While most of us are probably heading out on a last bit of summer vacation, grape vines in the northern hemisphere are approaching the most important time of the year, harvest. I checked in with a few growers in France's Rhône and Loire valleys to see how things were doing with just a few weeks left in the growing season.
So far, the 2009 season has been marked by very dry and hot weather. Spring was a good start, with some solid rains and even flowering, but the heat and drought through July and August has been causing some problems. The last superhot vintage in these areas was 2003, which produced a range of quality, from ripe, exciting reds to those that were off kilter. In the best case, hot weather can lead to extreme ripeness and dynamic wines if the stress is mitigated by cooler nights or enough water content in the soil for the vines to survive on. The downside is that extreme heat and drought can cause vines to shut down and stop their ripening process altogether, leaving pruny, shriveled, acid-deficient grapes.
Julien Barrot, of Domaine La Barroche in Châteauneuf-du-Pape says conditions haven’t been as extreme as 2003, however.
“We had some good rain during the spring and a lot of rain in winter [unlike 2003],” says Barrot. The drought has started to become a problem in the gravel or limestone soils where there has been a stop in maturity due to hydric stress. But on the sand and clay the hydric stress is just perfect. The grapes look wonderful and I think we will have a smaller yield vintage.”
In the Northern Rhône, Hermitage vigneron Jean-Louis Chave says things are running at least one week early.
“The young vines are suffering a little bit, but the old vines are doing OK,” he says. “The key is those vines that show stress before veraison (when the grapes change color) will have a hard time ripening unless we get some freshening rains and some cooler temperatures.”
Cooler temperatures are luckily in the forecast. Stéphane Ogier of Côte-Rôtie reported that it was almost 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) around Lyon yesterday, but it looks to break this weekend. Plus, Côte-Rôtie has had a little more rain than the other appellations 90 mm (3.5 inches) in July versus just 20 mm (0.78 inches) in Chavanay, a town just to the south in the Condrieu appellation.
“Those rains came just before veraison and this makes a big difference in terms of maturity,” says Ogier. “The vines in Ampuis are greener and show less stress than those just in Chavanay or over in Seyssuel (a town across the river near Vienne).”
In the Loire, it’s been a similar story. Florent Baumard of Domaine des Baumard in Rochefort jokingly noted, “The vines are expecting some fresh water, preferably with ice.”
“Summer has indeed been very hot and dry, with a few showers in Angers but nothing in Rochefort,” he continued. “That’s fine to avoid diseases; the vines are beautiful so far. But we are hoping for a little rain at the end of August. The dice are still rolling.”
James Suckling — — August 24, 2009 1:20pm ET
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