Pierre-Olivier Clouet

2003 Vintage by Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Technical Director from Château Cheval Blanc

2003 was the year of the heat wave. The harvest was one of the earliest on record at Cheval Blanc. 
The wine is charming and shows very ripe fruit. It is also developing quickly​.



May was mild. However, the major variations in temperature disturbed flowering. The summer of 2003 was very hot and fairly dry. Temperatures were 3°C above average in June and August. Accumulated precipitation was close to normal from April to September despite several violent storms. Fortunately, Cheval Blanc was not affected by the hail that struck elsewhere in Bordeaux and caused considerable damage (6,000 hectares destroyed). 


In order to grow well, the vine needs for water stress to set in slowly so the grapes to ripen well and become concentrated. Rainfall in the summer of 2003 was average. That having been said, the very high temperatures and tremendously intense sunshine cased a great deal of transpiration in the vines, leading to great water stress.  The drought conditions on the eve of véraison reduced the size of the grapes and led to low yields.


The very high temperatures in 2003 resulted in an extremely early harvest.  Bud break occurred on the 25th of March for Merlot and the 30th of March for Cabernet Franc. Both varieties reached mid-flowering at the same time: the 26th of May.  Mid-véraison was observed on the 25th of July for Merlot and the 30th of that month for Cabernet Franc. This was two weeks ahead of 2002. Picking began on the 1st of September and ended on the 18th of that month.  No harvest had been so early since...  1893.
The major fluctuations in temperature in late May disturbed flowering and caused significant coulure (shot berries). For instance, the maximum temperature on the 23rd of May was 29.2°C and just 14.9°C the following day.   
Such an unusual weather pattern called for a different approach to green pruning.  Leaf thinning and green harvesting were done with considerable restraint and not at all in certain plots. It was important to keep back leaves to protect the grape bunches from the hot sun.

Phenological stage Merlot
Average 1994-2014 Cabernet franc
Bud break March, 25th March, 28th March, 30th April, 2nd
Flowering May, 26th May, 30th May, 26th June, 1st
Véraison July, 25th August, 2nd July, 30th August, 8th
Beginning of the Harvest September, 1st September, 19th September, 9th September, 27th
End of the Harvest September, 10th September, 27th September, 15th October, 5th
Number of days between...
Bud break and Flowering 63 days 63 days 58 days 60 days
Flowering and Véraison 61 days 64 days 66 days 68 days
Véraison and Harves 38 days 48 days 41 days 50 days


The fine weather led to grapes in prime condition with almost no grey rot.




Water stress in July put a stop to vegetative growth and led to small, concentrated berries. The grapes were fairly sweet with low acidity. Due to the extreme heat, the degradation of malic acid was particularly accentuated. Picking started early in order to avoid stewed fruit aromas. 
2003 is a good vintage with very unusual characteristics. The drought conditions and low yields resulted in good concentration. Although the wine is rich in tannin, it is not hard due to the low acidity. However, it is also an early-maturing Cheval Blanc. Despite the moderately low yields, sorting was extremely rigorous (just 50% of the crop went into the grand vin).

2003 yields    (hl/ha) Average from 1996 to 2014
Merlot 34.6 38.9
Cabernet Franc 29.0 34.2



Including 3% of press wine, the 2003 vintage was aged in 100% new oak barrels. 



The high proportion of Cabernet Franc in the final blend maintains freshness in this very ripe year.

> Zoom plots


Date of bottling : April 27th, 2005.

Degree of alcohol 13.5
Total acidity (g H2 S04/L) 3.25
Volatile acidity (g H2 SO4/L) 0.47
pH 3.76
Total SO2 (mg/L) 93
Reducing sugar content (g/L) 1.4
IPT (DO280) 58



2003 is an original vintage, reflecting a heatwave of historic proportions



This will long be remembered as the year of the heat wave. The grapes were fully ripe earlier than ever before. Meticulous work in the vineyard and making sure to pick at the right time (this was the earliest harvest since... 1893!) made it possible to produce a well-balanced wine without stewed fruit aromas that might otherwise have come through in seriously overripe grapes.

The deep red colour has dark highlights.

The powerful, complex nose reflects fruit that was just slightly overripe. Fig jam, cinnamon, nutmeg, and Virginia tobacco prevail on the bouquet. There are also some atypical aromas of prune and caramel.

The wine starts out concentrated and complex on the palate. It is deliciously rich and vinous with good body - as befits such an exceptionally hot year. The tannin is ripe and melts in the mouth. In addition, the structure is well-balanced. This powerful wine is nevertheless slightly weak on the middle palate, which features roasted notes. The aftertaste is quite long and reminiscent of cocoa, coffee, and liquorice. The tail end is a little rigid, but attractive.

This very ripe, charming vintage is ageing fairly quickly despite the high proportion of Cabernet Franc - which accounts for the wine's freshness in a very ripe year.