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Despite up-and-down weather through the growing season, the Loire Valley's top producers are happy with how the 2002 harvest has progressed so far.
The rains that severely damaged grape crops in the south of France did not make it to the Loire, though rain and cold temperatures did make for a difficult August.
Jean-Ernest Sauvion, owner of the large Sauvion & Fils firm which makes wines from all over the Loire, said that unexpectedly good weather prevailed through September, and he is "pleased and excited," particularly with the prospects for his Muscadets.
One of the region's top Muscadet producers, Bernard Chéreau, owner of Chéreau-Carré, agreed, saying, "We started picking on the 16th of September, with very good maturity, healthy grapes and a high sugar level."
Véronique Chéreau-Günther, whose company produces Muscadets under the V. Chéreau-Günther label, compared the vintage to other fine years, such as 1990, '97 and '99. She said, "2002 should be as great [a] vintage."
In the heart of the Loire, around Anjou, Nicolas Joly, who produces outstanding Savennières under the N. Joly label, reported some August nights with temperatures as low as 41 degrees Fahrenheit, along with some heavy rainstorms. Nonetheless, he began his harvest at the end of September, which is normal for the region, and said his alcohol and acidity levels were normal, and the grapes were clean.
The Chinon appellation experienced the same August weather, according to Alain Delaunay, manager of Domaine Charles Joguet. But he said September was exceptional, featuring good temperatures and an easterly wind that helped dry and concentrate the grapes. "I think we are going to have a very good year," he said.
Pascal Jolivet is equally optimistic about his 2002 harvest in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. In a year he describes as "strange," Jolivet is already comparing the 2002 vintage to 1996, though he admits he may be a little too optimistic.
"It's a wonderful vintage, not a very cold winter," said Jolivet. "But, we got lots of rain, which is not that bad for the soil with chalk [in Sancerre], but can be too much on the soil with clay [Pouilly-Fumé]."
Jolivet added that temperatures peaked at 95 degrees F during flowering, which caused lower-than-usual yields. He estimates that his vineyards will produce 20 to 30 percent less than in 2001.
Fellow Pouilly-Fumé producer Didier Dagueneau echoed Jolivet's comments, saying, "We have a harvest with superb temperatures. It is a small crop with the sugar and acidity of great vintages."
Sweet-wine maker Philippe Delesvaux in the Coteaux du Layon, in Anjou, is optimistic that weather conditions will stimulate the growth of the mold Botrytis cinerea, which is essential for the production of moelleux and other dessert wines from Chenin Blanc.
"These conditions are the best we could wish for the birth of noble rot," said Delesvaux. "The weather was dry, hot and sunny in May and June. In July and August, it stayed still dry but cloudy. September was fabulous: misty mornings, sunny afternoons and fresh nights. October is still sunny, fresher, very windy and some wet nights."
He added, "Quantities will surely be lower than last year, and the berries are very small because of the dry winter and spring."
But a vintage of lower quantity and good quality comes at a price. Jolivet believes the production of less wine in the Loire in 2002 will lead to a greater demand -- and therefore higher costs to the consumer. He said, "We will try to be reasonable, of course, but we will have to increase the price a little bit."
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