Harvest Report 2020 - Part 1: Burgundy, Champagne, Germany and the UK

Harvest Season in the northern hemisphere is practically over, with many growers enjoying some well-deserved rest after a gruelling few months in the vineyard and in the winery. We caught up with some of our key growers to get their insights into the season and find out how the 2020 vintage is shaping up.

Burgundy 2020

Although we're gearing up to Burgundy 2019 En Primeur at the moment, with all signs pointing to a very exciting campaign (Head Wine Guru Tom is off to visit our growers in just a few weeks), it looks like we'll also have plenty to look forward to next year with the 2020 vintage. Despite concerns about a difficult growing season, something miraculous has happened in Burgundy, with many of our key growers reporting beautiful grapes, with both colours offering the potential for outstanding quality.

Laurent Delaunay
Laurent Delaunay

Maison Edouard Delaunay's Laurent Delaunay told us that "after a rainy and mildy winter, a sunny and warm month of March, the absence of spring frosts and some rain in April-May, the vines quickly gained ground. The hot and dry summer with some heat peaks put a strain on the vines. The harvest started extremely early! Yields are low, better in white than red, but the quality is exceptional. The very healthy grapes gave very concentrated and fruity musts. The fermentations are going wonderfully, promising a very fine vintage!".

Jane Eyre also picked very early, wrapping up the harvest before the end of September. "Like every year", she says, "it’s a mixed bag. All the talk was about high alcohols, shrivelled, sunburnt grapes with no juice. I had already done the rounds of the vineyards with my growers and I was actually pretty happy with how the grapes were tasting".

"The first day I went out with fairly moderate expectations and I am now ‘cautiously optimistic’ as my friend William Downie often says. Across the board alcohol levels we between 12,8 and 13,8. I was expecting some of the vineyards I work with to be higher. The acidity was good and the fruit came in looking pretty good."

Romain Taupenot in Morey Saint Denis, who can always be guaranteed to deliver a fair and analytical summary of the vintage, reported “I have never seen such discrepancies in achievement of ripeness between the plots”… or “in terms of yield across and among the plots”. Echoing others he says this was the earliest harvest ever, but also “the most healthy vineyards ever apart from those who suffered highly from drought”. He notes a fair amount of millerandage in some of the reds (Small, very concentrated berries). His first impressions after initial fermentations are that “the wines are very juicy, a great unexpected level of acidity overall and the crop if not generous is likely to be promising even could have been fantastic if we had rain a bit earlier”.

 Tom and Romain
Tom and Romain Taupenot

Guillaume Tardy at Domaine Jean Tardy & Fils is calling 2020 "a Burgundian style vintage. Despite the warm and dry summer, ended well the ripeness with good acid and sugar balance. We kept a very charming freshness with no warm character at all, the only matter was the low juice on the berries, so the yields are smaller than usual  (a bit like 2019’s).

Lastly, during our Hospices de Beaune Syndicate call with Brian Sieve, head winemaker at De Montille, we were able to get his insights into the 2020 Burgundy vintage:

“2020 is another wonderful, beautiful year. Why the whites are as beautiful and elegant as they are, I have no idea how to explain it. 2020 has a food profile, a concentration, an acidity profile. It’s like 2014 – acid through the roof,  ph as low as it goes, the texture has a quality to it.   The potential of the 2020 vintage is excellent ".

We're huge Burgundy fans at Honest Grapes so delighted to hear that all the signs are there 2020 will be another top-class vintage.

Germany 2020

We've been blown away the the stunning 2018 Grosses Gewachs releases from Germany over the past few weeks, with some astonishing wines from from trailblazers Clemens Busch in the Mosel and Rainer Schnaitmann near Stuttgart. We caught up with Rita Busch to see if Germany can continues its incredible run of form with the 2020 vintage:

“The wine year 2020 was not easy for us”, begins Rita, “like so many other things that happened during this year. After an extremely hot and dry summer the vines had been a bit stressed, but still looking ok. With the rain in September the ripeness of the grapes went very fast, so we had to start picking in middle of September. 10 years before we would say: Never start before middle of October!”

Mosel Marienburg
The Marienburg Hill in the Mosel, where Clemens Busch coaxes some of the greatest Rieslings

“The picking had to be done very carefully, because there is some damage from hail and sunburn. And now in the end some botrytis (noble-rot).  The pickers had to pick out all the bad parts of the grapes to be sure, that finally the wine will have no bad influence of those berries. But they are working very well and do a great job. Now we can say, that the quantity and also the quality of the grapes are better then expected. That means we are looking for another good vintage of Clemens Busch Riesling.”

Champagne 2020

Moving into Champagne, Jean-Baptiste Prevost at Honest Grapes' house Champagne Pol Couronne sees "good potential" in the 2020 vintage, with lovely wines that will be approachable from a younger age. "It has been a very qualitative year", he continues, "with nice healthy grapes. Maturity came very quickly and we succeeded to preserve a nice acidity in our wines which was very important for us as we keep our champagnes over 4 to 5 years in our cellar". Once again the growing influence of climate change is notable here, with Pol Couronne finishing the harvest on 31 August - "30 years ago my grand father finished sometimes after the 10th of October", JB exclaims.

The lovely vineyards of Pol Couronne
The lovely vineyards of Pol Couronne

Sébastien Le Golvet, Chef de Cave at Henri Giraud, is also pleased with the vintage, picking early like everyone else. He told us that "the dry conditions meant that the Pinot Noirs from Aÿ became really concentrated in the final weeks, resulting in lower-than-expected yields – 6,000 kg Ha (40 hl) – in the oldest of those parcels reserved for the Argonne cuvée. Evidently we had to anticipate that to successfully manage the balance of this exceptional concentration, and so we stopped the toasting of our barrels at the precise moment when the wood had released its acidity, thus ensuring aromas of wild cherries. Malolactic fermentations, which started easily this year, have finished as October draws to a close. And the very powerful 2020 vin clairs have already achieved harmony with their barrels which have left only the most delicate of traces. This 2020 vintage is progressing slowly but surely towards the style of the 1998 vintage which was hot and acidulous. A great accomplishment, without any doubt!".

UK 2020

Last but certainly not least are our own vineyards in the UK. Everyone we spoke to thinks that 2020 could be a landmark, best-ever vintage for UK growers, with outstanding quality across the board.

Pickers at Wiston Estate
Wiston Estate had a very successful harvest this year

Alex Notman-Watt from Wiston Estate said the team "finished harvest earlier than normal on Tuesday last week. It’s been an extremely quick harvest this year. Usually we’d have just started last week and it would take 2-3 weeks, but due to the consistently warm weather throughout the growing season the grapes reached optimal ripeness earlier than usual so were ready to pick. The ripeness levels for both the sugar and fruit concentration are exceptional so we’re absolutely thrilled. It looks set to blow 2018 out of the water and be one of our best years on record."

Chapel Down's Mark Harvey is also overjoyed with the vintage, describing the harvest as "exceptional yet again. The yields were above expectations with fruit quality perhaps even better than the extraordinary 2018 harvest. With demand for our wines continuing to grow despite the current pandemic, this harvest is welcome news and enables us to not only put sparkling base wines aside for future growth but also release more wine for sale next year. Some of the finest fruit and best yields were from our newest owned vineyards on the North Downs. Overall this was the company’s third highest ever vintage. Once again, the best fruit and the highest yields were from Kent".

Ulrich Hoffmann from Hoffman & Rathbone says that after the wettest winter on record, the growing season began with unusually warm weather which meant frosts were a threat and indeed the last one in late May thinned the potential yield but raised the potential quality. “A September heatwave helped the vines to finish ripening fast, delivering an early start to the harvest and ensured physiological ripeness” over a more rapid period of time than usual. He concludes “2020 is in no doubt a vintage to remember for its intensity, density and ripeness. The fruit was extremely clean until the end of harvest and the Pinots full of colour, with perfect acidity. I predict 2020 to be in the same class as the 2018 vintage”.

It's encouraging that 2020 may ultimately deliver some positive results other than Covid tests, with some outstanding wines, although its clear the spectre of climate change looms large. Stay tuned for Part Two where we get the thoughts of our friends in Bordeaux, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the US!