Problematic weather conditions in Burgundy and Beaujolais meant the skill and judgment of winemakers in both regions was fully tested for the 2006 vintage, writes Lyn Parry. Early reports suggest that 2006 will not match the quality of 2005 in either region, but is on a par with recent respectable vintages.


The first impressions of the 2006 harvest in Burgundy are that it is a vintage which has favoured white wines more than red. However, there are some good reds, especially from the Côte de Nuits.

The chaotic and uncertain climatic conditions throughout 2006 presented a challenge even for the most experienced Burgundy winemakers.

Winter was long, but not exceptionally harsh, and spring arrived later than usual. This resulted in late bud burst, which at least avoided the risk of frost damage at this advanced stage in the season. A rainy May was followed by a warm June. The higher temperatures helped the vines make up for lost time and accelerated flowering which was swiftly followed by fruit set.

July was very hot and dry, and during a heat wave in the last two weeks, the vines became stressed. The unseasonal August weather conditions that followed gave the winemakers further cause to worry. Damp with cool temperatures caused the vines to suffer a thermal shock after July's heat, and the ripening process slowed down. At this stage of development the winemaker needed to make crucial decisions. Those that decided to sacrifice yield levels achieved a more even maturity throughout the vineyard and less rot.  

The first 'ban de vendange' came on 1 September for the southern vineyards and in mid-September for the rest, although some dispensations were given in the Côte de Beaune due to the higher levels of rot. The levels of sugar, acidity and polyphenols were acceptable.

The first grapes harvested were those destined for the production of Crémant de Bourgogne: the higher acidity in the grapes is essential for these wines. For the still wines, it was difficult to reach an even maturity, without too much rot, especially with the susceptible, compact bunches of Pinot Noir. Yet again, due to generally warmer weather, the grapes ripened at the same rate in the Yonne, Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, as the more southerly Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais. Usually there is a time lag of around two weeks between the northerly and southerly districts but Chablis in fact started harvesting before the Côte d'Or.

Fine weather prevailed during picking, with just two short periods of rainfall, and higher than normal temperatures during the first half of September in the Côte d'Or. The triage, however, was severe, due to rot, and globally yield is down by 10% to 15% compared to 2005.

At this stage, it looks like the whites are well-balanced and more homogenous than the reds. But some good reds have been produced particularly in the Côte de Nuits. The first tasting notes for reds read - 'ripe tannins, good to medium concentration'. The general feeling is that 2006 is not as great as 2005, but slightly better than 2004, while some early comparisons are being made with 1992.

Gilles Remoriquet, président of the Equipe Technique at the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), describes 2006 as an "année technique", where the winemakers needed to use all their know-how to extract good colour and tannins."2006 is not catastrophic," Remoriquet continues. "The level of rot differed between parcels, some being more susceptible than others. Also, the high temperatures of July meant that the Pinot had developed thick skins which offered protection against attack by pourriture grise."


In Beaujolais, the growing season followed a similar pattern to that seen in Burgundy. It was a year of extremes, with a long winter, a hot, dry July and inclement weather in August. Hail caused some damage in the lower-lying vineyards, but the Crus escaped the worst this year.

Véraison was irregular and slow, and the decision of when to harvest was a difficult one to take. Harvesting too soon risked a lack of maturity, but harvesting too late meant the chance of a higher level of rot. However, those winemakers that selected carefully both in the vineyards and during the harvest have produced generous and concentrated wines.

Bruno Matray, président of the Union Viticole de Beaujolais (UVB) said: "The 2006 reds have good colour and a good concentration of typical Gamay fruit. Certain sectors at higher altitude had more problems with rot and needed to select carefully. This vintage is not as well structured as 2005, but compares with 2000 and 1998."