It is no secret that climate change is making a significant impact on the majority of Europe’s vineyards, with heat waves now regularly expected to sweep the continent each July. The record-setting spike in temperature that touched Burgundy’s Cote d’Or in the summer of 2019 was no exception, however, with every subsequent vintage marked by heat, the most skilled producers are proving impressively agile in adapting their viticulture and vinification to capture the all-important sense of balance and individual terroir expression within their wines. Neal Martin of Vinous has commented on this new normal of, “Warmer winters, early bud-break and flowering and, most importantly, earlier harvests are no longer the exception but received as the norm.”


Following a very hot and dry 2018 growing season, the 2019 vintage began with very low levels of water reserves, which would need to be replenished by enough rainfall to prevent the vines from shutting down their production entirely by the time the summer heat waves would inevitably arrive. Therefore, after an unusually warm start to the year which would lead to a precocious and therefore more vulnerable budburst, most vignerons rejoiced at the much-needed rainfall that arrived in April. The celebratory mood was short lived as temperatures soon severely dipped both on the 4th of April and then again on the 15th, affecting the regions of Saint-Aubin and Chassagne-Montrachet in particular. Having already learned their lesson the hard way with the devastating frosts in 2016, winemakers were well-prepared, lighting wax candles and burning hay bales to help create a protective cloud cover over the vines, however, despite these impressive, coordinated efforts, many producers still lost 30-50% of their harvest to the frost. The May which followed was cool and dry, but June showers disrupted the flowering of the vines leading to an uneven onset of millerandage with too-small berries amongst the bunches which produced little juice. Finally, by the end of June, the heat was on with temperatures topping out at 42°C, however, after just a week the temperature began to dip to a more moderate level with surprisingly cool nights, which when coupled with the more than adequate reserves of water were able to keep the vines hydrated and preserved a sufficient level of acidity in the grapes. There was only a scattering of light showers over August and September which added a last infusion of freshness to the vines before harvest time had finally arrived. With a clement autumn, the winemaker is able to wield their choice of when to begin the harvest according to their own stylistic objectives rather than having their hand forced by mother nature. In 2019, individual discretion on just when the grapes would have reached their peak of physiological ripeness but before the sugar levels spike too high has led to wines which are as reflective of the desired style of the producer as they are of the vineyards and terroir.


Considering the diversity of vine age, exposition, soil type and micro-climate, it would always be a challenge to characterise the entire Cote d’Or in a single vintage, but in 2019, the decision of when to pick has perhaps had the greatest impact of all on the style of wine produced. In the Cote de Beaune where Chardonnay reigns supreme, Neal Martin of Vinous aptly summarises the whites of the vintage, “They unexpectedly offer freshness and richness that were once thought to be mutually exclusive. It’s as if Mother Nature said to winemakers: You can have your cake and eat it.” Sadly, with the Cote de Beaune having suffered the worst of the April frosts, volume will be far more limited than in the previous two vintages. In Chablis, Chardonnay also thrived in 2019 with Allen Meadows of Burghound admiring, “The often bone-dry finishes that flirt with austerity only serve to reinforce the underlying typicity and salinity.” Meanwhile, when considering the red wines of the vintage, there is no question that there are some exceptional cuvées across the entire range of appellations and classifications, however, one should be led by their own personal tastes when choosing amongst producers as well as not being afraid of looking beyond the star-studded vineyards of Vosne-Romanee and Gevrey-Chambertin for exciting new developments in appellations like Fixin and Marsannay. Of the reds of the Cote de Nuits, Martin describes them as “highly perfumed with accentuated floral characteristics are often utterly seductive,” he continues, “the finest 2019s maintain detail, clarity and tension and sapid finishes […] These are vivid and bright wines, shiny as a new button. The fruit is often intense but rarely overblown or marred by overripe characteristics like prune or raisin.” However, as with the Cote de Beaune, yields were lower than average in 2019, more commonly due to the uneven flowering and near drought conditions which both decreased the amount of juice within the berries.