Clos Cantenac 2013

Clos Cantenac 2013 is made from 100% fully ripe young Merlot from our 16 and 26 year old vines planted in two separate blocks close to the winery and picked in absolutely perfect early morning conditions on 2nd and 3rd October.

The wine is a deep dark, but bright red in colour with a hugely appealing zesty lively but complex nose and a fine aromatic range of rich, ripe red berry fruits, blackberries, tar and cassis, enhanced by spicy notes of chocolate, cinnamon and pepper. It also displays further elegance and finesse supported by lush fresh red berries with hints of fragrance, mocha, truffles and subtle soft grilled new oak notes.

On the palate it displays lovely sweet and succulent crunchy bright red fruits and black cherries that spread right across the mouth with an impressive intensity of character but is deceptively soft with just the right amount of dryness to counter balance the richness of the wine.

It is still tightly coiled, but it already shows good weight and a fine structure and is well balanced by the uplifting purity and freshness of the fruit and the juicy acidity followed by fine velvety powerful tannins and an amazingly long, lingering and seductive finish.

This has produced a very interesting and fine wine that will continue to develop for some years to come and will benefit from careful cellaring. Drink 2016 to 2026.

Vineyard: 5.3 hectares

Grape variety: 100% Merlot

Harvesting: 100% by hand, 1st and 2nd October

Winemaking: Saignée, cold maceration (7-8°C) for 7 days to develop fruit aromas.  Alcoholic fermentation (25C) for 5 days with regular pumping over. Post-fermentation macerating (28-29°C) for 15-20 days, due to the exceptional fruit quality. Malo-lactic fermentation in oak barrels

Ageing: Aged in 40% New French Oak and 60% 2nd year Oak for 14 months

Alcohol by volume: 13.0% vol

Residual sugar: < 2 g/l

Production: 8,000 bottles

Late last year I wrote saying that ‘no two years were ever the same’ in Bordeaux and that the contrast between the three previous vintages could not have been more striking, but then little did I know what lay ahead of us as the long cold winter of 2013 slowly turned to spring.

It actually all appeared really quite straight forward to begin off with a brief warm spell in mid March, but then it became obvious that the start to the growing season was going to be more delayed than we had expected and it was beginning to shape up to be a difficult vintage.

Then, even after another spell of early April sunshine and lower than average rainfall, May arrived and was bitterly cold and wet and the vines just never seemed to quite get going. The poor conditions also meant that the temperature of the sub-soils remained very low in the second half of the month and this was well reflected in the stunted growth of the vine canopy.

We then had another week of heavy rain at the start of June and just when we had been hoping for a break in the skies, we experienced even more wet weather as the vines came into flower. This really was the wrong moment for the ‘floraison’ which was by now already very critically late. In fact it seemed that the vines were confused and trying to decide what to do next as they divided their energy between further growth and flowering both at the same time, but with this amount of rain, a poor fruit set on the Merlot was inevitable.

Strangely, the final results were significantly more mixed and erratic than we had expected, with some vines very badly affected, whereas in other blocks, the flowering looked actually quite successful. However, as visitors to Vinexpo, the bi-annual Bordeaux wine fair that takes place in mid-June might recall, we had a blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon, which was followed by a filthy Monday night and absolutely awful Tuesday, so little surprise that the flowering vines were left completely confused.

Then, the weather cleared and July provided a complete contrast to the preceding two months as temperatures soared to over 30°C on twenty-one days and for it to be so consistently hot in Bordeaux at that time is rare indeed. However, it didn’t last as most of the rain for the month came in just one heavy storm during the late afternoon and night of Friday 25 July, which also brought some localised hail, which fell mainly on villages of Moulon and Genissac, just to the south of Libourne, However, if that was not bad enough, a second but devastating hail storm hit the Right bank on the late evening of Friday 2 August and tore through about 10,000 hectares of vines, mainly in the Entre-deux-Mers and just to the south of Chateau de Sours. This catastrophic event left a long and wide trail of destruction all the way from the small town of Creon to Branne where it crossed the Dordogne and then smashed vines and fruit along the river and close to St Emilion as it made its way through to Castillon. We were incredibly lucky to have missed most of it and were only touched on 2 hectares of out-lying vines up on the plateau above Grezillac.

After the storm, as often happens, the calm and fine weather returned immediately and set in nicely for the whole month of August, but ‘veraison’ was now very late indeed and even by the start of the second week of August, few bunches of grapes showed any signs of changing colour, even in the early-ripening vineyards of Pomerol.

However, with our vines looking green and healthy, September quietly arrived heralding bright blue skies and good weather and with all of the fruit now having changed colour, we started to think about the harvest, but then it suddenly turned cooler again and in the drizzling rain, we knew that it was still several weeks away.

We finally commenced harvest at 6.30am on Monday 16th September with a temperature of just 8C, picking the first blocks of Merlot for our Sparkling Rose as well as a little Sauvignon Blanc under chilly but brightening blue skies as the day went on. We continued the Sauvignon Blanc on Tuesday, but stopped on Wednesday as some light rain swept through the region, staring again the next day and then on Friday 20th we also started on the Merlot for our still rose, which looked very good, although the yields were painfully low. Over the next 8 days we quickly completed all of the Merlot for the rose, as well as all of the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and then finished the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, also for the rose on 29th September.

At this point we were very much encouraged as the fruit for the white and the rose wines was certainly of a very high standard and we knew that we would produce some really great quality wines, although there was also bad news as we now knew that the yields were exceptionally poor.

On Monday 30th September we pressed on with a huge team of vendagers arriving early to pick for the young Merlot planted in high density just 5 years ago by the Domaine de Sours, the old Cottage. The quality was very high and showed no signs of rot or disease but the yield was just 25 hl. On Tuesday and Wednesday we moved to St Emilion and picked at Clos Cantenac, but returned to Chateau de Sours on Thursday and harvested from early morning into the early evening and had another successful day. However, after many long days the harvest team were really stretched and exhausted and so we decided to not to pick on Friday.

We started again on Saturday and worked all day and late into the evening and then the same again the next day as the weather held up and then with cold but bright blue skies on Monday we made the most of the fine weather.

On Tuesday 8th we decided to move back across to St Emilion and completed the 2013 harvest by mid afternoon and then returned on Wednesday 9th October to Chateau de Sours picking the young parcel of Petit Verdot in the morning and then moving on to the Cabernat Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and working until nightfall. The weather was sunny throughout most of the day but then became overcast in the late afternoon and with more rain predicted for the weekend, we were now in real hurry to get everything in quickly.

For the final days picking we sent a first team through the vines to drop any low quality fruit, followed closely by another skilled team to harvest what was left, before loading the whole bunches onto a pre-sorting tableontoand then a second table for the berry sorting in the winery, only the very best fruit was going into cuvee. We finally finished up the last of Cabernet Sauvignon on Thursday 10th October and by late afternoon that was it for another year and despite the low yields the results have already showed some wonderfully deep coloured wines with elegant aromas and sweet red and black berry fruit flavours. There is no doubt that our vigilance and the massive amount work done in the vineyards throughout the year had once again paid off.

In conclusion, 2013 had also been one of the most difficult vintages that I can recall, particularly for many of our close neighbours who were crippled and destroyed by hail, but let’s just hope that next year is an easier one. It also comes hard on the heel of the difficult vintages of 2011 and 2012 and brings back memories of 1971, 1972 and 1973, and then the frosts of 1991, 1992. However, with the winemaking process now set to be a very technical, precise and delicate one, the key for the red wines will be to extract the tannins gently to achieve the roundness and fruity expression that will still make the vintage a success.

From a tough vintage, the Clos Cantenac team have managed to capture an impressive balance of brightness and roundness to the fruit behind their 2013 flagship”

Olly Smith