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Hospices de Beaune

2020: an unforgetable vintage by Ludivine Griveau

Ludivine Griveau, régisseur des Hospices de Beaune
Ludivine Griveau, Hospices de Beaune winemaker

FOREWORD by Ludivine Griveau – Régisseur du Domaine Viticole des Hospices de Beaune

Rarely has it been so difficult for me to put into words the main features of a vintage as for the 2020 one. Because there is so much to say about it, to try to transcribe, because summarizing it with simple climatic and vegetative elements will not do it justice… The context takes on its full meaning and will often be evoked here, because it also guided our minds and hearts throughout the campaign. I feel it is inseparable from the rest and this “2020 context” is undeniably part of the DNA of this vintage and its guaranteed emotions. There is no shortage of reasons, and the global health crisis is on everyone’s mind. However, everything had started well, according to new year greetings where everyone was making wordplays about the 2020 vintage (“twenty”, in French, having the same pronounciation as “wine”). A good omen ?

And then, just as our buds burst, the planet went into lockdown; just as the vine was adorned with green leaves, our caretakers were fighting a battle… if our gestures were, throughout the year, dedicated to taking care of the vine, our minds remained turned towards our caregivers, dedicated to our close ones and their wellbeing, to those with the sure gestures who save lives every day. Against a backdrop of humility, the spirit of our team was stronger than ever: how could we complain? We were at work, in our vineyards and in the open air…#vinecontinues.

Spontaneously, without having to say it, the whole team was passionately invested to overcome everything, to produce beautiful grapes, to make Great Wines, even more this year, for our great cause, our hospital, our caregivers. Climatology and vegetative cycle After a very mild autumn and winter, the vine showed its first signs of coming to live in mid-March… meanwhile the planet came to a standstill. We went on with the trelishing as from 20th March the chardonnay buds began to grow. For 6 months (Oct-March), the weather had been mild: at its coldest we had -5°C in the winter and on only one day. The Chamber of Agriculture even told us that only 7 days over the period were below zero, which is comfortable, but worrying.

Without really realising it on the spot (our minds were busy elsewhere, as we had to homeschool the children!), 2020 was announced as a record of precocity, in all aspects. The fall and winter having been wetter than normal (+90mm), the soils were in good water conditions and allowed us to do a first shallow ploughing work from the end of March. This year again, the risk of frost hovered over our little green tips and kept us up at night. It has almost become a habit, with very few possible shielding measures! Indeed, the burning of straw, controversial, debatable, perhaps not adapted, has given way to projects of grouped purchases of wind turbines and candles. The wine growing areas were getting organized and though a few nights were close to -2°C, they did not leave any significant damage in our plots.

Despite a cool April start, 2020 is the vintage with the fastest start in the last 25 years. With 42 hours of extra sunshine, a 2nd decade with the month of April being over 23°C, our vines were bursting with vegetation! We had to hurry up with the de-budding as the buds would quickly give way to leaves. As for the “dédoublage” (removal of shoots to reduce foilage and the yield), it was done at the same time. We were then confronted very early with choices to be made in terms of the potential volume of the harvest. Thus, our chardonnay kept a little more buds on the branches and the pinot noirs were led with a more measured objective in the targeted yields. It is a bet that plays out every year at this time. 5th week of confinement, the vine kept going, for certain, at full speed. In preparation of these lines, I reread my notes, my diary, … it displayed “PN 3/4F” and “CHA 5/6F” on April 14! The sanitary situation was being closely monitored and the first treatment was not yet relevant. Indeed, the wind and the dry weather (less than 3mm over the month) were our allies, the one cleansing, the other reducing the potential for the appearance of diseases. Our vineyards showed a rather great disparity in the vegetative stages from one plot to another, but they were rather regular within the same one.

The precocity was now well established in minds, the Chamber of Agriculture indicated that this had happened only 6 times in 80 years and 2020 was 24 days ahead of 2019 as of April 21! Despite a rainfall deficit over April (-35mm), the soils maintained a good water status. In May, the growth dynamic was intense but regular (about 2 leaves per week), the leaf surface was spreading, the vines were dense, beautiful, very green. The first copper and sulfur-based protection was thus positioned at the end of April since we could already see the flowering proceeding at an unprecedented rate. We had to protect our future flowers. After we had finished de-budding, we had to start lifting the buds in certain Chardonnays, our Meursault 1er cru Genevrières for example. Between May 16 and 25, after finally getting a little rain (40 mm), the flowering was over at a lightning speed, under an overwhelming heat and this, as much in Pinot Noir as in Chardonnay (compared to June 4 to 8 on average the last 30 years).

On May 21st, the air embalmed the end of the lockdown and the vine blossomed, the revival was taking shape. On May 25th, the caps had often fallen off, it was hot and the wind remained. It should be noted that wind is now an important climatic component, not only of this vintage, but also of previous vintages. In recent years, it has been quite “new” to Burgundy to have this wind every day and almost all day long. If it is our ally in maintaining the perfect sanitary state of 2020, it nevertheless gives us less respite, understand less weather “windows”, for the application of our treatments.

Weather forecast data is scrutinized even more. The wind also has for consequence the drying of our land, at least on the surface, making it sometimes difficult to work because it hardens. In spite of this, the water reserve was satisfactory at this stage of the year. At the beginning of June, despite a turbulent weather, the conditions were favorable for a dazzling fruit set! We can see a noticeable variation of stages within a plot, and sometimes in Chardonnay, the phenomenon of coulure was marked, the structures of the bunches were long and airy, and the millerandage was at times not negligible.

The pre-flowering conditions having been more favorable to Pinot Noir, it had better passed the but burst and its berries were more regular in size. The Pinot was slightly ahead of the chardonnay at precisely this point in the vegetative cycle. Our children were on their way back to school, to their social lives, under a sky that showed an accumulation of more than 180 hours of extra sunshine in 2 months. In less than a week, the berries reached 4 to 5 mm, the lifting of any constraint was observable even among the vines! We were now 24 days ahead of 2019. Awareness quickly spread around that the summer vacations would have to be adjusted because, deep down, the idea of a harvest date around August 20th was gaining ground! To be seen…

At the end of June, temperatures were high, summer was here; some rain, irregular and very localized, contributed to a perfect timing of soil nutrients. The vine was flamboyant, green, its foliage dense and it remained turned towards the sun. Depending on how the summer unfolded, the forecast of growth profiles was uncertain, but already at the end of June, my eyes were scrutinizing the first veraison of the grapes.The sanitary state is excellent, no trace of mildew as there had been no rain (an average deficit of 50 mm since January) and oïdium had not altered the harvest, even if it lurked slightly on the leaves.

The summer conditions in July accelerated growth, and the inter-crops had to be removed to reason the density of the leaf volume. However, in order to balance the foliage, we chose not to thin out the fruiting zone and thus benefit from the effects of shade and coolness at the level of the plant itself. Whenever possible, we also try to trim higher (and less tightly on the sides) in order to take advantage of the shade cast by the neighboring rows. If there was still any need to illustrate, that at this stage, the vine lacked nothing (and took our words literally #vinecontinues!), there was a lot of verjuice at the top of the main branches, and even young grapes on the offshoots, witnesses of a great vigour and fruit setting of the vintage.

As of July 15, the Chamber of Agriculture 21 indicated that 2020 was the earliest vintage ever recorded and that the coming weather forecast would not reverse the trend. This was quickly confirmed, with however a lot of contrast at the beginning of the veraison from one parcel to another. Soil work had been stopped because it was now a matter of maintaining the moisture level in the soil where possible. The physiological stages observed on July 21st were of the same level averagely seen on August 5th … we were actively preparing the vat room and orders for casks were placed advanced! The harvest was looking rather generous and the veraison was evolving very quickly at the end of July. The wasps had understood that the grapes were gorgeous with sugar, they were particularly numerous this the summer. During our vineyard visits, the date of harvest began to emerge towards the end of August and we just had to wait, the sanitary state being close to perfection.

The month of August remained hot and was characterized above all by the absence of rain and wind. It was these two parameters that would certainly contribute to maintain a perfect sanitary state, but the vines are beginning to show signs of thirst. The foliage, which was so green a few days ago, was struggling to resist and here and there some leaves in the lower part of the vines were turning yellow. Without however being able to identify a trend in terms of age, soil, cultivation methods, areas etc… some vines suffered while others did not. This will definitely be the year of all mysteries where we have to admit that we are far from understanding everything. From August 13th, the ripeness control had to begin, we could not hesitate any longer; the grapes were already moderately golden in chardonnay but really black in pinot.

On August 17th everything was ready, the teams were more mobilized than ever … so I was comfortable telling them “it’s decided, we start tomorrow! ». Thus, our first pick started on Tuesday, August 18th on the sectors of Chaintré, but also in Meursault and Beaune where the grapes were tasty, the pips very brown with the taste of hazelnut. The skins were supple and tannic, the color and tannins of the Pinot grapes would probably be quite easy to extract. For the first time in its history, the estate had brought in its entire harvest during the month of August, finishing on the 29th in the Saint Romain area.

The vinification process went perfectly for both white and red wines, and the balances that emerge in our wines are extraordinary, and, let’s admit it, quite unexpected. The sunny side of the vintage is there, but the wines reveal an impressive aromatic freshness. Acidities are very present and the densities are already felt. The whites have substance, without too high an alcohol content. The tannins of the reds are supple but powerful. The ingredients of a great vintage, wichi, for many reasons, is unforgettable, are therefore all present. .

Author : Ludivine Griveau – 5 Novembre 2020

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