An interview with Emeline Borie from Château Grand Puy Lacoste
14 May 2021
The Borie family have been at the helm of Château Grand Puy Lacoste since 1978. We spoke to Emeline Borie, delving into the detail of the 2020 harvest and vintage. Château Grand Puy Lacoste is one of the oldest properties in the Médoc, dating back to the 16th century. Over the years under the expert guidance of the Borie family, the great estate has refined their techniques and winemaking processes whilst keeping some age-old traditions.
In general, how does this year’s harvest look?
It looks good on the whole, we had warm beautiful weather. 2020 is not as exuberant as previous years, and the quantity was not as impressive as we expected. Our production has been hugely down this year; we have seen about a 24% reduction in yield. We have produced 31 hectolitres per hectare this year in comparison to 41 hectolitres per hectare in 2019. This is partly due to the weather and one afternoon we had to stop picking because the heat became too much, we lost a lot of volume because of that.
Which vintage does this harvest remind you of the most?
This vintage is much more classic than the ‘18 and ‘19. The wine that we have now, some people have said reminds them of 2016, in terms of style of wine, I would probably agree but this 2020 vintage is not quite at the same level as the 2016. Since 2009, the weather conditions have changed so much, it is really hard to compare the vintages. As I have said, the 2020 is much more classic. We had a very high and dry summer but with a lot of rain in August. In 18 and 19 we reached 14.4% alcohol content, which was very high and this was because there was much higher sugar content due to the lack of rain. The late rain in August has made the difference for the 2020 vintage and given us great freshness, purity, acidity and a more normal level of alcohol content. This vintage is a real signature for Grand Puy Lacoste - we reached a great level of ripeness without it being overripe.
You mention this vintage was a classic, please could you describe the classic characteristics of Grand Puy Lacoste
Beautiful tannins with a beautiful line and a long finish. The taste and flavour of Cabernet Sauvignon. The flavour and taste are soft, with beautiful balance and acidity. It is very pure and linear.
How do you decide when is the optimal time to pick the grapes?
Well, we actually have a little game that we play, at the beginning of the season we each pick a date when we think the harvest should start. Normally Christel (our R&D director – oenologist) and my father win but mainly because they are the ones who end up choosing the date! Normally picking should start 120 days after flowering, this is the traditional view but we have many methods to test and ascertain when is best to start picking. To make the final decision we start doing a ripeness analysis from mid-August and at least once a week we taste the grapes and track their evolution. Alongside the ripeness analysis, we use the taste of the berries and the weather forecast to decide on the final date.
Our vineyard is all in one block and we always start by picking the Merlot and sometimes have to be very quick with the picking. For example, in 2013 everything was turning to rot so we had to be super speedy! This year we were not under such a time pressure so we stopped at points because the weather was so hot and the pickers would spend the time removing the leaves surrounding the bunches so that it was easier to get to the grapes when they resumed picking. Depending on the vintage we pick the grapes at different speeds, but we never stop once we start because all our grapes are on one plot. We tend to pick in this order: Merlot, then the young vines of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and then the old Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tell us about your picking team
With the stress of Covid, our normal process was slightly altered. We had 65 pickers come and work for us and we had to take their temperature every single morning to check if they have a fever. We also had to rent another house in Pauillac in case there was an outbreak. They stayed with us for 2 weeks and it was one of the quickest and earliest pickings we have ever had. We started on 14th September, and we had everything in the cellar by 26th September. We have had the same picking team for over 50 years, they come from a small village in Spain: this relationship started back in the late 60’s with my grandfather. It is a bit of a tradition to have Spanish/Portuguese pickers but less and less Chateaux have their pickers living on site during the harvest, but we continue to do so. They come twice a year, once in July and once in September. We normally do a dinner party for the pickers at the end of the harvest but due to Covid unfortunately this could not happen. On the bright side the bus left 2 hours earlier than normal because they had not had such a late night!
What challenges have you faced in the run up to this year’s En Primeur?
The challenge this year is that the market is unstable due to Covid. We do not know what the future holds and when restaurants will be opening again or if we go into another lockdown which of course impacts the industry and economy.
My brother has been sorting out the allocation for this vintage which is a tricky job given the lower production levels.
About 43% of Grand Puy Lacoste last year went to the UK which is a huge proportion. The UK love the classic style, the traditional Claret lovers.
What is your view on how the EP campaign will be run taking Covid into account?
This year it is much easier for everyone because we have our learnings and experience from last year. Tastings are all working well and feedback is that people were expecting rich and opulent wines and we have ended up with classic, pure and lighter wines.
We are in full lockdown currently and are hoping to be open again mid May but we don’t have a confirmed date yet. So, the campaign will run much the same as it did last year. Prices for the campaign will depend on Bordeaux, they will take the lead.
Tell us about last years En Primeur Campaign
It was a bit crazy, I did not expect everything to sell out within an hour! The wines were released at 10am and we had everything wrapped up by midday. When the price is good, these things sell. Last year we released on 16th June, I do not know what we will do this year. Last year the campaign only ran over 3 weeks, it was very concentrated. Since last year the tastings have now changed and they are released later to reduce the time between tastings and when the first wine is released. This is great for us because it gives the wine a little more time to develop.
What are you most excited about for this year's campaign?
A little bit of everything, it is still a strange campaign for us because we can’t see everyone. We hope that people will receive the 2020 well and enjoy the wines and of course we hope that we find the right price and the right time to release the wines and people are interested in buying another vintage of Bordeaux. The first part of our job is to make the wines, the second part is to find the right price and time and the third part is in your hands!