of Pauillac in between Mouton and Lafite had exceptionnally healthy grapes, but they also had the problems with possible rot due to the wet and humid conditions.
It was the most bizarre harvest as mostly the merlots of the Right Bank are harvested a week before the Cabernet Sauvignon of the Medoc. But due to the wet, damp weather grapes were harvested quickly. Some of the merlots were of uneven ripeness and the Cabernet Sauvignons were just OK.

Chaptalisation will take place at most Chateaux in order to bolster the wines.
Yields will be low due to the variable weather and severe selection of the best grapes.
'A year for the best terroir'......a quote during harvest from Paul Pontallier (managing director of Chateau Margaux)
A year for severe selection.......whether hand selected or by the optical sorting machines.

The taste of the is too early to say, but the growing conditions have been extremely challenging. We shall taste some of the post fermented juice over the next few months and we shall see the Primeur sample at the end of March 2014, when we will decide the quality. It would be miraculous if 2013 produces great wines!

Some optimisim from a Decanter article:
'We are looking at a vintage that is somewhere close to 2004 or 2007 in profile, even 2008, which for us was a very succesful year. ' Herve Berland, director of Chateau Montrose in Saint Estephe, told Decanter magazine.

Volume in the Bordeaux region may fall to 543 million bottles ( a drop of 30% from normal production). Smallest grape harvest since 1991.

Also we often overlook the Sauternes and Barsac areas for sweet wine production, when we talk about the Bordeaux harvest. This area thrives on the right kind of rot, but needs perfect climatic conditions.
Unfortunately the rain that pelted down at the end of October has impacted on the quantity, for what was initially looking like an excellent year for Sauternes.

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Botrytis on the grapes at Chateau d'Yquem during the 2013 harvest. Maybe rot is welcome somewhere!!!

In conclusion the best Chateaux, who have the most financial resources to select the best grapes and employ sufficient people in the vineyards and also to have the most high tech equipment should be able to produce some good wines. The interesting fact is that if these climatic conditions took place in the early 1990sor 1970s there would not have been much wine produced at all. Perhaps Monsieur Berland from Chateau Montrose and Monsieur Pontallier have reasons to be optimistic for their wines. The prices will have to be fair for this vintage.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Mouton Rothschild 2011 new label released.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild have just announced that the French man Guy de Rougemont is the latest artist who will feature a piece of work on the 2011 Chateau Mouton Rothschild label.

Guy de Rougemont has already worked with Chateau Mouton Rothschild, as he designed a magnificent colonnade within the building where the original pieces of art are displayed.
Monsieur de Rouhemont is actually an old friend of Baronness Phillipine de Rothschild. They have known each other for over 60 years.
Rougemont frequently uses serpent like characters in his work, he has used his trademark "sinuous, random" undulating shapes, in bright colors ranging from gold to dark red. Mouton Rothschild says the artwork encompasses "the clarity of vines in sunshine to the darkness of the cellars – all the stages of the birth of a great wine."

The wine was bottled in June of this year and most of the wine has all been sold as Futures via the Bordeaux negociants and global imprters. The opening price (ex negociant was €360 per bottle). Robert Parker, the American wine critic awarded the wine 93-96 for the barrel sample, which was perceived as one of the top ranking wines of the 2011 vintage. The current trading price for the wine is approximately £3400-3600 per case, which is about the same as the release price. 2011 was a good vintage in Bordeaux rather than being spectacular. I have tasted the 2011 several times at the Chateau and during the ageing process. This wine will age well and be delicious in 10-15 years time. Whilst following the incredible 2010 vintage it might not be a classic it is certainly a very good quality wine for keeping.
Since 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild has invited artists to offer a piece of art to decorate the wine label. In fact in 1924 Baron Philippe de Rothschild invited Jean Carlu to design a label for the Chateau, but at that time the label was considered to 'avant garde'. Famous artists have been invited to design the label such as Dali, Balthus, John Huston, Chagall, Kandinsky, Warhol and Miro.
The original art work for the labels is now on display at the Chateau and with the re opened wine cellar (since June 2013) and the Museum of Art and Wine, it is certainly worth visiting and tasting at the Chateaux. The two other Pauillac wines in the Pauillac area owned by Baronness Philippine de Rothschild are also worth looking out for: Clerc Milon and d'Armailhac.
Bella Wine Tours regularly visits Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Storms in Bordeaux

The unfortunate scene at Chateau Lafite Rothschild today after heavy storms last night.

The lovely parkland in front of Chateau Pontet Canet after the storm.

Two out of three flag poles have gone at Pontet Canet.

Big tree down at the village of Bages near Pauillac. The electrcity was cut out for most of the day. Hope the wine is OK in the barrel cellar at Chateau Lynch Bages.

There used to be a large tree in front of Chateau there is a small pile of logs.

It is too early to say what the damage has been in the vineyards. There was certainly some hail on the Right Bank nearer St.Emilion, but the Medoc mainly had tree issues. The Bell Tower on Pauillac church was blown away with the ferocity of the wind.
Lets hope for a calm night tonight.
2013 has been a testing growing season.....Cold long winter, wet cold spring, bad weather at flowering (in particular effecting the merlot vines).....and now extreme heat followed by storms. There is still hope for a decent crop if the weather is stable over the next three months.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Chateau d'Yquem theft and flowers

Last week I was lucky enough to visit Chateau d'Yquem with some clients. This stunning Chateau in Sauternes has a remarkable heritage and history dating back over a thousand years. The beautiful wine has been served at Royal housheolds throughout the World for many centuries. This wine is the epitome of a luxury brand. It is now controlled by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, who have an excellent track record for promoting, marketing and selling luxury.
When I visited the Chateau the gardens were in full bloom. The colours and smells were sensational. The bees were very happy.
Unfortunately on Sunday night there was a break in at the Chateau and 384 half bottles of the 2010 vintage were stolen....the approximate market value for these bottles is €100,000.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Bella Wine Tours in the press

'For bespoke vineyard tours, Hamish Wakes-Miller of Bella Wine Tours can open doors to the mighty names of Chateau Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Palmer Cheval Blanc and the like ( He is vastly knowledgeable and great company. ' Country and Town House Magazine, June 2013.

We were extremely proud to be mentioned in an article featuring Bordeaux in the June edition of Country and Town House magazine.
Please click on the link for the full article here.
I met the journalist Laura Ivill last Autumn and she joined one of the Bella Wine Tours trips to a few top quality Chateaux. Laura writes for several publications including the Sunday Times and now she is contributing to Decanter Magazine.

It was lovely to see features on The Grand Hotel in Bordeaux and also the beautiful Les Sources de Caudalie where many of our clients stay whilst they are in Bordeaux.

We have tours and tastings organised throughout the year. We are quoting for business groups in February and March 2014 as well as for the rest of 2013. Please contact me directly at if you are interested in tasting some of the finest wines and having a great experience in Bordeaux.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Wine Investment

The term 'wine investment' has become a more frequent phrase in the last 24 years since I have been in the wine trade. Wine investments are now increasingly popular as other investments have become more diffcult/volatile/risky.
 People work very hard to make wine, then ship wine all around the world to different markets. Inevitably there are many people involved in the process from the vineyard to the dining room table. Agents, importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers all need to make a living and therefore a margin.  These roles are quite clearly defined and even with modern efforts to make wine more competitively priced and the 'direct sales' model advocated by mail order or internet companies, sometimes it can be difficult to actually make a sensible return of profit. Retailers have large overheads and an uncertain economic climate, whilst wholesalers have slimmer margins and the risk of bad debt as restaurants feel the pinch. Fuel, transport, import taxes and foreign exchange fluctuations can seriously erode margins for distributors and wholesalers.
However amongst all the problems for trading wines there have been some significant financial gains to be made in the fine wine market as wine investment. But beware like all investments there are inherent risks and occasionally peaks and troughs to endure. One immediate advantage if you do lose money with your wine investment is that you still have an asset ( even if it is at a reduced value)........and you can drink it!!!
Chateau Ausone has a very small vineyard and is a Premier Grand Cru Classe (A) in Saint Emilion. But is it a good investment?

There is an increasing amount written about wine investment such as this recent article in The Daily Telegraph. It will be interesting to see whether the fine wine market appreciates by 14% in 2013. The signs are certainly looking good at the moment.

Like any investment there are crucial aspects that need to be implemented in order to achieve the best results. One crucial aspect is genuine market advice. Which Chateau is the next big thing?
Which area is surging forward?
Which are the genuine 'good buys'?
What is the provenance of the wine?
What are sound good long term investments rather than short term spikes?

The potential gain can be significant, whilst everyone should enter any investment with their eyes wide open as there could be a  potential loss. However one significant advantage to wine investment is that the investment is a tangible physical asset rather than a paper share certificate. There is always the consolation that the wine can be enjoyed as a drink.....whether the investment improves or not!!

I have a 'wine investment portfolio' that I have mainly kept for personal a few years time I hope to share some good bottles with friends and family. In recent times I have been checking the value of the portfolio as an investment and tracking each month the value. We are riding a wave at the moment with an increase in value of 3.72% between January and February and an increase of 7.92% between January and March. This is an area that I feel I am very well placed to offer genuine advice, as I have good contacts with the Chateaux in Bordeaux via Bella Wine Tours, and I am the commercial agent for a well established negociant in Bordeaux. I should be able to get the right allocations of the right wines!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Is wine good for you?

The immaculate vineuards of Chateau Fonplegade in Saint Emilion.

There have been several articles about wine and health recently in the UK press. With the Chancellor of the Exchequer announcing his financial budget next week, there are bound to be increases in UK taxation. (A bottle of wine is currently taxed at £1.90 plus 20% vat in the UK).
There always seems to be a propaganda agenda for the anti binge drinking brigade just before any budget, as if to sanction the reasoning behind taxing alcohol.
But wine can be extremely good for you. There are anti oxidants and relaxants in alcohol that can act as anti depressants. The taste and flavour of wine can be delicious. Food can be enhanced by interesting wines.
And it is scientifically proven that wine contains resveratrol, an organic chemical believed to have an anti-ageing effect, by boosting activity of a protein called SIRT1.
This interesting recent article in The Daily Telegraph explains a little more about the tests. But I am not sure whether it is a good thing to live to 150 years old!!!
There have been previous articles about the health benefits for wine. But one article explained that for a positive benefit of resveratrol you would in fact need to drink 700 glasses per day, which might counter act any health benefits!!!
Why don't we just enjoy a wonderful natural unadulterated drink such as wine. There are so many flavours styles and tastes to explore. If a glass of wine relaxes you and is also good for you then that is a great side effect. I don't enjoy inept, immoral hypocritical politicians telling us what we should or should not do at the best of times, but taxing alcohol is an easy target for the negative aspects of alcohol related crime and the negative effects of hard/distilled alcohol.

Monday, 21 January 2013

2013 Bella Wine Tours

A belated Happy New Year to everyone. ....I am not sure when it is still respectable to wish 'Happy New Year'!
The majestic Chateau Marguax on a sunny day last summer.

The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 have been extremely busy on the work front. Bella Wine Tours has received many requests for wine tours in Bordeaux for this year. As we reply to each and every customer individually and try to listen to their requests it does take quite some time to organise tailor made wine tours. But we are determined to maintain top standards, so that we can build a strong business renowned for quality and service. We have enjoyed some very pleasant reviews from Trip Advisor.
A few comments from guests in 2012:

 'Hamish is the perfect guide to help you explore Bordeaux' amazing Chateaux. Hamish opened doors to Chateaux that were off the tourist path and even arranged for us to spend the night at one.'

 'What a tremendous experience we had with Hamish over a two-day period of Chateau tours and tastes. Hamish (your guide) will bestow an enormous amount of wine knowledge on your during your tours with him.

From the start he was quick to respond to our very last minute request for tours and quickly put together a stellar itinerary for my wife and me. We spent two full days with Hamish starting in the mornings, a unique lunch each day followed by more tours and tastings in the afternoon. Each Chateau clearly had a mutual respect for Hamish and we felt very welcome at each one we visited.

Hamish's knowledge of wine far exceeds any tour we have ever been on...and we have toured 7 different wine regions in addition to Bordeaux. You will walk away with an understanding of the region that is one of the most difficult to understand. As a plus for us...he speaks English and French with English being his primary language making the tour very easy to follow.

Hamish was also quick to help us book the hotel, dinners, etc! Overall a wonderful wine experience in Bordeaux that we would highly recommend to all!'

The delightful Violaine explaining biodynamics in the vineyards at Chateau Pontet Canet in Pauillac.

So what are the plans for 2013? We will be responding to enquiries on an individual basis. We will make the visit to Bordeaux a memorable experience. We are aware that many people want to have a genuine experience rather than a top 'white tablecloth' dining experience, therefore we will arrange more winemaker dinners and find more rustic, rural and charming restaurants.
We will also be organising some group tours to some of the First Growth estates. These wine tours will be top quality and run over 4 days. These are planned for May, June, September and October. Please email for more information.