2020 Burgundy En Primeur

Our buying team was in Burgundy for 2 weeks in October 2021 visiting growers, tasting the 2020 vintage and making our selections. The following report, written by Anthony Hanson MW, brings together our thoughts, ahead of the launch of our full En Primeur offer the week of 10th January 2022.

The 2020 Growing Season

The weather was clement leading up to the all-important flowering period, which started early, in mid-May. It went through speedily and in favourable weather, which is always a key herald of fine quality. A successful flowering allows all the grapes in a given bunch to come to full ripeness together. It also enables growers to forecast when the grapes will change colour, come to maturity and need harvesting. So from late-May, it was evident that 2020 would be an early harvest. Plans could be laid for early holidaying, and for pickers to be booked for a mid- to late-August start to the vintage.

Temperatures, rain and sunshine fluctuated during June but summer was about to arrive. July was very dry and hot, with several heatwave moments, and some bunches were grilled by the sun. Early August remained dry and hot, and it became apparent that, without rain to swell the grapes, this would be a highly concentrated, low-yield vintage – as proved to be the case. 

It was the driest season since 1945, according to the Dijon weather station, with rainfall 50% down on recent levels, and 20% more sunshine than normal. Growers were concerned that the year might resemble 2003, when an August heat-wave caused leaves to wilt and grapes to shrivel. Fortunately, in 2020 the reserves of water in the soil allowed vines to withstand high temperatures with fortitude, to maximise their natural sugars and to ripen tannins and grape-skins. The dry weather allowed natural acidities to be concentrated, which was a crucial factor, giving superb balance in the resulting wines. On sorting tables, those grapes which had been sunburnt needed to be removed, but otherwise the bunches were immaculately healthy.

The Reds

Given the heat and dryness of the summer, we were concerned that some reds would have become over-ripe, with alcohol levels which would dominate their fruit intensity, and that they might lack freshness. It has been a wonderful surprise to taste wines of such vivaciousness, where the terroir origins show forth brilliantly – in many cases, more clearly than in the two previous, powerful, sun-rich vintages, 2019 and 2018. 2020 red Burgundies have superb potential for ageing, and look destined to be hailed as one of Burgundy’s most exciting, recent years. There are great examples at 1st Growth and Grand Cru levels, and we will also be highlighting many village level and regional wines, which show beautiful quality and lovely value.

The Whites

In both 2019 and 2018, plentiful summer sunshine resulted in plump, rich wines, which are round and soft – in many cases, already making luscious drinking. The 2020 whites have intense fruitiness, with balancing, crisp, long aftertastes. Individual origins are more clearly delineated than in the two previous vintages. This is a real classic, which may be enjoyed while youthful, but where the best wines have superb concentration, and will age magnificently.

We know that frost damage this April will mean reduced availabilities of the next vintage – 2021 – when the 2021s will be offered, next year. Now is a good moment to stock up with 2020s, in both reds and whites, across the quality ranges.

23th December 2021

Domaine Daniel Dampt

Daniel Dampt, owner in 1st Growth Chablis Côte de Léchet, on Wednesday 26th August 2020, one day before his picking started. Chablis was lucky in 2020, receiving much needed rain in early August, to help grapes mature and swell. Some sun-burnt bunches, see 2nd picture, but these did not affect fine quality in prospect.

Domaine Henri Magnien

Charles Magnien delighted with small berries, very healthy bunches, being separated out for whole-bunch fermentation. He started in Corton on 25th August 2020, then in Ruchottes-Chambertin, Estournelles St. Jacques and Champeaux 1st Growths. In the second picture, leaves were still green, with bunches healthy in Cazetiers, where picking started on 27th August.

Domaine Pavelot

The Domaine Pavelot team, including Lise Pavelot’s son, Marcelin (right), receiving grapes from Pernand-Vergelesses Île des Vergelesses 1er Cru on first day of the harvest, picked into traditional wicker baskets.

Luc Pavelot started picking on Saturday 22nd August 2020 on two reds then stopped & waited a week for these immaculate Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru sous Frétille grapes to ripen. Final picking (Aligotés from Pernand hillsides) were gathered on Saturday 5th September.

Domaine Christian Moreau

Christian Moreau in Grand Cru Les Clos vineyard, showing lovely Chardonnays. Plus view from Les Clos across Chablis to Les Vaillons hillsides

Domaine Yvon Clerget

Thibaud Clerget was an early starter, picking Volnay Caillerets and Clos du Verseuil prior to Sat. 22 Aug., with Clos Vougeot & Pommard Rugiens the following week, to complete the reds, with Meursault Chevalière at end.Grapes so healthy many whole bunches have gone into his Corton and Clos Vougeot.

Jean-Baptiste Boudier

Boudier picked his reds between 25th-28th August, then Corton-Charlemagne on 2nd September. Despite crops of the reds being down, Chardonnays are more plentiful, like these beautiful Pernand-Vergelesses blanc grapes.

Etienne Sauzet

Benoît Riffault and Emilie Boudot in charge of wine-making at Etienne Sauzet more than happy with the lovely health and balance of their Chardonnays from Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne. They started picking on 22 August, one day earlier than in 2003, another heat-wave year. Acidities are much better in 2020, they are delighted to note.

Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg

Vosne-Romanée La Colombière bunches in perfect condition, both in the tub and on the sorting table for partial whole bunch vinification. At Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes-Chambertin, Echézeaux and Nuits Chaignots ripened first, then came the Vosnes, Chambolle Feusselottes, and finally Clos Vougeot.

Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley

Thomas Bouley very happy with tiny berries, and healthy bunches. As ever here, there will be careful fine-tuning of % of whole cluster in each cuvée, here the Pommard Frémiets will be 70-80% not de-stemmed. He’d been hopeful of normal-sized crop, but no rain in July and August put paid to that hope.

Domaine Thierry Violot-Guillemard

Joannès Violot-Guillemard with a vat of 100% whole bunch Volnay-Frémiets this year – no need to de-stem anything.