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An Early Look At 2006 In The Loire...

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 5, 2006 4:01pm ET

I know you're all bored of me talking about the Rhône all the time. So here's an update on the other French wine region I cover - the Loire. I thought you might be interested to read a few of the comments that I've received from vignerons over the last few days as they get ready for the 2006 harvest. (Look for our site's broader harvest coverage, coming soon.) For the Loire, it looks like an interesting - albiet somewhat tricky - year. Let's hope they get the sun they need these last few weeks of the season.

Thierry Germain, Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur

Indeed we have a surprising vintage.

The veraison for Cabernet Franc was almost finished at the end of August, something we have not seen in the Loire, even in such [strong] vintages as 2003 and 2005. This was thanks to a very homogeneous flowering in June, a superb July and a bright August with cool nights (there was some rain on and after August 15).

We can hope for something superb, but we shouldn’t get too excited because the remaining three weeks are important to obtain a superb balance in the grapes. Thanks to our work in the vineyards, our vines have very small bunches which benefit from good aeration, which should allow us to wait for ideal maturity.

The Loire, and especially Saumur, has not had bad weather during the last 15 days. The little rain we’ve had has actually been beneficial.

Nicolas Joly, Savennières

Since 2003 [we have had] the same pattern. The rain stops in April. The heat comes for three weeks in July. The weather is terribly dry with pleasant temperatures during the nights. And after August 15, nights are close to 10 degrees C.

The grapes are fine. For those who have no clones, the crop is down 25 percent.

Bernard Chéreau, Chéreau-Carré, Muscadet

After long cold and dry winter, budding was later than usual - middle of April. Rainy spring followed by very hot June and July. Flowering time in very good condition, 2nd week of June.

However some rain and a storm in the beginning of July brought some mildew and black rot pressure. Until the end of July, the vegetation was on time. August was not so nice, with cold temperatures and some rainy days at the end.

Since Wednesday, the sun is back, and the forecast is warm temperatures and dry weather for the next 10 days. We are expecting to start the harvest around September 11th, depending on the weather. We hope to have a dry September. Quantity seems to be normal and less than last year.

Rodolphe Raffault, Jean-Maurice Raffault, Chinon

With regard to this future year, I would prefer to wait 2 or 3 weeks to give a more precise opinion. September will be more than ever decisive for maturity!

After the heat wave and the dryness of July, we foresaw a year almost as early as 2003, but August was cold and with little sun. In spite of that, our area received very little rain precipitation, but that is not true for the whole of the Loire. The veraison was very homogeneous. The sanitary state is good, but we still need some sun!

Didier Dagueneau, Pouilly-Fumé

We had a very dry spring, and the month of July was very hot and dry. The vines suffered a little from the drought. Thank you for the greenhouse effect!

August was rather cold with small rainfall. We have a perfect sanitary condition, with a balance like 2005, but with a little more acidity, due to the cold nights that we currently have.

For the past eight days, the weather has been splendid, and if that continues we should harvest in three weeks.

Jacky Blot, Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups, Montlouis and Domaine de la Butte, Bourgueil

Difficult. The year 2006 is the year of the Scottish shower - we passed unceasingly from periods of anguish to very favorable periods.

Winter was difficult, long, with a very dormant vegetation which can lead to a very late flowering, which we hate more for the Cabernet Francs of Bourgueil than for the Chenins of Montlouis-sur-Loire and Vouvray.

Then the weather in June was spectacular, and the flowering was on time and under ideal conditions.

The beginning of the summer was incredible: It reminded us of the summer of 2003, with its excess of heat and its roasted grapes. If this weather had lasted, we would have had a similarly complicated vintage.

And then, at the beginning of August, we returned towards more variable weather with its batch of breaks and downpours - 50 mm of rain for one month, exactly in the historical average. Fortunately the majority of the clouds simply passed over the area, going to pour their water in the east more - practically 150 mm in Burgundy and Champagne.

Jean-Luc Soty, Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre

After a cold winter, vegetation resumed late, but the favorable weather conditions of early June and early July accelerated the growing cycle of the vines. High temperatures favored a faster growth and a precocious flowering, but also a millerandage – partial crop failure with smaller grape berries – which will affect the yield.

Fortunately the exceptionally high heat waves in July ended at the very beginning of August, just in time. The rain and cooler temperatures during the month of August helped to moderate the maturity of the grapes, and to give the bunches a quite high level of juice. The maturity is now very similar to the ’05 vintage, but with a slightly higher level of acidity. The weather conditions are now ideal for a great vintage.

Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  September 6, 2006 8:56am ET
James,Its difficult to cut through these assesments but at least rain seems to be playing a minor role while ripening is still in question. Ripening is always a problem in the Loire. One question I do have for you though is on a food/wine match. I'm cooking for some friends this weekend and will be making a fish course of shrimp, scallops, and braised leeks in a puff pastry box. The sauce is a cream sauce of a reduction of shallots, white wine, tarragon, fish stock and cream. I was thinking of the '04 Clos du Bourg from Huet. There's more scallops than shrimp and I like the full/round flavor and texture of the Vouvray but there is still time to adjust my wine choice. What are your thoughts? Dan J.
James Molesworth
September 6, 2006 9:09am ET
Yes the Loire always has issues down the stretch...we'll have to wait and see...

The Vouvray should work if it's a Sec...the only think that might jangle it would be the tarragon...you might also consider a Savagnin from the Arbois made in the traditional, slightly oxidized style - but not if your guests are new to wine...
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  September 6, 2006 10:53am ET
Maybe the thing will be to alter the dish a bit. I suspect chervil will be easier on the wine since its much more subtle. Maybe that's the compromise that will pin it down. Dan J
Jenny Helman
September 6, 2006 12:52pm ET
I am actually Joel using my wife's account. I find it totally ridiculous that you are going on about quality well before the grapes are in. Any Frenchman knows that it ain't over until the grapes are in. But here you are, going on about superb quality based on absolutely nothing. Nothing. Nothing in barrel, hey, nothing in the tank! If you want to be a wine writer, find something to write about! The asteroid near-miss predicted for 2029 at least has some basis in fact.
James Molesworth
September 6, 2006 1:14pm ET
Joel: I made no comments on quality - superb or otherwise. The comments above are directly from the producers themselves. Who are all Frenchmen by the way.

What I said was: "For the Loire, it looks like an interesting - albiet somewhat tricky - year. Let's hope they get the sun they need these last few weeks of the season."

I'm sure there are many folks who like to know what's going on in a wine region as harvest nears. And yes, you can tell a lot about the potential of a vintage from the weather during the growing season and harvest.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  September 6, 2006 3:49pm ET
correct james knowing that 90%is done on the vineyard.And in france we still check meteo france web site every day to know what¿s going on in the vineyards so as a sommelier we can have an idea of what¿s going on.
James Molesworth
September 7, 2006 11:14am ET
Here's some more info on the current Loire harvest, from Florent Baumard of Domaine des Baumard.

"We began harvest this morning with Chardonnay for sparkling, already too rich on some fields...Plenty of time for Chenin and Cabernet. I'll give you more news later, but so far the vines are fine, we had some rain late August, but just enough around here. I have friends in Saumur area who had ten times more. There will probably be many local differences.I would have liked a little more water, but we shall see."
Tim Sylvester
Santa Monica, CA —  September 7, 2006 1:03pm ET
No offense Jenny/Joel but if you're not interested in James's reporting from the Loire then don't read the blog. Many readers, me included, find James's array of topics, scope of contacts and depth of knowledge quite valuable to our overall understanding of wine. I for one strongly applaud James for providing information and context from all aspects of the wine making process, not just about how the final product tastes months or years later. Thanks James.
James Molesworth
September 8, 2006 9:35am ET
Here's some more, from Jean-Marie Bourgeois, of Domaine Henri Bourgeois in Sancerre.

"Spring was very soft (no frost or any kind) - great conditions for a favorable budding out. In June, [during] the flowering [it] was really hot and even some blossoms got burnt out by the sun, which caused shatter and therefore reduced the [amount of] berries.

We had an extremely hot July with stress on the young vines. Fortunately the month of August brought us lot of coolness helped by a drizzle and no storm.

Nowadays the weather is dry and sunny which offers a fantastic maturity with a good balance acidity/sugar.

We are planning on starting the harvest around the 14/15th of September for the old vines planted on flinty soil and forecast a quality which should certainly be very good however the quantity should remain quite average."

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