Somewhat to our chagrin it is Bordeaux that sets the public perception of whether a vintage is good, bad or indifferent. This isn't a major problem in vintages like 1990 or 2005, which were excellent in Bordeaux and most of the rest of France but in can be frustrating in years that weren't so good around the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde but were terrific elsewhere. Say - 2002 in Burgundy or 1991 in the Northern Rhône. The point here being that generalisations are all very well but a sharper focus can pay dividends.
There is a saying amongst Gallic winemakers that 'août fait la moût' or 'August makes the harvest' (literally 'grape must') and it is true that August is a key period in the ripening season. That said, I would argue that September is an equally critical month especially because bad weather, particularly hail or heavy rain, can be devastating while sustained sunshine can dramatically improve the quality of the fruit. There is also a French cliché that '3 weeks of fine weather in September saved the vintage'. Of course that is plausible but it does begin to sound like a broken record after a while and the boy who cried 'wolf' springs to mind.
Contemplating the above and wanting to get a belated, mid-life, handle on bordelais ripening myths (and hopefully some half decent photographs) I hot-footed out to Bordeaux last week on any Easyjet flight out of Bristol. Having left our cloud-enshrined isle in Autumnal garb I was surprised to find the heat shimmering off the tarmac at Mérignac airport. I picked up a hire car and headed out to Saint-Emilion and accosted a team of vendangeurs toiling in the sunshine. How has the weather been? 'Fantastique'. Ah, yes but you must be in a hurry to get the grapes in now. 'Not at all. The forecast is great and we are set fair.' Of course, it was the same story all over the left and right bank - blue skies and sunshine and wonderfully ripe grapes.
2009 is going to be a superb vintage in Bordeaux and the rest of France and you heard it here first!