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Overcoming 'challenging' 2012 to find a few real gems

The official term to describe the 2012 harvest in Burgundy was “challenging.” In other words it was a tough vintage. The first half of the year was unpredictable with a very wet spring and frosts, which threatened the vines with mildew.

Yields were low. In the Cote de Beaune hailstorms in June and August destroyed 60 percent of the crop on some estates, leading to a 30-percent drop in production across the region. Indeed, the Burgundy region has not had a full harvest since 2009.

Some grapes developed thick skins and limited amounts of pulp but not much juice. Reduced amounts of grapes are driving prices up because of the basic economic principle of supply and demand. So expect the price of burgundy to rise, especially as Asia begins to move away from Bordeaux.

But tough growing conditions do not necessarily mean a bad vintage. I'm reminded of the famous quote from Henri Krug, the great champagne maker, who said that in a good year God makes the wine, but in a bad year the winemaker helps God a little.

One of the estates in that managed to produce some lovely wine despite the “challenges” was Chateau de Santenay. Established in the ninth century, it was originally known as Chateau Philippe le Hardi after the first duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Hardi, who was also the son of the then king.

In 1395 the duke, known as Philippe the Bold, banned the growing of gamay grapes in the region, saying only pinot noir was allowed. Gamay typically ripens some weeks earlier than pinot, is less difficult to grow and produces a fruitier wine. But history was not on its side and later edicts confirmed the ban, which is why pinot is the only red grape in Burgundy.

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