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stirring the lees with james molesworth

An Early Look at 2008 in the Rhône

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 11, 2008 10:35am ET

I've been checking in with a few producers in the Rhône as they gear up for their 2008 harvest. The growing season (which I'll report on more once the harvest is complete) has been tricky in both the north and south, with spring rains and humidity that led to difficult flowering, lower yields, and tougher disease pressures in the vineyards. Some rainy weather in early September hasn't helped matters.

Here are some snippets of info from a few of the region's top producers:

In the southern Rhône:

Marc Perrin, co-owner of Château de Beaucastel and Perrin & Fils, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Sept. 10 - "We just started some Viognier this morning in Coudoulet (lieu-dit). For now, [the crop] is healthy and looks good, but it will be a small harvest in terms of quantity, maybe 40 percent less for the Viognier and 20 percent less overall due to humidity during the flowering. The weather is OK for now [but] some more rain is expected on Friday."

Isabel Ferrando, owner and winemaker of Domaine St.-Préfert / Domaine Ferrando, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Sept. 10 - "It is still early to be sure of my judgment, but for the moment, we had 48 millimeters (1.89 inches) of rain since the beginning of September in my sector of Châteauneuf. The weather announcement [for] tomorrow evening [is] rain and strong wind, then the mistral (northern wind) from Saturday. So everything is fine, the mistral will save us once more! By cons there are not many grapes. The flowering has suffered from spring rains that have greatly reduced yields. The spring was also difficult because of rain. We have treated against disease more often than other years. Today in my opinion, the harvest is healthy, but we are 10 days late on maturities."

Nicolas Haeni, co-owner and winemaker of Domaine de Cabasse in Séguret

Sept. 10 – “It is still a little early, but I think that for this vintage everything is still possible - in both senses. We had a lot of rain over the last ten days. The potential of the polyphenols is very good this year, and phenolic maturity will match the technical maturity, more or less. That means we will be able to make well-structured wines without too much alcohol - that is the perfect scenario which would [assume] dry and warm weather from now on. Unfortunately the weather is still a little unstable and we hope that the mistral will start drying the atmosphere. We are still leaf plucking a lot right now with the hope of keeping botrytis away. It is still looking good, so we stay positive. I think we will start picking on September 18.”

In the northern Rhône:

Yves Gangloff, co-owner and winemaker of Domaine Mathilde & Yves Gangloff, in Côte-Rôtie

Sept. 9 - "Yes we had very bad, rainy weather today and botrytis appeared in the vineyards. We are anxious - it is not ripe and we have to wait still 2 weeks minimum, but can we?"

Paul Amsellem, co-owner of Domaine Georges Vernay in Condrieu

“We are a little bit late for the harvest. We got a lot of rain during August, so we need sun to get good maturity. Christine [Vernay] thinks we could start [picking] on the 25th but not before. It will depend with the weather over the next few days. The yield is low on Syrah and Viognier and we've got coulure on the Viognier. Mildew came in July and the pressure of this mildew has been stopped, but it was very hard.”

Note: Coulure is the French term for ‘shatter’, which describes the condition in which grapes fail to develop properly after the flowering. This is typically caused by wet, cloudy and cool conditions (or extreme heat).

William Keene
North Carolina —  September 11, 2008 2:31pm ET
I read somewhere that the Northern Rhone is in pretty bad shape due to the rain. If I remember correctly, Cornas, Cote-Rotie, and Hermitage have had a very hard time. The quotes above seem to echo what I have read. Based on what you know, do you think this will be another 2002, or is there still a good chance they can make it through this?
James Molesworth
September 11, 2008 2:42pm ET
William: It's touch and go right now, after a difficult growing season. Maturity isn't there yet and the rains are a nuisance, to say the least. But if they get mistral, they could still turn out some nice wines.

The team at Chapoutier told me they got 200 mm all at once earlier this month - that means dilution and possible rot. But since it came all at once, that's easier to deal with than steady rains...

Maxime Graillot of Equis (Domaine des Lises) in Crozes-Hermitage summed it well when he mentioned to me "We hope the sanitary condition holds until we get full maturity." He doesn't see picking before the end of the month or even early October.

Barring more rain, I don't think it's '02...but the vintage is probably going to struggle to keep up with '04 or '07 at this point.
William Keene
North Carolina —  September 11, 2008 4:05pm ET
Thanks for the info James. By the way, welcome back. Hopefully it was a nice, relaxing vacation and no travel curse. Take care.
James Molesworth
September 11, 2008 4:08pm ET
William: Vacation was nice, but I didn't want to jinx anything by blogging about my problem-free travel to and from Costa Rica - since I have to fly tomorrow!
Phil Roberts
Palatine, IL —  September 15, 2008 5:30am ET
I just got back from Provence. It rained pretty heavily on Thursday night. Friday had a northeasterly mistral, then it rained on us all day Saturday as we drove back to Paris.

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