For France’s Loire Valley, 2015 was defined by a hot, dry summer that helped many regions produce ripe, healthy fruit. The Cabernet Francs of Chinon and Chenin Blancs of Vouvray should shine. But spring rains lowered yields further upriver, while autumn rains damaged the Muscadet crop just before harvest.
The Good News: Warm and dry weather conditions during the spring and summer months allowed most grapes to reach full maturity with minimal risk of disease.
The Bad News: Water deficits and poor flowering in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé lowered yields. High temperatures across the valley in the summer months halted ripening for certain grapes, and that helped lead to rot when rain arrived for some thin-skinned Gamay grapes. Rainfall in Nantais during September dampened any hope of a great vintage for Muscadet.
Picking Started: Picking started historically early for some areas, Pouilly sur Loire in particular. Harvest mostly began in early September and lasted through the end of October, with producers picking the last of Cabernet Franc and late-harvest Chenin Blanc.
Promising Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc
Challenging Grapes: Melon de Bourgogne, Gamay
Analysis: "The 2015 harvest is the earliest Pouilly has witnessed in a long time, even earlier than 2006 and 2003, which were stellar years," said Arnaud Saget, of Saget la Perrière, which produces wines from appellations across the Loire. Beginning in June, hot conditions descended not only on Upper Loire areas like Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre, but throughout the valley, accelerating grape maturity and forcing producers to harvest certain grape varieties earlier than usual.
Sauvignon Blanc from both Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé fared well, with ripe fruit, nice aromas and good acidity, but yields are down slightly because of poor flowering in the spring and drought conditions throughout. Pinot Noir is promising as well, with ripe tannins and healthy yields. "2015 is looking like a really great vintage," said Pascal Jolivet, "there is good balance, power, concentration of aromas, intensity and minerality."
Moving westward to Touraine and Anjou-Saumur, the hot weather conditions were challenging for Gamay, leading to problems when rain did come in September. "Skins of the Gamay were really thin this year and clusters had a lot of grapes on them," said Matthieu Baudry of Bernard Baudry. "The rain we had in early September made the grapes grow excessively fast and some of the grapeskins burst. The rot started from there." Thankfully, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are showing ripe fruit flavors, with acidity levels slightly lower than preferred.
In Chinon, Cabernet Franc benefited from the sunny, dry summer. Some rain in September delayed ripeness for a few days, reported Baudry, but overall, he is pleased, "I think that 2015 should be a very supple and rounded vintage, with ripe fruits and nice balance. I’m not sure it will be as lively, fresh and vibrant as 2014—a year I really like—but we have another great vintage in our hands."
Rodolphe Raffault of Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault reports similar results with his Cabernet Franc. "The 2015 vintage, especially after a hot and dry summer, has less acidity than 2014, but the colors are beautiful and the texture is round with lots of freshness."
Chenin Blanc is looking very good in 2015. Sarah Hwang, president of Domaine Huët, reports that this year they are able to produce their full range of wines from Pétillant to Cuvée Constance. "We are delighted with the return of botrytis," said Hwang. "Having essentially disappeared since 1997, botrytis has been an infrequent sight in the vines."
Unfortunately, the western end of the valley experienced heavy autumn rains. In Muscadet, the water stress was detrimental for Melon de Bourgogne. "Rainfalls in September, to some extent, washed away dreams of a great vintage," said Saget.