Stephan von Neipperg is enjoying the fruits of his labors. Earlier this year, two of his estates were promoted to First Growth status in the recent 2012 St. Emilion Classification, Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere and La Mondotte . La Mondotte is one of the two wines that were promoted from an unclassified status to the position of First Growth since the St. Emilion classifications began in 1955.
Stephan von Neipperg is not only a grower and wine maker with extensive holdings, he is also a busy consultant with clients all over Bordeaux as well as in St. Emilion and Graves/Pessac Leognan. We managed to grab a few minutes and discuss the 2012 Bordeaux vintage with him.
Jeff Leve If you had to pick one word to describe your work with the 2012 Bordeaux vintage, what would you choose?
Stephan von Neipperg “Flexibility is the key word of the 2012 Bordeaux vintage.”
Jeff Leve Was there a moment when you knew the 2012 Bordeaux vintage would be difficult for you, requiring as you put it, flexibility?
Stephan von Neipperg “For sure it was the flowering which started slowly and in a heterogeneous way at our St. Emilion estates.”
Jeff Leve What special vineyard techniques do you need to do when the flowering is uneven, as it was this year?
Stephan von Neipperg “The works we did during the summer were very important. The high temperatures from mid-July caused a rapid development of the vines. We adapted leaf-thinning and controlled green harvests depending on the plots that allowed balancing the changing of color and ripening. Cutting the end of flowers was also primordial.”
Jeff Leve Now that fermentation is taking place, are you able to look back and consider what previous year does the 2012 Bordeaux vintage remind you of?
Stephan von Neipperg “The 2012 weather conditions were very similar to the 2000 or the 2009.”
Jeff Leve In what way?
Stephan von Neipperg “Those different vintages all experienced a damp, cool spring, hydric deficits in mid-July and high temperatures in August.”
Jeff Leve Did those conditions cause specific problems you needed to address in the 2012 Bordeaux growing season?
Stephan von Neipperg “Due to the wet climate conditions from April to June, some diseases, especially mildew reminded us that Bordeaux is under an oceanic influence.”
Jeff Leve That takes care of the issues from excess water. What about the drought or stress?
Stephan von Neipperg “Not at all. All water from the spring’s rains has been stored by the soils and then restituted. Our old and deep-rooted vines are also a very great advantage for us.”
Jeff Leve When did begin and finish your 2012 Bordeaux harvest?
Stephan von Neipperg “We started picking October 6 and finished October 22.”
Jeff Leve What were the conditions like during your harvest?
Stephan von Neipperg “We enjoyed sunny weather conditions at the beginning and rainy at the end. It required Flexibility in the vineyards!”
Jeff Leve Due to the quick change in the October weather, did you finish picking earlier than anticipated?
Stephan von Neipperg “Not necessarily. But some plots reached the optimal ripeness very quickly.”
Jeff Leve With numerous estates to look after, how many pickers did you employ?
Stephan von Neipperg “We employed a total of 107 pickers to work the 2012 Bordeaux vintage for the 5 estates we own, Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere , La Mondotte, Clos de l’Oratoire , Chateau Peyreau in St. Emilion and Chateau d’Aiguilhe in Cotes de Castillon .”
Jeff Leve Which grape varieties performed better in the 2012 Bordeaux growing season?
Stephan von Neipperg “The Merlot is outstanding! The berries reached optimal ripeness, fine and sweet with very high sugar levels. The same can be said for the Cabernet Franc . The most challenging grape was Cabernet Sauvignon . But with only 5% of Canon La Gaffeliere planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, we are fine.”
Jeff Leve What are your yields at your various Right Bank estates?
Stephan von Neipperg “For the 2012 Canon La Gaffeliere and Clos de l’Oratoire, we are at 30 hectoliters per hectare. La Mondotte is 20 hectoliters per hectare. In Cotes de Castillon , it’s 35 hectoliters per hectare at Chateau d’Aiguilhe .”
Jeff Leve What about your alcohol levels?
Stephan von Neipperg “We reached from 13.5 to 14.5 depending on estates.”