The 2018 vintage Dourthe vineyards-Throughout the seasons
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Chapter 1

Dourthe 2018 harvest gets underway

24th September 2018,



Pickers harvested the first parcel of Sauvignon blanc at Château La Garde on Wednesday 29th August, in the cool of the early morning.

“After a challenging 2017, the first few months of 2018 have kept us on our toes in the vineyard. After a lovely summer, harvesting the white grapes has got off to an early start amid excellent conditions, and for the moment we remain totally relaxed about the rest of the harvest!”

Follow the progress of the new vintage with Frédéric Bonnaffous, Director, Dourthe Vineyards/ Vignobles Dourthe.


Abundant rainfall and periodically very cool temperatures marked the start of the year. “For the 2017/2018 winter, we returned to similar conditions to the 30-year average, which we have not seen for several years now”, explained Frédéric Bonnaffous. “The growers and equipments both struggled with these winter conditions, with heavy rainfall sometimes making managing work in the vineyard complicated, for man and machine!”

Sustained grassing over and temporary cover crops, tailored to the requirements of each individual parcel, prevented surface run-off, erosion and soil compaction, while also promoting good rainwater drainage and boosting hydric reserves, which are so essential to the growth cycle of the vine.


Rather reluctantly, spring took its time to make an appearance. A few buds revealed their timid heads on 5th April at Château de Ricaud, and 6th April at Château Belgrave, followed swiftly by good bunch set. It was not until the summer-like week of 20th April that growth really kick-started in the vines. Good flowering during the last ten days of May confirmed a great start to the season. We fortunately managed to escape the hail storms that hit 21st and 26th May, which seriously impacted some of Bordeaux’s vineyards. This said, as warmer temperatures began to set in, evaporation in the water-drenched soils reached its peak, and brought with it the pending and significant threat of mildew. “Through tireless work and constant monitoring by our teams, not forgetting our strict adherence to environmental protocols, the vines remained fully protected. For a number of years now the vineyards have been managed according to sustainable plant protection and since 2016, all our estates have either either been certified Terra-Vitis and HVE 3, or are in the process of certification.”

We have managed to maintain the vineyards in perfect health, and are ready to face the summer months always remaining vigilant, yet fully confident.


Following an erratic first half of the year, summer set in seamlessly mid-June, continuing with hot weather and sometimes heatwave conditions, and the risk of storms; and once again we managed to skirt the mid-July hail. This hot, dry summer weather curtailed disease pressure in the vineyard and restored calm among the growers. Veraison followed without incident during the last few days of July; on 23rd July at Château Le Boscq and 25th at Belgrave for the Merlot. The return of cooler nights from mid-August, followed by lovely hot, sunny weather, was particularly favourable. The vines continued to ripen evenly, in both the red and white grapes. By the end of August, the early ripening Sauvignon Blancs on gravel soils were already ripe and showing very intense aromas and perfumes.


With good water supplies to the vines and great summer weather, the white grapes developed quickly. On the early-ripening soils of Pessac-Leognan and Graves, we began picking the Sauvignon Blanc on 29th August at Château La Garde and a day later at Château Rahoul. After a few days break, picking should recommence 5th September at Rahoul and finish 6th September at Château la Garde. On the marginally later-ripening clay soils, harvesting the whites at Château de Ricaud should start early September. As for the Semillon, the grapes are ripening to perfection, slowly but surely.

“Retaining freshness and balance in the white grapes is essential. Opting for an early harvest date helps retain good acidity levels, while maintaining aromatic intensity in the grapes. The whites are hand-picked in the cool of the morning. At Château La Garde, we keep whole bunches in cold store before they are pressed the following day under inert gas, to garner the very best of this great vintage.” explains Frédéric Bonnaffous, “Our initial impressions of the Sauvignons on tasting are already very encouraging with very well-balanced, highly perfumed, fleshy and complex juices.”

Since 29th August, the reds are taking full advantage of the sunny weather and cool nights to complete the final stages. At this stage, we envisage picking the early-ripening Merlots around mid-September. More to follow! A suivre !

Chapter 2

The red grapes take over on 18th September
21 September 2018


It has taken three weeks since the first Sauvignons were harvested 29th August on Château La Garde’s early-ripening soils in Pessac-Léognan and the last Semillons on Château Rahoul’s later-ripening soils.

Conditions were excellent for the white grape harvest, which was entirely stress-free and relaxed. The white grape varieties, both on the right bank at Château de Ricaud and the left bank at Château Rahoul and La Garde, enjoyed the benefits of cool nights during the first 2 weeks of September.

“It was more long-distance than sprint,” explained Frédéric Bonnaffous. “Both the weather and conditions in the vineyard were ideal. We were able to wait for the grapes to reach peak ripeness while carefully monitoring freshness (acidity) levels in the Sauvignon blanc and Semillon. The wines show great promise, showing intense aromatics with good acidity and balanced sugar content.”

As the last parcel of Semillon was picked in the early hours of 18th September at Château Rahoul in Graves, came the go-ahead for the start of the red harvest in a parcel of early-ripening Merlot.


“And now our attentions turn to the reds, which follow seamlessly from the whites, with the first rows of Merlot harvested 18th September at Château Reysson in Haut-Médoc and Château Le Boscq in Saint-Estèphe.”

By 19th September, harvesting was underway across all our estates on the left bank, with Château Belgrave (Haut-Médoc), Rahoul and La Garde joining the action. There is very little difference in harvesting dates in our left and right bank properties, the latter generally tending to be later; the first Merlots were picked 20th September at Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac, Saint-Emilion, and the very young vines at Château Pey La Tour (Bordeaux) and Ricaud (Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux). By 20th September, all our wineries were in full swing.


August’s fine summer weather conditions continued into the first two weeks of September, with very little rainfall and hot sunny days contrasting with cool nights. Conditions were ideal for promoting concentrated colour and aromas in the grapes.

“We kept any mildew pressure at bay, which had been a constant concern since July,” commented Frédéric Bonnaffous, having inspecting a parcel of Merlot at Château le Boscq, “…and dry August and September weather backed us in ourenvironmentally-friendly approach.We could not have hoped for more. We had time to take stock and ensure the vines were prepared before the onset of the harvest, which from a quality perspective looks very promising, and the vines are in great shape. It is important to harvest the grapes at optimum ripeness to optimise the intense aromas and retain the balance in the grapes.”

With good weather set to last until the end of the month, it certainly bodes well for the late-ripening Merlots and Cabernets, allowing each parcel to fully ripen and deliver its full potential. 

Stay tuned for more detailed information on the red grape harvest.

Chapter 3

End of the red grape harvest
19 october 2018

The red grape harvest could not have been calmer! Four weeks of harvesting interspersed with regular breaks have passed since the first parcel of young Merlot was picked on 18th September in the Medoc, and the last Cabernet Sauvignon at Château de Ricaud on 18th October. In total, 8 weeks since the white grape harvest commenced 29th August, in ideal weather conditions.

Other than a couple of last sweeps through the Loupiac vines at Château de Ricaud, we will soon call time on this long distance run. Meanwhile, the action transfers to the wineries, where quality grapes picked during the stunning Indian summer will undergo vinification.


After intense pressure of disease in spring, summer allowed estate managers to smile once again on the left and right banks alike, amid a steady stream of superlatives“Impeccably healthy grapes”, “the smoothest of harvests, with exceptional quality and excellent ripeness…”, and “ideal harvesting conditions…”, was the general buzz from the vineyards during the last few weeks of harvest.

Hot, dry weather since veraison promoted excellent ripeness, and brought about lovely phenolic concentration. In contrast, cooler night temperatures in September promoted concentrated aromas and early ripening of the skins and pips. The very best conditions all aligned to harvest premium quality fruit. 

“The weather was perfect and we were able to harvest at a steady pace, free from pressure, waiting for each parcel to reach perfect ripeness before picking,” confirmed Frédéric Bonnaffous. “We even completed harvesting at Chateau La Garde on 10th October, on a parcel of Merlot on clay, at the same time as our latest-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon!”


In our increasingly heightened quest to harvest perfect fruit, this year we overcame a further milestone and introduced an additional widespread phase of enhanced performance sorting. 

Optical sorting, further to machine-sorting across all our properties in the Medoc and at Château La Garde, was rolled out this year to Château Rahoul. It is an approach that often goes hand in hand with manual sorting, and even with densimetric sorting for Cabernet Sauvignon at Château Le Boscq.
Densimetric sorting completes machine sorting at Château Pey La Tour and Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac.

In this way, only whole, perfectly ripe bunches are able to ferment in stainless-steel tanks, or oak barriques for certain parcels at Château Le Boscq and Château La Garde.
For a slightly more extended period than usual due to the high concentration of sugars, alcoholic fermentation ran smoothly, sometimes preceded by cold pre-fermentation maceration. Deeply concentratedcolours were evident even in the early stages. Managing maceration was a full time job as we meticulously punched down and pumped over, resulting in smooth, silky and concentrated tannins. 

The Merlots are currently very consistent, and the Cabernets already looking outstanding. We began racking the first Merlot tanks on 15th October, before malolactic fermentation, while the last Cabernet tanks are still undergoing pre-fermentation maceration.

“The quality of the juice and the first wines is excellent with masses of colour, creamy textured tannins, relatively high alcohol and exquisite balance,” enthuses Frédéric Bonnaffous. “Tastings point to very high quality reds.” 

Look out for the next update in a couple of weeks for the latest news after vinifying this very promising vintage.

Full Dourthe Vintage report 2018: Présentation Vendanges Dourthe 2018 GB Customers