2022 Vintage, the ‘New Classic’ Burgundy 

BY ANA SAPUNGIU MW

I have been a lover of the Burgundy wine region ever since I visited for the first time, over 12 years ago, as part of the Master of Wine programme. 
 
We were lucky to be looked after by some incredible producers, from very small Domaines to some of the major producers - for a Master of Wine student this was fantastic, as you are exposed to a large number of appellations/ styles/ vintages in one go, as well as different size producers.  
 
During one of our visits, we were having a tasting session with barrel samples in the cellars of a producer located in the Côte d'Or. It was getting towards the end of the day, but we were mesmerised by the numerous barrels of Grand Crus, filling the cellar completely. Several recent vintages had seen cellars half full due to crop loss from bad weather. Whilst we were enjoying ourselves, no one had reminded the office staff we were still down there. At the end of their shift they locked up the building and the gate and went home.  
  
Unawares we continued our tasting of these very young but delicious wines. It was only on concluding and trying to make our way out of the cellar that we realised we had been locked in! Obviously given where we were there was no panic, if required we had plenty of liquid available to us. Eventually though we managed to get hold of a phone number of a member of the security team who came and let us out. I suspect the next day the cellar staff realised that the ‘angels share’ in a couple of barrels was somewhat more than the usual amount. 
 
Memorable experiences often lead to certain wines and regions holding a special place in our hearts. For many people, Burgundy is not just a pleasure to drink, but also an investment opportunity in the Fine Wine market. Therefore, I will delve into both the passion and financial aspects of Burgundy further on. 


Burgundy and the fine wine market

Burgundy’s wine investment value is driven by rarity (whereas Bordeaux, is strongly influenced by critical scores) and rarity has certainly been a factor of recent vintages. Due to the large number of appellations and classifications, coupled with strict inheritance laws, the majority of Domaines are relatively small (some may only have a few rows of vines). Therefore, if there is a vintage with reduced availability, those small producers may have tiny quantities to sell and, if it is a sought-after Domaine, the prices will rocket, due to the scarcity of the wine. 
 
In recent vintages pricing across Burgundy has increased exponentially - I can’t think of any other region in this situation – maybe Santorini Assyrtiko, due to its increasingly tiny yields, another great region whose wines I love! 

 

The steepest price increases were seen in 2022, due to the miniscule 2021 vintage (following an already relatively small 2020 and 2019 vintage). In 2022 price growth in Burgundy averaged 26.7% but there were appellations with quadruple price increases!  
 
The average market price growth of the Top 10 Burgundy brands in 2022 was 79.04%. (Source: Liv-ex Power 100, 2022). Specifically village level wines increased comparatively more in price, in terms of percentage, than 1er and Grand Cru. Therefore, this made it more challenging to find value in Burgundy’s appellations. 
 
Despite all this, Burgundy has outperformed other equities and most traditional assets spectacularly in 2021 to 2022, so, very much worth investing in. 


What influences vintage availability?

One needs to remember that wine is an agricultural product and hence is affected by climatic conditions. Looking at a different example, wheat, another agricultural product – in 2020 the harvest in the UK had the lowest yields for decades, due to torrential autumn rain that hampered the sowing of crops, an exceptionally dry spring affected plant growth and, finally, heavy downpours in August created very challenging harvest conditions. There can be one or several climatic challenges throughout the growing season that can affect the end result. Vines and grapes are no different. This is especially true in Burgundy where climate change is having an ever-increasing impact.

 

Historically, rot may have been a challenge for growers, but in the 21st Century, this is less so. Sunburn and therefore excessive sugar accumulation is more common. The series of warmer vintages, starting with 2003, then onto 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022 has certainly challenged the vines and the growers. Spring Frosts in early April (once the vines have budded) continues to be a threat. This has a direct impact on yield and volume availability.

 

Frost was the main factor which devastated the vineyards in 2021. The drop in temperature destroyed a large number of vineyards and even the vines that did survive were so stressed that a much smaller yield than usual was produced. Average yields were reduced by over 50% but some appellations, such as Saint Aubin and Puligny-Montrachet suffered average losses of around 60%, Meursault lost an incredible 90% of the crop! In Chablis, where budbreak is often a few weeks behind the Côte d’Or, losses of around 50% were reported from most growers. The later developing Pinot Noir grapes avoided some of the frosts but did not produce an abundant crop by any means.

 


2022 growing season 

Thankfully 2022 saw better conditions! Quantities are back to normal levels. A majority of producers reported yields of just below 10% the permitted maximum and the quality is excellent! The wines are showing purity and freshness, moderate alcohol, while showing typicity of site and appellation and also hierarchy. It is considered by many as the vintage of the decade! 
 
On paper, this vintage was the driest, warmest and sunniest vintage on record. Roger Belland (one of our Agency Burgundy producers) has remarked that the summer of 2022 was the hottest experienced since taking over the family estate in 1982. 

 

Growers reported no issues apart from a lack of water or sunburn. Thankfully the growing season did not have the heat spikes of 2003 or 2020. In June there was double the rainfall usually received in this period. This proved to be the saviour of the vintage as it re-hydrated the vines, the extra water seeing the vines through the dry summer. Some growers reported some hydric stress to young vines (older vines have deeper roots and can handle heat and stress better) or on vines on stony, well-draining soils which are normally at the top of the slopes. Harvest began in August and for most, the grapes were in before September. Historically early, but more the norm in recent times.
 
Negociant Grichot have said “2022 offers us what Burgundy does best: a vintage that is both qualitative and generous! After three good years with volumes (unfortunately) impacted by climatic hazards, this vintage is welcome: it will help relax the market and replenish stocks. Although small disparities exist depending on the grape variety, the vines generally resisted fairly extreme weather very well, knowing how to take advantage of the slightest downpour. The wines are beautifully made, with lovely concentration and perfect balance. This vintage is surprising: despite the very hot conditions of the year, its aromas of fresh fruit and its lovely vivacity open up a bright future for it.” 

 

In the cellar  

Here the winemaking was relatively stress-free, some winemakers in 2021 had shortened the elevage. For 2022 this was back to normal - wines with more concentration need a little extra time in barrel, with gentle extraction, very few punch downs and more pumping over.   

The reds are juicy and charming similar to the style and perfume of 2017 plus a little extra concentration, perhaps some similar elements of 2012. The whites are harmonious, ripe but fresh and consistently high-quality.  

 

This is the most successful of the recent climate-impacted vintages. Perhaps there has been a natural adaptation of the vines to the new norm. The growers are certainly adopting different techniques to cope with increases of heat and sunburn. Higher canopies are being used to provide shade. And whilst allowing for earlier ripening of the grapes, new approaches to soil health and picking dates (opting to pick earlier to avoid high sugar accumulation) or longer-term approaches such as drought-resistant rootstocks are being employed.

 

What to look out for?


Over the last few years, there has been a clear increase in the offering and quality of Bourgogne level wines. The 2022 vintage at this level has risen the bar again.
 
In the past, some producers sold their Bourgogne wines to negoce, now they are opting to keep hold of them. Certainly, the Bourgogne Côte d’Or appellation (introduced in 2017 to highlight the quality of the wines being produced exclusively from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir here) has helped add to the credentials of these wines. For example, there are a number of Bourgonge wines produced from vines adjacent to vines that make up Mersault. Therefore these wines can offer exceptionally good value. Having the knowledge of what to buy is therefore key.
 
The villages of the Hautes-Côtes offers good value. Historically these were considered to be areas that were of slightly lesser quality due to being cooler than others in Burgundy. As temperatures have risen, especially in hot vintages, these villages are coming into their own. Auxey-Duresses and St Romain, Maranges and Santenay - with a profile of younger winemakers are good sources of interesting wines which are accessible in price. There are also plenty of choices in Côtes Chalonnaise and Pouilly, both producing wines of greater complexity in warmer vintages.

 

Pricing
 
More attention to detail, scarcity of availability and some devasting losses in recent years have been reflected in sharp price rises in the last decade. That being said 2022 has seen stable prices, which for such a great vintage is pleasing. And there is good value to be found at all price points.
 

In conclusion 
 
Whether you are new to collecting Burgundy (for drinking or investment) or have been an aficionado for some time this is a great vintage to buy. This is the ‘New Classic’ style Burgundy. Regardless of what you are looking for, there are some gems in the offering which will be snapped up quickly. From the entry-level Bourgognes (still incredibly good wines) to the oft hard-to-buy Grand Crus there is something for everyone and are all lovely wines. A stunning vintage that can be enjoyed now but will also be rewarded with cellaring.
 
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