Saturnalia Data Sheds Light on Bordeaux 2020 Vintage

Bordeaux vineyards in early Spring. Photo: Guy Collins

By Guy Collins

Satellite and ground station data gathered by Saturnalia, a service developed by Ticinum Aerospace, a spin-off company of the University of Pavia in northern Italy, is shedding fresh light in great detail on precipitation and other climatic details of the Bordeaux 2020 vintage in comparison to its predecessors.

While the broad profile of the weather during the 2020 vintage has been well-documented already, featuring primarily a period of drought from mid-June to mid-August in what was otherwise an unusually wet year, Saturnalia data drills down into conditions not only in each appellations, but also individual vineyards. The project has received funding from the European Space Agency.

The Bordeaux 2020 vintage was the wettest in recent years, with temperatures similar to 2019 from June to August and cooler toward the end of the season, according to Saturnalia. The right bank also suffered significant hailstorms in April. Its analysis is attracting attention in the London wine trade, with Liv-ex citing it in a recent report.

Remarkably, according to Saturnalia data, 2020 was actually wetter than 2013, which went down in the record books as a cool, wet vintage that produced lower-priced wines and was overshadowed by the three that succeeded it, in particular the highly successful 2015 and 2016 vintages. The key difference this time round was the summer drought.

“What is peculiar to 2020, and very similar to 2015, is that for about two months, from mid-June to nearly mid-August (the first significant rain arrived around the 10th to 12th of August in 2020) the vines experienced a prolonged period of drought,” Saturnalia said.

In Margaux temperatures were higher than average at the start of the growing season, reverting to the norm in the second part, according to Saturnalia. While there was “extensive water stress,” late rains should have helped keep grapes balanced. It described the conditions around the vintage in the appellation as showing “unique behavior.”

In Saint Julien, where estates include Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Chateau Leoville Barton, Chateau Leoville Poyferre and Chateau Beychevelle, temperatures were among the three hottest since 2013, especially early in the growing season, while late rains should have prevented severe water stress, Saturnalia said. It said 2020 for Saint Julien should be “very positive.”

Further north in Pauillac, where first growths Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Latour are to be found, as well as Chateau Pichon Baron, Chateau Pichon Comtesse, Chateau Pontet Canet and Chateau Lynch Bages, Saturnalia again described the 2020 vintage as “unique, with moderate water stress.” Non-extreme temperatures and rain in September helped keep grapes in balance, with temperatures also among the three hottest since 2013.

In Saint-Estephe, the northern-most appellation for classified growths and home to second-growths Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Chateau Montrose, Saturnalia described the 2020 vintage as “not as different from 2018 in terms of total stress,” although wetter than recent years.

Meanwhile in the Pessac-Leognan appellation to the south of the city, vineyards were less affected by thunderstorms in late August, so the grapes are expected to be “even more balanced,” Saturnalia said.

On the right bank of the Dordogne, conditions in Pomerol were characterized by “non-extreme temperatures” while in Saint Emilion Saturnalia said it expected “good quality” even though hailstorms in April and water stress posed challenges.

Rainfall in Bordeaux totaled 1,244 millimeters in 2020, the highest compared with the preceding five years and higher than the 1,102 recorded in 2013, according to Saturnalia. However rainfall during the critical period from June 15 to July 30 was lower than the preceding four years, including the banner 2016 vintage.

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I am a journalist writing about the Bordeaux wine market.

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