LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades
for Bordeaux Vintages
|LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades |
for Bordeaux Vintages by ©LeDomduVin 2019
The "Theory of the decades" or "Theory of the vintages" in Bordeaux, is a theory I have developed over the last 3 decades, resulting from the studying of the recurring "pattern" or "cycle" of the vintage's quality and conditions (for Bordeaux wines) that seems to come back nearly every decade, in very similar ways.
For example, since the 1940s, and despite a few rare exceptions, (like 1961 and 1947 for some appellations), the vintages ending in "1" and "7", in Bordeaux, have always been "fair to mediocre", (…we will see what will happen with the 2021 vintage and maybe verify this theory once again). While the vintages ending in "5" (e.g. 1945, 55, 75, 85, 95, 2005, 2015) have always been "good to great" to even "best", one decade after another. And, even those ending in "6" and "8" have always been very consistent as being "good to great" in the last 50 years.
So, why Bordeaux? Because, it is where I was born, where I grow up, where my grandfather was making wines and where he first developed the idea of this theory, that I continued to develop based on his findings and observations, then in turn mine by reading many books, and tasting wines of course and developing an interest for what seemed to me an obvious "recurring or cycled pattern" in the weather conditions and vintage's quality in the region of Bordeaux.
I only apply this theory as a whole to the Bordeaux region, as of course, if you study, case by case, each vintage of each Bordeaux appellations, and/or even each Chateau/producer, you will find lots of differences and many exceptions. Like for anything else, the more you get into details, the more complicated it will be, and thus to prove this theory.
Never the less, that is why this theory is interesting and verifiable, as it is not uncommon for the Bordelais to compare the similarities of certain vintages, and, more often than none, to vintages ending with the same number. However if you ask them if this could constitute a theory, they will always frown and disagree.
The Bordelais reaction is a simple human reaction to think that nothing is or should ever be the same or similar, and patterns or cycles have more to do with hazard or coincidence than facts.... It is perfectly understandable, more especially knowing the consequences and repercussions a bad vintage can have, so, it is normal that Chateaux' owners and producers don't want "a repeat" a decade later. Better leave bad memories to the past.
Yet, pretty much everything surrounding us evolves and revolves due to recurring patterns and cycles (e.g. earth, the moon, the waves, the current in the seas and oceans, animals behaviors, seasons, etc., etc...). You see what I 'm getting at.
So, why not applying the same theory to vintages? Like a recurring pattern or cycle every decade? It might even help the "vignerons" to be better prepared somewhat... (unless climate changes completely change the pattern in the next 10 to 20 up and coming vintages).
However, you may agree or disagree, or even not care at all, yet, let me still try to introduce you to my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages.
1. Is there a reliable theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages?
During a conversation with a wine critic (or I could say a "colleague", at the time, as we were both working for the same company), Jeannie Cho Lee
(*), while attending the 2012 Super Nations Cup Polo Tournament
(**) at Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club
(surely one of, if not "The" best Polo Club tournament in mainland China, read about it here
), I briefly started to talk about an old idea of mine, about my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages, as I thought it was an interesting subject to discuss with a Master of Wine and to have her opinion on the subject, but, I was then immediately reminded to keeping it light (prior rapidly moving to another subject), as boredom started to materialize in her facial expression.
Funny enough, every time I tried to defend my theory with producers, winemakers, Négociants, wine journalists or even wine critics for that matter, they usually were either not interested to discuss the subject (granted, it does not make for a passionate debate....) or they were totally against it, as for most of them, we can't generalize to a whole region, and it is too vast of a controversial subject to be reduced to a simple table (like the one in my illustration above).
And, I would definitely agree, Bordeaux as a region cannot be taken as a whole and thus the quality of the vintages cannot and should not be generalized to the whole region, but by appellation (at least). And we cannot even say that Bordeaux is only 2 banks: Left and Right, as I already firmly expressed myself on the subject on a previous post (read it here
). Yet, I did generalize it for this theory, I admit it, but it was for the purpose of simplifying a terribly complicated subject and making it more accessible to everyone.
And, about my illustration above, it somewhat summarizes my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages based on my analysis and the combination of results (average and trends) from various vintage charts of both banks from long-established wine specialized sources (e.g. Robert Parker
, Wine Spectator
, Berry Brothers
, Wine Enthusiast
, etc...). And looking at it, you have to admit that there is somewhat of a "pattern" or "cycle" of the vintage's quality per decade. Do you see it? It is obvious to me, but maybe it is only me, maybe it is not that obvious to you.
In any case, personally, I really do believe that there is a pattern, some sort of a law of the decades in Bordeaux, like a vintage quality cycle, which, somehow, repeats itself decade after decade, no matter what...
Climate change, global warming, pollution of the air, water and ground, as well as (on a more positive note) better and more accurate technology, better and more natural practices in the vineyard and at the cellar (Organic, Biodynamic, Natural, Lutte Raisonnée, Sustainable farming, etc...) may probably change this vintage quality pattern over the next decade (2020-2029) or two. However, when you look at my illustration, even the sceptic that you are can see what I mean. Look at the table above again, and you'll see.
So, is my theory reliable? Well, "reliable" may not be the right word, but it might prove to be correct as it sure does seem rather peculiar to have a "similar" repetition of the superior quality of certain vintages ("years" if you prefer) decade after decade, isn't it?
|The bottle of wine and the weather by ©LeDomduVin 2019|
2. My Late Grandfather and the origin of this theory
This theory came from my late grandfather. He was the one who first enlightened me about it, when I was still a young boy, (growing up in the countryside in the middle of a sea of vineyards surrounding, both, my mother's and my grandfather's house), learning about the force of Mother Nature while accompanying him in his vineyard and his vegetable garden enclosed with fruit trees.
Having lived all of his life in the countryside and being a local winemaker from the Côtes de Bourg, spending most of his time outside in his garden, where mingled a “potager”, an orchard and a vineyard, he knew of and had a savvy understanding of the old ways about Mother Nature’s signs to anticipate the weather conditions, as well as the growing cycle of the vines and, to a certain extent, the quality of the up-and-coming vintage as early as early spring.
He just had to look at the sky, observe the environment of the vines, the flora and fauna surrounding them (trees, plants, flowers, herbs, insects, mammals, birds, etc… ) and also refer to the cycle of the moon and the sun, to anticipate what will happen. Basically, like most people of the older generations, he still had the instinct (senses and behaviors), as well as the knowledge and the experience to comprehend Mother Nature's signs. The reading of these natural things, that my generation has nearly already forgotten, was his daily routine. And it always amazed me to see him in action.
Eyes doubtfully scrutinizing either at the blue or the clouds in the sky, depending on the weather of the day, grasping Mother Nature's signs, I remember him well saying some classic French old timer's vine and wine-related proverbs and quotes (***), such as:
The auspicious ones:
- "Lendemain de Saint-Vincent ensoleillé, rend le vigneron joyeux dans son cellier." (meaning "Sunny the day after Saint-Vincent day, makes the winemaker happy in his cellar" - Saint-vincent is usually celebrated January 22nd)
- "Soleil à la Saint-Vincent, - Le vigneron s'en va en chantant." (meaning "Sun at St. Vincent, - the winemaker goes away singing.")
And the inauspicious ones:
- "Pluie à la Saint-Bernardin, - Vigneron pleure ton vin." (meaning "Rain at Saint-Bernardin, - winegrower cries your wine." - Saint-Bernardin is usually celebrated May 20th)
- "Gelée de Saint-Fructueux - Rend le vigneron malheureux." (meaning "Frost of Saint-Fructueux - Makes the winemaker unhappy." - Saint-Fructueux is usually celebrated April 16th)
He knew so much about the various natural cycles and signs of Mother Nature, that he could almost anticipate the results and consequences the weather will generate on the vine's life cycle, like if it was snowing, frosting, hailing or raining prior or after this day or this day (meaning prior or after this date or that date), then this or that will happen.
He was like an encyclopedia of knowledge. The vineyard was his life, but he also knew a lot about all sort of food and animals, and also had amazing recipes that I wished I could have written in a book as they were so good, yet well guarded in his mind as he rarely wrote them down. It was all about using your brain and memory and pay attention to all things in general in life, being open-minded and curious and willing to learn more. Savvy? Things that my generation X and the following one, Y, the Millenials, are not doing anymore...
|The Evolution of Education over the last 30 years Mathematics by ©LeDomduVin 2019|
(Inspired by and translated from a picture found on and courtesy of www.apprendre-en-ligne.net)
3. The rise of the Machines or How Humans became stupid and brainless
Memory is (or "was" should I say) a thing of the old and wise from previous generations. My generation "X" (1965-1979) and the generation "Y" (Millenial - 1980-1994), (and don't even get me started on my kids generations, "Z" (1995-2010 or 2012) for my boy and "Alpha" (roughly 2010-2025) for my girl), don't have any memory anymore, as we rely too much on computers, tablets, smartphones, and other gadgets to remember things for us. Consequently, and sadly, we barely use our neurones and our brain's potential anymore.... (sigh).
Therefore, Baby-boomers and Generation "X" (understand Pre-Millenial for those who might not know or understand the concept...), I have a few questions for you.....
- Do you remember the time when we had to memorize first and last names, birth dates, home and/or work addresses, phone numbers, and other things about people in our immediate surroundings, family and friends, but also colleagues and coworkers, etc... Remember? We used to know these things by heart... But who does that nowadays? No one... Your phone does it for you...
- Do you remember these long opinionated discussions and debates after a movie or even about a book or an exhibition or an event or god knows whatever else you used to be excited and passionate about?... Remember?... Who does that nowadays? Barely no one... Now instead, you only talk about it for less than a few minutes and the interest has already shifted to the next thing... No more long conversation around a drink or two or not even dinner after the movie or the show to talk about it... You just go back to your social networks and posts with selfies and pictures of yourself in weird situations on which you struck a pose that has nothing to do with you or your everyday natural self... giving yourself and more especially others the illusion of a supposedly exiting life that in reality is far from reaching any kind of excitement.... rings the bell?
- Do you remember the quality time and special moments spent with your family and friends, or even with your kids, walking around, on a stroll somewhere, riding bikes or playing ball games, being outside, breathing the air, having a BBQ, smiling, laughing, sharing, enjoying these precious moments and the scenery (fixed in your brain as an unforgettable memory) without the distraction of your phone coming to life at each notification of all your social network accounts?... Remember?... I bet you don't.... as you are already too used to the bad habits you took with your smartphone over the last 15 years... too bad, these were precious personal moments that you forgot and probably won't relive ever... (if you don't let go at your phone and other gadgets).
- Do you remember taking the time just to take the time?... to do something that pleased you... whatever that was... read a book, listen to some music, write, draw, paint, repair small things in the house, fix the old bike or the car in the garage, go for a jog, walk on the beach or in the forest, play with your kids, look at the cloud's shapes, gardening.... feel free.... not being rushed by always having something to do for someone else or being reachable everywhere... Do you remember? Personally, I do, and I loved it...
We do not know anymore how to listen, watch and learn from what surrounds us and more especially from Mother Nature. The trend is to rely on the machines and artificial intelligence (AI) to do things faster and supposedly more efficiently, to obtain sterile results often lacking in depth and/or details and often excluding the needed and unavoidable natural and human factors.
Everything nowadays goes way too fast to satisfy the need for immediate results and instant gratification creating an ephemeral moment of personal satisfaction, which is nothing more than an illusion, usually evaporating seconds later, as the interest as already shifted to something else supposedly even more interesting.... (sigh)...
I see it already with my kids (they are great kids and I love them both), but despite my wife and I efforts to teach them and provide them with good morals, values, manners, social behaviours, and overall a good education at all levels (at home and at school), we can only and desperately witness how fast things go, interact and influence them in their daily behaviours: lack of focus, lack of attention, change of moods, impatience, attitudes, answering back, believing they have rights for everything, and so on, and so on.... (you know what I'm trying to say... yet I still and will love them no matter what..... and, to be honest, I believe that we might have been the same with our own parents back then... but, I don't remember being to such extent....)
It seems that communication and entertainment technologies in general, TV and computers then, but more particularly smartphones, tablets and video game consoles (over the last decade), have intensified and accelerated certain bad behavioral processes in our kids and in ourselves too, (let's not deny it), which became bad habits that are more and more difficult to get rid of, as we are becoming too dependent on them, and, unconsciously, even use them as a substitute for our brain.
So, I'm asking you, in general, where is the time when people still took the time to observe, comprehend and learn from what surrounds them? And in terms of agriculture and viticulture, where is the time when people had the instinct, skill and/or knowledge on how to pay attention to the natural cycles (the seasons, the tides, the sun, the moon, the stars, etc...) and recognize the signs of Mother Nature?
In fact, where is the time when people still had open-mind, curiosity, patience, interest, passion, desire, will, instinct, knowledge, skill and craftsmanship? Is it gone? Will it ever come back? Or would people, from now on, just be satisfied by mediocre results achieved too hastily due to too many screen distractions, as well as lack of interest, attention and/or willingness to do better?
|Smartphone Zombies Meme by ©LeDomduVin 2019|
Nowadays, we cannot get our eyes out of a screen to the point that we don't even know what surrounds us anymore and we rely more and more on computers, tablets, smartphones, and extremely complicated algorithms capable of calculating, analyzing, predicting and anticipating what will happen with and for anything and everything. Yet, the results are not always more accurate and often falls as statistics or approximate forecasts rather than old school, more traditional and verifiable facts taking into consideration the unavoidable natural and human factors, and thus surely closer to the reality than an algorithm will ever be.
And I'm not a progress hater or one of those saying "It was better before" (maybe a little...), as I fully embrace progress and new technologies, as long as they are made and used for the better, and as long as they do not compromise so much the natural part of our life and existence. Yet, we know all too well that the time spent on digital screens represent excessive distractions and affect cognitive and social development, especially memory building and interaction skill, for both children and parents.
We are basically becoming stupid, brainless, socially impaired and depressed individuals, empty of all sort of desires and wills and initiatives, solely guided by social networks only increasing our loneliness and individualism, addicted to lobotomizing games and unable to communicate with each other anymore.
All I'm trying to say is that it is saddening to realize how disconnected from reality and even more from Mother Nature we have become.
4. Better before....?
The generation of my grandfather, especially for those who lived and worked in the countryside like him, knew how to recycle and live with Mother Nature and somehow better protected the environment... I remember when I was young, back in the late 70s, and in the 80s, my grandfather already had different recycle bins: glass, metal, paper and a pit to compost the rest of vegetables and shellfish and mollusks. He had most of his vegetable and fruits coming from his garden and was buying whatever else he needed from other local farms or local artisanal Boucher/Charcutier and Boulanger/Patissier of the area. He always had a basket to do his groceries, no plastic bags (or very rarely, but he recycled them too). And I could carry on and on with many more examples.
Yet, on the other side of the coin, let's not forget that back in those days the use of harmful chemicals in the vineyard (both herbicides and insecticides) and within agriculture, in general, was common practice, as production was still about quantity, not quality, back then.
In fact, Mother Nature has been disrespected, soiled, damaged, polluted, asphyxiated, mutilated and overall disturbed in her daily work for the past 8 decades (since WWII, at least) by the unavoidable human factor (which definitely has something to do with that disturbance, despite the belief of some sceptics who still believe that humans have nothing to do with it).
Yet, I'm also trying to say that the human factor can also contribute to help Mother Nature when used the right way and for the greater good rather than to serve evil or vile interests. The recent comeback to more natural practices in agriculture, and more specifically in viticulture (Natural, Organic, Biodynamic, Lutte Raisonnée, etc....) is a proof that we are maybe witnessing a new age of reason for a small, yet ever-growing, community of concerned souls that are willing to change things to save our little planet.
Would this minority's realization be able to inspire the majority to understand that we don't have time anymore for sterile debates and inaction from the politics, lobbies and other major financial or economic institutions? Let's say that I'm really hoping so...but I doubt it will happen fast enough, unfortunately...
As, although this comeback to more natural practices is a blessing and a sign of hope, it is only done by a minority, the generation X, (my generation, roughly 1966-1980), already has difficulties to make a difference in this world and shift the trend back to more responsible behavior and more natural practices and methods, since it's people are too busy dealing with corrupt politics, greedy lobbyists, slow economic growth and development, as well as an increased living cost and more difficulties to make ends meet, etc.... than the 2 previous generation (Baby Boomers 1946-1955 and Boomers II/Generation Jones 1955-1965)
....and, despite recent protests and strikes to show and express their concerns and urge the adults (more specifically the politicians) of this world to do something and get into action to make a change, it probably will be even harder for my kid's generation (Generation Z, roughly 1995-2012) as they have inherited a messy and dilapidated world, where life is more complicated, and consequently (overall) most are not even interested (only a minority are) and like most generations before them, they will blame it on the previous one...
...and you know what? They are right !!!... by acting the way we did over the last 60-80 years (or even 150 years at least I should say) without measuring the consequences and the secondary effects of our decisions, actions and inventions, we put ourselves facing the wall against which we are pressed today (meaning in 2019).... and against which we will eventually crash into....
We have pushed overproduction, consumerism, capitalism,etc.. while worshipping the power of money and entertainments to avoid facing the ugly reality of certain things happening right in front of our eyes. We made sure to keep ourselves too busy with non-sense and smoke-screen to be able to see...
....well... let me stop there, as, once again (and as always), I'm totally derivating into another subject, and it will take me to long to fully express what I was about to loudly rant about... but I can't help it, I'm a very opinionated person and what is happening to the world makes me sad and furious at the same time... it is difficult to only be a witness and not an actor of our own fate.....
....let's go back to the main subject of my theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages, shall we? Let's keep it light and zen..... (sigh)...
|LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades |
for Bordeaux Vintages by ©LeDomduVin 2019
5. The theory or "law" of the decades (as I like to call it)
The law of the decades for wine vintages is one of those facts, resulting of a lot of patience, watch-attentively-and-learn type of attitude and more especially careful attention to the various patterns and cycles of life in general. And that process can be applied to a lot of different things in direct relation with nature and its various cycles, not only wine vintages.
Of course, this process of predicting or anticipating the quality of the vintages via years of experience and in-depth knowledge of the specific climate which characterize a region and its Terroir, combined with info and data collected and analysed over the years, has to be applied to a specific region where enough info and data about the vintages have been recorded and the wines tasted to really be accurate. You cannot generalize or apply it to a country, for example, too many variations. It has to be done on a smaller scale, at "Region" or Sub-region" level to have a general idea, but better at the "Appellation" level to be more precise.
For the exercise of this post, as it will be too complex and tedious to apply this theory of the decades at appellation level, let’s just apply it to the whole region of Bordeaux over the last 80 years (1940 to Present). I can hear you say already: "It is too vague and too general"; I agree, but it will have to do for this example.
So, why Bordeaux? Well, because...
1. It is where I come from and where I grew up with my grandfather, and therefore is the place possess the most knowledge of and personal references too.
2. Bordeaux is also an easy target as it is probably one of the most (if not "The" most) coveted and documented wine regions in the world, covered by a countless amount of media on daily basis, and therefore where the most info and data about the quality of the vintages can be found.
3. It is also historically known to only produce 3 to 4 good to great vintages per decades, which comfort my theory....
Now, in order for that theory to be credible, some answers need to be given:
1. Is there an obvious pattern on the quality of certain vintages when looking at the decades (on the illustration above or the table below)?
2. Could a pattern or cycle in the local climate and weather explains why or be the reason why some years are better than the others?
3. Are the best quality vintages/years the same every decade? And if yes, what are these vintages?
The theory (or "law") of the decades for Bordeaux vintages consists on analyzing the past decades and establish if there is a pattern between certain vintages/years, like a recurring result in term of quality and production of the wine characteristic to certain specific years, decade after decade; almost like an unavoidable life cycle that could not be countered or changed, but rather anticipated because of previous characteristics, signs and patterns from the studies of earlier vintages and decades.
As the idiom says: "A picture (or visual) is worth a thousand words", and that is why I created the illustration above, for, at first glance, anyone can easily see the quality of the vintages within the decades from 1900 to present.
The quality differences between the vintages (for Bordeaux wines as a whole region for the purpose of this post) have been highlighted in 4 different colors to make it more simple and easy to read and understand.
|LeDomduVin's Theory of the decades - Legends|
for Bordeaux Vintages by ©LeDomduVin 2019
Do you see the pattern now? No? But you have to admit that the vintages in "Bordeaux" color form (somehow) a column, and therefore form a pattern, no?
Let me explain my theory with a very simple table chart with numbers, people like numbers to verify a theory, so let's do it with numbers, which will be more visual and easier to understand at one glance.
The following results are not solely based on my observation and combination of various wine critic’s ratings. They also include memories of what my grandfather used to tell me about the quality of these vintages, as well as what I witnessed and experienced myself when in Bordeaux, mingled with all the Bordeaux wines I tasted myself over the last 28 years of my career (as a well seasoned and travelled Sommelier and Wine Buyer, working in the wine industry for restaurants and wine retail stores on 3 continents).
Consequently, these results represent more a reflection of my unique point of view and opinion about the quality of certain vintages, combined with the wine critics and press scores, rather than being, solely, specifically or exactly, an average of the critics and press scores.
|LeDomduVin's Theory of the Decades for Bordeaux Vintages |
- Chart with numbers - by ©LeDomduVin 2019
Some people may still not see it or admit it, but there is somewhat of a pattern in my illustration above, a pattern clearly shown and proven by the results in the above table. Numbers don't lie, they are facts.
If we take a closer look at this table, and more specifically at the Total Averages results at the bottom, we can conclude that there is a pattern and that over the last 80 years, some vintages have been recurrently better than the others:
|LeDomduVin's Theory of the Decades for Bordeaux Vintages|
- Quality Rank - by ©LeDomduVin 2019
I can already hear some people saying: "Hey, wait a minute..... this vintage was better than that!" and/or "...overall this vintage ended up getting better with age..."...etc...
I also can hear other people saying that it is difficult to draft a table like this one, as the climatic changes that occurred over the last 30 years, as well as new technologies and methods in the vineyards and in the cellars, need to be taken into consideration as they have influenced the quality of the vintages too. And therefore, this table is too generic or general and shouldn't be applied to the whole region of Bordeaux but rather to specific appellation to be more accurate and consistent.
And I will say yes, I hear you and I agree with you. You are right, it definitely should be applied to a more specific appellation to be more accurate and consistent. However, this is just an example for the people that never really thought of doing such an analysis or comparison before (and it would be too long and tedious to apply it to specific appellation).
However, going back to both above tables and looking at the average results, we can conclude that over the last 80 years, Bordeaux vintages ending with (see table below):
|LeDomduVin’s Theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages |
by ©LeDomduVin 2019 - By Categories
So, to somewhat resume the 3 tables above, and if we take Bordeaux as a whole and solely in terms of vintage quality, it seems that the vintages ending with 0, 5, 6, and 9 are pretty reliable and fairly consistent in general, with 5 and 9 being usually the best (despite a few exceptions); while the vintages ending with 1, 3, 4 and 7, in general, tend to be less reliable and/or consistent and to say the least of lesser quality. Thus confirming my theory of the decades for Bordeaux Vintages by the undeniable existence of a pattern.
The vintages ending with "2" are mixed, and despite 1982 which was a great vintage, and 2002 which offered great bargains for the quality, the rest were not that good. And 2012 confirmed it, good for some appellations, but mostly fair for the others and overall better than 2011 or 2013, but still not a great vintage.
The ones ending in "8" are also mixed, but usually better than ending "2", with good to fair vintages like 2008, or even Great to good vintage like 2018.
Some of you may be surprised that I included 2003 as a bad vintage. Well, in my opinion, despite a few distinguished effort from a few Chateaux, and I was there in Bordeaux for the "En Primeur" campaign, tasting more than 1000 wines from both banks for 8 consecutive days (some 3 or 4 times over the week in various tastings), and I can surely say that 2003 was the less homogeneous vintage I ever tasted in my whole career. It was all over the place, no consistency and no charm, with combined overripe fruit, weird acidity and green tannins. I already wrote many times over my views in various previous posts and the reasons why this vintage tasted the way it did. (You can read some of my point of view regarding the 2003 Bordeaux Vintage on my previous post here
Obviously, as I was saying earlier, this is very general and can easily be discussed and disputed; however, there is a pattern, and now you cannot say the opposite. And I found that fascinating. It makes you think twice, I’m sure. Try to apply it to a more specific region, and not necessarily Bordeaux, but also Burgundy, Loire, Rhone, Languedoc, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Piedmont, Tuscany, Napa and everywhere else. You will see it is very interesting.
Of course, certain mountainous vineyards and regions, where the weather is less homogenous due to fast and drastic changes in temperatures and humidity levels (and overall climate), are less likely to show this type of patterns. This type of decade's tables presenting a vintage quality chart is definitely more adaptable to regions where the climate is rather temperate, fairly homogenous and consistent, and roughly the same and not presenting too many extreme differences from one year to the next.
It is my opinion and you may have a totally different one, and that's fine. However, earth sciences (history, geography, climatology, etc...) showed us that most things in life on earth usually happen and evolve (revolve) in cycles and patterns. These cycles and patterns have been traced, recorded and studied for decades (even centuries) by scientists. They include climate and microclimate, weather, geography, topography, history, agriculture and work of the land, etc…
They show that, over a certain period of time, things usually revolve around similar axes and patterns, coming back or reappearing as a recurring factor after a cycle of a certain amount of years. For this example, we are talking about decades, basically what happens every 10 years (or so) in terms of weather conditions, climatology and the resulting quality of the vintages of a certain designated area (the whole region of Bordeaux for this example).
For this example, taking the region of Bordeaux as a whole, it is important to take into consideration all the factors that affect this particular area. Bordeaux is greatly influenced by an oceanic climate and temperatures are rather moderate. Bordeaux climate is mostly affected by Atlantic depressions generating heavy rainfall throughout the year. But it is also affected by the Azores anticyclone, due to its southwestern location, bringing a fair amount of sunny days, yet never for long periods. Relatively frequent, yet well distributed over the seasons, precipitation amounts to 930mm (up to 950mm) per year, and also greatly affect the quality of the vintages. (****)
This combination of frequent rainfall, humidity in the air and recent climatic changes and global warming brought some disastrous consequences to Bordeaux vineyards. More especially in this last 2 decades: We all still have in mind the hail storm of May 26th, 2018, the frost of April 2017, (reminding us of the frost of 1991), but also the unprecedented heat wave of 2003, etc....
6. Why taking Bordeaux as a whole region rather than by Appellation
Atop of the reasons already cited above, the other reasons why I took the region of Bordeaux as a whole, and not by appellation, are that each appellation includes numerous microclimates and other factors, within the appellation, which can greatly influence the vintages and thus could challenge this theory.
For example, the microclimates within the appellation depend mostly on their proximity with the Gironde estuary (the Haut-Medoc on the left bank and Cotes de Bourg/Blaye on the Right bank) and/or the two rivers flowing into it La Garonne (Graves, Sauternes) and La Dordogne (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and the rest of the appellations of the right bank) and the Entre-Deux-Mers in between. Therefore differ greatly from each other.
Also taking Bordeaux as a whole allows for preventing from getting too much into details, for example, the fact that the Left Bank is rather flat, with isolated small hills and gently inclined slopes, and therefore more exposed to wind and rain from the Atlantic and also subject to higher humidity into the soil. While the Right Bank rests on a limestone bedrock plateau extending from the Côtes de Blaye to the north and descending all the way south to the Côtes de Castillon, undulating all along with rounded hills creating a totally different (and much attractive, I must say) landscape than the Left Bank, with more microclimates and variation of temperatures (than the Left Bank). Consequently, all these factors create numerous microclimates and niches where temperature and humidity may differ from Appellation and/or even Chateaux next to/near each other.
I also could have taken into consideration the tremendous works and efforts, deployed over the last 15-20 years, into the vineyards and the cellars from the Chateaux owners and winemakers, in addition to new techniques and technologies, to produce better wines, thus increasing both the quality of the wines but also the vines and their environment. But their again, these are very influential factors that will have challenge the theory.
However, this last point, about new techniques and technologies applied in the vineyards and cellars, is a bit controversial, because some of the best wines of Bordeaux are now produced by people who leave Mother Nature do what she does best in the vineyards and adopt a minimalist attitude and approach in terms of interference with the winemaking part in the cellar.
In any case, all I'm trying to say is that I tried to do it at appellation level and in my opinion it is more difficult due to the many influential factors cited above... but not impossible.
In conclusion, I will say that I stand firm on my opinion and belief that my theory of the decades for Bordeaux vintages is verifiable and somewhat reliable, interesting at the least and almost tangible at the most... Well, we will see if the vintage 2019 prove me and my theory wrong... (or not?)
A scary beginning of the year in Bordeaux, again, for this 2019 vintage, as early buds appeared on the vines due to excessively high temperatures late February-early March 2019, from 18°C up to 26°C (it was summer already) between 15/02 and 27/02, and 22°C on 03/03; putting back into the minds of the producers the eventual risk of a sudden frost, as temperatures went back to 13°C shortly after (after all, even if Spring will come on March 21st (in 3 days exactly), until then, it is still Winter....)
Yet, you never know... As, 2009, for example, was considered lost as two hail storms in May 2009 (first on May 11th and the other on May 13th), which destroyed thousands of hectares on their paths around the Côtes de Bourg, Premières Côtes de Blaye, Margaux, Graves, but most predominantly around St-Émilion and the Entre-Deux-Mers, with stones the size of ping pong balls, but ended up becoming one of Bordeaux’s greatest vintages of this decade. So, we will see, as per my table and my theory, 2019 should be a great vintage (like most vintages ending in "9", except 1979 and 1999, which were bad vintages overall).
Going back to the discussion with Master of Wine, Jeannie Cho Lee, she was even expressing the very interesting idea to see if my theory could apply to the Chinese calendar, which is not calculated by decade but by dozen of years. I think that it is a good idea too. The use of 12-year animal cycles for recording the years in China dates back to 100 A.D. Each year is symbolized by an animal and the 12 animals are mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. We could even push the idea to apply it to the biodynamic calendar and moon cycle to see if instead of days, there could be "Root", "Fruit" or "Leaf" years too.
As I was saying at the beginning of this post, this theory is just an idea, a concept, an ancient way the older generations used to have, when computers and algorithms were not there to do the job. Climatologist and meteorologist are surely very interested in this type of experience. And Oenologists and Winemakers must also have a sense of this theory and even reminiscences of this lost instinct of relying on Mother's Nature signs; more especially the ones working with Biodynamic, Organic, Biologique, “Lutte Raisonnee” and other natural winemaking methods.
However, no matter what you think about my theory, I wrote this little post in memory of my late grandfather and his way of doing things (*****), which is for me the old way, the old school way, the way that I personally would like to go back to, especially now with my kids. When things were important and had a reason, a purpose and sentimental value. Because our generation should take and make the time to understand, watch and learn Nature, the environment and our everyday surrounding, rather than destroying them by not paying attention anymore and pass by without seeing or even thinking about these important things that are still all around us and on which we relied on for centuries, but that we do not know how to see or feel anymore. So, let’s retrieve this lost instinct and act to save our little planet now before it is too late.
That's all folks for today, hope you now better understand which point I was trying to make with my Theory of the Decades for Bordeaux Vintages.... and stay tuned for more posts coming soon (old revisited posts like this one or brand new ones).
I will definitely revisit this post or even write a follow up post within the next few years to see what happen and if, once again, I can verify my theory.
Enjoy! Santé! Cheers! and as always Thanks! for reading my post.
LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel
(*) Jeannie Cho Lee, yes, the famous South Korean journalist and author and Master of Wine, who was the first Asian woman to achieve this accreditation back in 2008
(**) This post originally written and posted on October 16th, 2012, revisited over a few days early March 2019
(***) Wine and Vine-related French Proverbs and Quotes taken or partly taken from and courtesy of www.lemonde.fr
(read them in French here
(****) Taken or partly taken from and courtesy of www.climatestotravel.com
(*****) You can read other articles about my grandfather here
All right reserved ©LeDomduVin 2012 & revisited in 2019 on all the contents above including, but limited to, posts, texts, writings, quotes, tasting notes, wine descriptions, pictures, photos, drawings, illustrations, visuals, graph and even music (when and where applicable).