Pierre-Olivier Clouet

2011 Vintage by Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Technical Director from Château Cheval Blanc

Somewhat overshadowed by its two illustrious predecessors, 2011 Château Cheval Blanc benefited from dry (but not excessively dry) weather throughout the growing season.  
This was a beautiful, very classic vintage that reflects the estate's winemaking philosophy​.

WEATHER CONDITIONS AND VINE’S GROWING CYCLE

TEMPERATURES AND RAINFALL

The period of vegetative growth, from the 1st of April to the 30th of September, was warm and dry.  The average temperature during this time was greater than 19°C. In the previous 15 years, only 2006 and 2003 were warmer. A record of cumulative rainfall during this same period show 2011 to be the driest in 15 years. However, a closer look must be taken to understand the background of the 2011 vintage. The months of April, May, and June were warm and very dry, but July was cool, with average rainfall.  August was fairly hot, but there were 78 mm of rain, compared to and average of 64 mm. This vintage was also marked by two sets of very hot two-day periods.  On the 26th and 27th of June, the thermometer stood at 37.8°C, accompanied by bright sunshine that caused some scorching of the grapes. The temperature was once again close to 38°C on the 20th and 21st of August, but without as much sunshine. The warm, dry weather in September was perfect for the grapes.

WATER BALANCE

2011 was marked by the very early appearance of water stress. August was relatively rainy. However, the water balance up to the 31st of August shows that 2011 was the eighth driest year since 1953. Thanks to summer rain, water stress was never excessive, and appeared gradually – which is ideal for great vintages.

GROWING SEASON

Bud break was fairly early: on the 26th of March for Merlot and the 29th of March for Cabernet Franc. Flowering was exceptionally early (12th of May for Merlot and the 17th of that month for Cabernet Franc) due to the very warm weather in April and May. Mid-véraison occurred on the 17rd of July for Merlot and the 24th of July for Cabernet Franc. This was the earliest date at Cheval Blanc in 15 years. The cool weather in July and the rain in August accounted for relatively slow ripening. So, although the harvest was somewhat early, it was still less so than in 1997 or 2003. The fine weather in September brought about good ripening throughout the vineyard and enabled picking to be spread out over three weeks (from the 6th of September to the 28th of September).

Phenological stage  Merlot
2011
Average 1994-2014 Cabernet franc
2011
Average
1994-2014
Bud break  March, 26th March, 28th March, 28th April, 2nd
Flowering May, 12th May, 30th May, 17th June, 1st
Véraison July, 17th August, 2nd July, 24th August, 8th
Beginning of the Harvest September, 6th September, 19th September, 10th September, 27th
End of the Harvest September, 23rd September, 27th September, 28th October, 5th
Number of days between...
Bud break and Flowering 47 days 63 days 49 days 60 days
Flowering and Véraison 66 days 64 days 68 days 68 days
Véraison and Harvest 51 days 48 days 68 days 50 days

 

There were very few problems with vine diseases, especially mildew, until July.  However, showers in August did induce some mildew at the end of the season as well as a few patches of grey rot, which called for careful sorting during the harvest.

 

FEATURES OF THE VINTAGE

RIPENING AND YIELDS

Berry weight was slightly less than the 2004-2011 average, but varied greatly depending on the soil type in each plot.  Water stress arrived very early on gravel and clay soils, which tended to limit the size of the grapes. Furthermore, these had reached their full size by the time the rain arrived in August. However, the vines had not yet undergone water stress on sandy soil by August, and the grapes there  continued to ripen until early September, which explains why they were much larger on sandy and clay soils.
The large number of buds at the beginning of the growing season called for bunch thinning in most plots.  Final yields were slightly above the ten-year averagee.

2011 yields   (hl/ha) Average from 1996 to 2014
Merlot 44.6 38.9
Cabernet Franc 36.3 34.2

 

Sugar levels at harvest time were lower than the 2004-2011 average for Merlot. In fact, an exceedingly rare situation occurred: the Cabernet Franc grapes were sweeter then Merlot. The former, later-ripening variety took full advantage of the warm, dry weather in September. The pH was relatively low for Merlot, but higher for Cabernet Franc. Malic acid content was low for both varieties, a sign of good ripeness.
Grapes from gravel and clay soils had more phenolic compounds than the 2004-2011 average, which is only logical seeing as they weighed less. The berries on sandy soil were close to average, but lower than in 2010.

The grapes were particularly low in nitrogen. Only 2008 had less. The mineralisation of organic matter providing mineral nitrogen to the vine was very slow in spring because of the dry weather.  This low level of nitrogen promoted concentration, especially with regard to phenolic compounds, and is a reflection of the very favourable weather in 2011.

 

CELLAR WORK

Four percent of 2011 Cheval Blanc was bled from fermentation vats. There was no press wine and no chaptalisation. The wine was entirely aged in new oak barrels for 15 months. 
Traditional fining with egg white was done in order to settle particles in suspension in barrel. Two egg whites were used per barrel. These were later eliminated by filtration.

 

BLENDING

> Zoom plots

 

Date of bottling : March 26th, 2013.

Degree of alcohol 14
Total acidity (g H2 S04/L) 2.95
Volatile acidity (g H2 SO4/L) 0.7
pH 3.77
Total SO2 (mg/L) 126
Reducing sugar content (g/L) 1.6
IPT (DO280) 70

 

2011 is a great year that will prove to be a classic and elegant vintage of Cheval Blanc 

 

TASTING NOTES

This elegant, delicate wine is slated to be a great classic.

The colour is deep red and

the nose is complex from the very first, expressing a floral (violet and peony) aspect that gives way to attractive red fruit, raspberry, and black cherry aromas. This vintage shines thanks to its aromatic freshness and precision.

It starts off very full-bodied on the palate. The middle palate is quite full, rich, and voluptuous, and the aftertaste is interminable. The tannin is smooth, silky, and elegant, and the wine is altogether perfectly balanced, with lovely fresh fruit on the finish.

2011 Château Cheval Blanc has an extremely promising future. Elegant, complex, and sensual, it will undoubtedly represent a very classic style of Cheval Blanc after several years in bottle.