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Boutinot Rhône | The Wine Of The Rhône, France

2011 Cairanne Vintage Report

Published on: 21 December 2011

Overview

2011 has been extraordinary year

We had summer in spring, autumn in summer, and summer again in autumn.

Spring:
From March the weather was generally fantastic – spring was as warm as early summer and the vines began to flower towards the end of May, at least 2 weeks ahead of schedule! That caused quite a panic – we anticipated having to pick from mid-August, as we did in 2003.

Summer:
In July, came a dramatic change – cold and wet. The prospects of a very early harvest rapidly receded - as did our holidays, as we needed to treat the vines to prevent the onset of mildew. August, too, saw some heavy bouts of rainfall but the weather was generally better than in July, improving day by day towards the end of the month.

Autumn:
From September we were back in short sleeves and sunglasses as long warm days returned, as did the prospect of an earlier harvest than in our first vintage the previous year. Accordingly we started picking Syrah on 8th September, compared to 17th in 2010.

The keys to success

Compared to 2010 which was the smallest crop for Grenache Noir since 1975, the perfect flowering season in 2011 created the potential of a massive crop.

In 2010 you looked at bunches and could see gaps where there should have been tightly packed grapes. In 2011 there are so many bunches per vine, we had to thin the crop, literally cutting off bunches to reduce the yield and allow the vine to concentrate the aroma and flavour components in each of the remaining berries.

In addition to crop thinning, the second key to success was maintaining the grapes in a healthy condition throughout the growing season. Most critical of all was being in the vineyards over the summer, spraying after the unusually heavy summer rains and the drying mistral winds.

The result: a good crop, low yields still 30% more than last year, of healthy, ripe grapes bursting with concentration.

Our 2011 wines

Later ripening:
Our vineyards are in the hills above the village of Cairanne, so are later-ripening than those in the plains on the valley floor. Here we were lucky to have a completely dry spell from mid-September to the end of October, with warm days and cool nights, which we can say made the difference between a great versus a good vintage for us. In the end the grapes were ripening in absolutely perfect conditions and have produced some fantastic wines.

Low yields:
On our estate in Cairanne, we have managed to keep yields low in every single plot. Most of our grapes have been picked from very old vines – some up to 100 years old – with just the right amount acidity to keep the wines fresh and maintain longevity and to counterbalance the intensity and the power of the fruit.

First year in our new open-top wooden fermenters:
All the wines have been fermented in our new open-top wooden fermenters, once traditional but less and less used in the Rhône these days. Once filled these allow access to the grapes to enable ‘pigeage’ (where the ‘cap’ of grapes is pushed down) by hand, foot and fork – volunteers welcome next year for this hard labour which lasts one month!

Regular pigeages and ‘remontages’ (pumping the juice from the base of the vats over the cap to keep it moist, malleable and fresh) have allowed all our grapes to enjoy a long, slow cuvaison averaging 25 to 30 days, far longer than the norm these days.

Complexity from 6 grape varieties:
We are especially proud to have sourced, picked and made wines made from six different grape varieties, some of which are becoming sadly too rare in the Rhône and which have made already made a perceptible difference in terms of subtlety and complexity.

Where many growers have the homogeneity of two principal workhorses, we have now vinified an artist’s palette of primary colours: from sublimely textured Grenache Noir (some of which are ‘centenaire’, i.e. 100 years old) to intensely perfumed Syrah (why so perfumed this year, we’re frankly not sure), alongside small parcels we harvested of Cinsault, Carignan Noir, young Mourvèdre, old Mourvèdre and Counoise ( a gem, now rarely seen outside the cloisters of the thirteen venerable anointed bishops of Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

Wow, what a vintage!

At the last tasting of each component before starting their winter maturation in wood, to say we are very excited by the potential would the understatement of 2011.

A fine end to an extraordinary year in our new cellar here in Cairanne.