François Pinon November 16, 2003We took up our clippers again in the third week of October when the grapes had reached a perfect degree of ripeness.
We sorted the grapes on a table in the vineyard and were able to pick out the overripe grapes which we hope will give birth to a lovely cuvée of Première Trie.
As I write, the fermentations are progressing well and we are getting close to the point of balance for the different batches of Cuvée Tradition.
2003, A Too Easy YearA vintage unlike any other and probably a taste of the kind of weather our children will have to contend with on a regular basis due to the heating up of the planet.
Of course, it was disconcertingly easy: very little grass to cut or hoe ; 30 kilos of sulphur and 20 kilos of Bordeaux mixture for the seven hectares for the whole year (this is the dose normally used by chemists for one and a half hectares and for the last of 10 treatments); sunny weather during the whole harvest which lasted only 2 ½ weeks instead of the usual 2 ½ months, finishing on the day on which we typically start, half the amount of passes in the vines, 2 pressings a day which shortened a few of our nights because I just can’t bring myself to do what most of my colleagues do – that is, staying in the cellar to do the pressing while strangers pick their grapes. Even the serious frost in the spring (which diminished the crop by 40%) was made up for in part by a downpour in early September which reversed the dehydration caused by the heat wave.
However, Chenin Blanc is a semi late harvest varietal and one could certainly wonder about the intrinsic quality of grapes which ripened so quickly, especially about the finesse of the wine it will produce. We shall see.
And what’s more, these kinds of drought conditions, if they continue, besides causing more deaths, forest fires (why do they keep replanting pine trees?), repeated flooding as soon as it rains a little bit hard, will raise the question of whether or not we can continue to make a living doing this. How is one supposed to be a breeder, a farmer or a market gardener under such conditions?
Last year’s prophetic paragraph having not surprisingly come true, I have become a repeat offender with the Rosé d’un Jour, vin de table, while waiting for my colleagues to adjust their tastebuds and remember the true tradition of Anjou Rosé by uncorking a bottle of their grandfather’s wine.
At the time of writing, my Waterford crystal ball tells me that at the end of the year, we will get a new generation of nuclear power plants along with a measly sprinkling of an assortment of other renewable energy sources to help swallow the (iodine) pill. It is, however, of the utmost importance that each one of us, as soon as the law is passed, install either a windmill, solar panels or something else in order to undermine the absurd political arguments like “We need more, the only thing we can do is build more nuclear plants”. Windmills cost nothing to run and pay for themselves.
Tasty and revealing episode
A new young and talented winemaker from Anjou who I will recommend to you next year, Cyril Le Moing, while visiting the former owner of his vines mentioned that he was going to treat his vines with sulphur because he had noticed a little oïdium. In a paternal and benevolent manner, this other responded by saying, “Good for you, kid, I always went heavy on the fungicides, just to be sure, …except in my own garden, that is. There, its not the same, you know, there it’s me whose going to eat the crop. “
Not much honey again this year. The extreme heat forced the bees to ventilate the hive in order to keep it at 38 C degrees. And in the meantime….
No apple juice at all because of the frost. If you have to get some, you can order it directly from Iris François.
Jean-Christophe Garnier in St. Lambert du Lattay
Cyril Fhal at the Tour de France
De Dannan – Ballroom – Keltia Musique
Hank Jones/ Tommy Flonagan – I’m all smiles – MPS
Pierre Desproges – Any of his records, they’re all good.
October 27, 2003I’ve lost track of where I am with these harvest reports. Did I tell you that we picked the Gamay “verdillons” on October 11 with some friends?(*) We harvested 7.5 hectoliters at 12% potential alcohol and 5.5 grams acidity. It was the first (and maybe the last) time that we have “alboté”, a local term which means to glean in the vines. (**)
Most of the fermentations are finished. The test results are reassuring: weak volatiles and decent acidity. In short, Didier is relieved and clearly more relaxed: he’s sleeping better now.
As far as mushrooms go, there aren’t any more cèpes (or very few) but the pieds de mouton have taken over. It’s really been a beautiful autumn in spite of an early cold snap. We’ve had frost in the morning for the past three days.
(*Translator’s Note: “verdillons” are the small bunches that grow later in the season - high up on the fruit-bearing cane. Since they blossom way after the lower “real” grapes, they usually do not attain ripeness and are left on the vines or they are picked unripe to make “verjus” or green juice, an ingredient used by serious cooks.)
(**”alboter”, in the local dialect of the Touraine region, describes the picking, or gleaning, of the grapes that had been left on the vines during the harvest proper.)
The end of the harvest of this exceptional year took place on September 20th in Sancerre.Today is October 26th and at this point, we can look back and try to summarize this very unusual year.
The alcoholic fermentations are practically finished, but it was tough going for the wines with high levels of potential alcohol. Certain parcels had 14.5-15% potential alcohol - degrees almost unheard of in Sancerre.
Acidity levels have been relatively low. We obtained the right to acidify this year to compensate. So far, I haven’t done it, I would prefer to respect the character of the vintage.
On the other hand, the plots which suffered from the heat wave (with scorched leaves and grapes), had lower levels of potential alcohol. These will help to balance the rest, giving this year’s crop an average level of 13% potential alcohol.
Fruit will not be the main characteristic this year. These wines will be round and concentrated - a bit in the style of 1997. It’s possible that this will be an exceptional vintage for a few parcels.
Vinification this year has not been run of the mill due to the fact that we are not at all used to working these sorts of wines.
It’s still too early to taste objectively, but however it turns out, 2003 will long remain in our memories if not in the cellar, given that quantities are the opposite of the degrees.
In other words, this small and exceptional vintage will be drunk young and with much pleasure.
September 2003 – An Unforgettable MonthWe have been harvesting from September 16th to 30th with beautiful sunny weather worthy of the Côte d’Azur. The yields were, as I had predicted, quite small. I would estimate that the crop will be about half the normal size, but WHAT A CROP! The grapes were bursting with sun and sugar.
On September 8th, 60 mm of rain “blessed” the grapes and then the following day, the sun and the East wind came back. In our plowed plots, not a drop of water was lost and from that point on, the ripening process, which had been hindered by the drought having caused tough skins and pulp, began in earnest.
During the first pass, we picked the least ripe bunches which will be used to make a small amount of “sec”, then later went back and picked the overripe grapes with noble rot which will make great raw material for the “moelleux” wines.
One last pass through the sloping plots provided us with magnificent grapes, perfect for the Cuvée Tradition.
Today is October 1st and all we have left to harvest are the old vines of the Mortier and Vau Chevreau plots. They should be ready in about two weeks.
No more anxiety, we are in very good spirits.
Harvest 2003 ReportAs was common in the region this year, harvest started ahead of schedule on September 16th and ended on October 9th (the day on which it has typically started historically). We began harvesting grapes for our cuvée Les Caillardières followed by the Clos du Papillon. Our red varietals, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon were harvested on October 6th, 7th and 8th. The last tries of Clos du Papillon started on the afternoon of the 8th and finished on the 9th.
Our enthusiastic team of vendangeurs enjoyed beautiful weather until the last week (except for some rain in October) with cool mornings (around 7° C, 45°F) and warm afternoons (around 30°C, 86°F). The traditional Vendanges dinner was held on October 10th, with wine and traditional songs flowing.
Depending on the site, there were either two or three stages of triages. The first to protect the vintage against potential rot. The second and third ones to select the grapes. The lower number of triages was partly due to a healthy vintage and also attributed to the fact that there will be no botrycized grapes this year as they had already attained such high levels of potential alcohol.
We were exceptionally lucky this spring as our vines were shielded from harsh weather conditions that occurred in the area, such as heavy rains and hail. Our harvest was consequently extremely healthy with no problems of rot being noted.
However a lack of rainfall and consistent sun during the summer resulted in a few grapes being scorched and to an extent dried out.
After a very dry and unusually hot summer, a high concentration of sugar and the loss of volume resulted in the musts having natural degrees of potential alcohol ranging from 14.7% to 17.37 % and 4.4 grams per litre of acidity. Bunches and berries were much smaller than normal, with the latter having thicker skins and more pips. However the 2003 vintage produced the kind of yields we aim for, ranging from 25 to 30 hectolitres per hectare.
The Clos du Papillon shows a lot of passerillage and tastes wonderful. We expect to produce a great Papillon moelleux at the level of the 1989 vintage. Les Caillardières will be demi-sec and is already showing incredible aromas of lime and citrus.
September 29, 2003How to start? There is so much to say about this year. It has been a vintage of extremes. Some people are calling this year the 3G Vintage for Gel (frost), Grêle (hail) and Grillure (scorching of the grapes due to the heat and drought,). I would add a 4th plague : the wind which came in the beginning of June breaking many of the most developed branches which had escaped the frost but were not yet supported by being trained onto wires. Not everyone fell victim to the hail which raged across the Crus Beaujolais but spared the Mâconnais. On the other hand, the 3 other plagues affected the majority of the rest of us and were responsible for a generalized lowering of yields (55% lower than usual at my estate).
First came the frost which ravaged the vines in two waves: the first time during the nights of April 6-8 when temperatures fell to –6 and –7 degrees Centigrade, then a few days later at the end of the week around April 10 and 11 with temperatures at around –4 and -5 degrees C. Paradoxically, it was the tops of the slopes which suffered the most, whereas the lower sections, which are usually more exposed, were not so badly hurt. Even though the weather had been very dry, this year’s frost was much more severe than that of 1998 because the vegetation was much more advanced than it was in that year, and the secondary buds, which had just begun to develop, were frozen. In my plots, many vines bore no grapes even ones which seemed to have recovered all of their foliage and looked almost normal.
In late May and early June, the wind came and, in one or two nights, brought the second wave of destruction breaking many branches at their base. The vegetation was already thinner than usual and thus more fragile. It is not unusual to get strong winds at this time of year but usually the vines are much fuller and thus more resistant, sometimes already trained onto wires, which makes them much less vulnerable.
At any rate, apart from the hail which hit certain areas, notably the Beaujolais, the high temperatures which had been present all along, continued to go up day by day, finally reaching a level of 45 or even 48 degrees C in the afternoons. This went on from June to mid-August with the most extreme period being from August 1-15. We started seeing the young vines, i.e., the vines with the shallowest roots, and other vines planted in soil with less clay, lose their bottom leaves. To be more precise, the bottom leaves were browned and scorched by the sun giving them exactly the same look as vines which have undergone treatment with one of those thermal exfoliators used by some winemakers a few days before the harvest. The grapes, having lost the shade of the leaves and exposed to the sun and were quite literally “roasted” and dried out by the heat giving them a look of dried fruit; the best ones looked like currants. In the case of certain vines, the deficit in water resulted in a stunting of the ripening process, while in other cases evaporation of water resulted in very high concentrations of sugar. At the same time, the heat and sunlight kept burning and breaking down the acids (particularly malic acid). (Many wines will probably not go through a malo-lactic fermentation because of this lack of malic acid).
Today, having visited many of my neighbors’ cellars for the first time since the harvest, it seems that certains areas were spared more than others, especially by the frost. This was the case for the southern parts of Pouilly-Fuissé. Chaintres, for example, came through quite well, much better than Vergisson. Fuissé, Solutré and Davayé were mixed but, in general, did much better than Milly-Lamartine, Sologny, Serrière, Pierreclos, Prissé, Chevagny and Charnay. The areas dominated by the cooperatives, famous for their “legendary overproduction”, were also hurt: Igé, Azé, Verzé, St. Gengoux de Scissé and even Lugny won’t be able to supply the rest of the Mâconnais like they did in 1998. So, globally, production will be down 30%. But we have to wait for the final verdict, that is the declarations of yields on November 30. This year, because of the early harvest, there will be more time than usual between the end of the harvest and the declaration date….
These different elements, backed up by the first tests I did to check the ripeness levels (on August 12th, I had several parcels higher than 13%), brought about an extremely early harvest for those who were not already away on vacation, and forced those who had left to come home early. The official start of the harvest was announced on August 12th and the first grapes were cut (or harvested by machine) shortly after around August 15. Being part of the group who had not left on vacation yet, I started on the 15th and finished on the 20th. At the beginning, we only harvested in the morning to avoid the afternoon heat and then, by the end, all day long as the weather had cooled down a bit by then. It went really quickly because there was so little to harvest. Most of us were completely finished by the end of August.
As far as vinification and my first impressions of the vintage go, there is no doubt that it is good…with the caveat that some winemakers may indulge in some questionable tinkering to compensate for the lack of volume. (We have heard that a good solution is to add 10% water and tartaric acid). One not very scrupulous producer in the Beaujolais must have literally forgotten to turn off the faucet in his trailer, because when the grapes arrived at the cooperative, his wine showed no more than 6.5% potential alcohol whereas his colleagues’ wine was at 12.5%, 13.5% and sometimes even higher percentages.
In spite of the heat, the fermentations have gone well. They are having a little trouble finishing but in terms of alcohol levels, everything is quite normal. The only negative concerns the acidity levels, as I mentioned above. Besides “add water”, the advice of the oenologists has been to add tartaric acid right at the start of the alcoholic fermentation as a precaution against fermentation accidents – especially given the heat. Many producers in the area followed this advice. I added 50g/hl to certain cuvées (the old rules allowed for this already as long as one didn’t also add sugar). These days, we are officially allowed to add both at the same time!!! The wines seem round and rich and not particularly unbalanced, with subtle not unpleasant dried fruit notes in those cuvées from the most drought stricken plots. That said, I’m not that sure if the quality of this vintage will be as extradordinary as the year’s weather.
Vintage 2002, which has been bottled for about two weeks now, seems to me to be of very fine quality. It is very complete, bringing together good matter, fruit, freshness and good aging potential given the ph levels and the acidity and with the natural degrees of alcohol as high as the 2003.
October 1, 2003Late again.
We harvested the Cabernet Franc on September 22nd and 23rd (we had to stop on the 22nd because of the rain) : 12.2% potential alcohol, 4 grams/liter acidity.
On September 27th we harvested the Cabernet Sauvignon with some friends:
- 11.5% potential alcohol (the lowest of the season)
- 4 grams/liter acidity
- yields at around 40hl/ha (what a dream!)
Didier is losing sleep worrying about the fermentations.
We tasted the 2003 Gamay (one of the vats has finished fermenting): superb!
Last week, I took a couple of days off to go pick cèpes (porcini mushrooms), shhh, I shouldn’t say anything because even in Sologne there aren’t any.
I have found so many that I’m giving them away to friends…too bad you’re not here in France.
September 21, 2003Harvest 2003
It all went so quickly!
This year started very badly with the severe frost of April 11th which destroyed much of what had been potentially a very large crop – up to 80% of the Chardonnay and Romorantin was lost.
Almost immediately after that, it was as if Mother Nature was trying to make up for it by sending us very warm weather which was very good for the growth of the new shoots. Within a few weeks, the vines had caught up from their slow start and the first flowers appeared at the end of May – two weeks ahead of time. From that point on, we were already predicting an early harvest.
The heat wave in June confirmed this advance on the normal schedule and everything seemed to go very quickly. We had very little time to train the vines onto wires, to trim the tops of the vines or the plow the soil. We did a light thinning of the leaves on the North side of the most vigorous plots.
This precaution paid off later in the summer when we were able to save a portion of the crop from the burning heat wave in August (temperatures over 40 C for a whole week).
These high temperatures sped up the ripening process of the grapes and resulted in a significant decrease in acidity from August 15th on.
The harvest, originally planned to begin around September 10th, had to start a few days sooner for the earlier ripening varietals. We started on September 4th with enough pickers to harvest the Pinot Noir, Sauvignon and the Chardonnay before September 15th. The quality is exceptional, with musts at 13% to 14.5% potential alcohol and generally low yields (around 30 hl/ha).
At the time of writing this, we have just finished harvesting the Gamay. The weather is still beautiful and warm, so we’re waiting a few days before harvesting the Romorantin. We have every reason to be quite hopeful about this varietal which may have some very nice suprises in store for us. But it’s really too early to say. We will have to wait until early October to say for sure.
September 19, 2003This vintage has turned out to be completely satisfactory both in terms of yield and quality.
We finished the harvest last Saturday with the last plot of still very healthy young vines and the fermentations are just starting now at an average temperature of 16 C.
It seems that the drought didn’t really harm the grapes, in fact, at the time of harvesting they seem to be almost perfectly balanced.
Editor’s Note: Domaine de Roally is now being run by Gautier Thevenet, Jean Thevenet’s son.
September 17, 2003 Clos Roche BlancheI am a little little late with my weekly report. The harvest is taking for ever, we pick one (or at best two) days per week…. I even tend to forget that we are right in the middle of the harvest.
On Sept. 9th or 10th (I can’t remember which), we got an enormous storm that poured down on us all night long leaving a total of 60mm; the rain meter was overflowing.
Since then, the sun has been back, the grapes are maturing, the mushrooms are beginning to shyly show the tip of their caps but we're not in mushroom heaven quite yet.
Last Thursday we picked the final Sauvignon plot, the one we saved from the frost. With 40HL/HA, I have no regrets about my nocturnal frolickings in April (Note Tr.: Catherine and Didier were out in the vineyards at 4:00am two nights in a row to light hundreds of candles that kept the vines warm enough to escape frost damage). The juice is 12% potential alcohol with 3.5grams of acidity.
We then went shopping (i.e. picked grapes they purchased from a colleague) at Michel Augé (whose nickname is GMO: in French OGM, pronounced AU-GÉ-EM) for a few buckets of Sauvignon at 12.5% and 3.5g.
That afternoon we finished our errands at Junko Arai’s (Clos Roche Blanche’s Japanese importer who is leasing 7HA of CRB’s vines): Gamay at about 20HL/HA, 13.2% and 4.5g.
The first week of harvest, we bought 20HL of Sauvignon from her, which won’t make up the lack of wine but will allow us to survive.
On Monday Sept. 15th, we picked our Côt, which yielded 22HL/2.5HA, and was at 13% and 3.5g acidity. The weather was superb for this miniscule crop.
We are waiting until next week to pick the Cabernet. Summer continues!
til next week…
PS: Yesterday Didier found some porcinis (the bastard) but they weren’t the really good Cèpes de Bordeaux.
PPS: they were not bad, considering.
PPPS: I am waiting a little more to ransack the “rouères” (local word for ravines).
PPPPS: Our dog Pif sprained his neck while chasing a deer. He’s recovering, the deer is still running around.
September 10, 2003It is now 5 days before when we plan to start harvesting the reds. Today is the official starting day for Chinon. We are in no hurry and would like to let our grapes take advantage of the good weather that is being predicted for the next few days. This summer’s heat has led to a harvest that will start two weeks earlier than we do in more “conventional” years.
I think that we have suffered a lot less from drought than many other regions in France which are 3 or even 4 weeks earlier than usual. This past weekend we had 60 mm of rainfall which is really quite a lot. As of today, the total rainfall since July 1 is 180 mm: that’s a lot.
Our situation is completely different than what one is seeing in the more Eastern regions of France.
The grapes are doing well. The skins have stayed firm and we have not observed any burning. The young vines have suffered a little, but it’s nothing catastrophic.
We still have no idea about the quality of this vintage. The acidity levels seem to be on the weak side but we’re not going to get fixated on that. The yields won’t be as bad as we originally thought but nevertheless, there is not much juice in these grapes.
Early vintages are almost always good vintages. We are keeping our fingers crossed.
September 10, 2003The week of April 8-11 was very cold, and in the early hours of the 11th, a severe frost with temperatures of -5 C killed the new buds and bunches of the “Haut Mortier” plot, always an early starter.
A hailstorm on June 25, with an avalanche of hailstones (measuring 25-30 mm in diameter), destroyed this year’s crop and seriously injured the vines themselves in the “Boissières” plot.
A summer of heat waves especially affected the bunches with South/South-West exposures. They spent many an afternoon in temperatures over 50 C: and often the most beautiful September grapes.were “toasted”.
But even after all this, our morale is still good because all the other plots kept their bunches and actually seem to be shaping up for a historic vintage. The heat of the Mediterranean has reached all the way up to the Loire Valley; this happened in 1893 also.
The only really dry month was August, with 3 mm of rainfall. It rained on a regular basis in May, June and July (60 mm each month). All the soil on our estate is plowed, so the vines have been able to withstand August’s dryness without any problem and are still in good shape to nourish their grapes through this final decisive stage.
The presses, the barrels and the vats are all ready for the new crop and, 20 days earlier than an average harvest, our harvesting team has been scheduled to start work on September 15. We have our fingers crossed.
They Got it All! September 9, 2003Frost, hail, drought and heat waves: we got it all this year!
The weather conditions at the beginning of the year brought about a highly unusual early development of the vines. By the end of the first trimester, the lack of rainfall coupled with an unusually hot March were already causing widespread concern. The early bud burst at the end of March had everyone worried about the risk of frost and sure enough it came on April 8 with temperatures dropping to - 4 C to – 6 C . Almost half the buds were killed depending on which direction they were facing. With their lightened loads, the vines put all their vigor into the vine shoots. These weakened vines were not able to stand up to the violent gusts of wind which hit in May and again losses were heavy: 15%, 20% and even 50% in some parcels.
This very early spring led to a very fast flowering (May 26-28) and heralded what would be a whole series of early landmarks that would be seen this year:
Flowering – 8 days ahead of the norm
The end of flowering – 10 days ahead
Berry formation – 13 days ahead
Véraison (change in the color of the grapes) – 15 days ahead
June was hot and dry (7 degrees warmer than usual) with very light precipitation. By this halfway point through the year, we had gotten less than 100 mm of rain (the amount we would normally get in a three month period). But grape vines are plants with deep roots.
July was also very hot, but also brought an enormous hailstorm on July 16 which destroyed up to 90% of the crop of some plots.
In August, the heat wave ( 40 C in the shade) sped up the ripening process even more and kept the grapes healthy because the grapes that had been damaged by the hail fell off.
All of these factors led to a harvest that started 10 days ahead of schedule. Originally planned for August 25, in our case, it started on August 18. Such an early harvest has not been seen for a century or a century and a half.
An early harvest also meant harvesting in hot weather. The high concentration of sugar and the loss of volume resulted in natural degrees of potential alcohol of 13.5% to 14% on average. With percentages this high, one might be concerned about difficulties with fermentation, but luckily, we have cooling equipment to control the temperature in order to keep the fresh fruit so characteristic of Beaujolais.
During the harvest we set up three stages of triage:
- The first as the pickers selected which bunches to cut
- A second selection on a open gridwork sorting table which lets any dried out grapes fall through
- A third before entering the cellar with a manual inspection or passing through the destemming machine which removed any dry material stuck to the grapes
In conclusion, it seems as if every time the harvest takes place in August, the quality turns out to be pretty good thanks to the fact that the final stages of ripening benefit from the longer days.
Upon our first samplings of this year’s wine, we have noticed raspberry and cassis aromas and very supple, silky and deep tannins in the mouth. However, it is hard to say at this point whether or not the Fleurie will have great aging potential. We will have to wait until after the malo-lactic fermentation to know for sure.
On the whole, I am satisfied with the quality of this vintage because working with a harvest so rich in sugar and in such high temperatures is no easy task.
The only negative: quantities. With yields between 22 and 25 hl/ha, in other words, we will only have half our usual amounts to sell this coming year.
September 8, 2003This week we only harvested on Monday and Friday, so I had plenty of time to search for rocks for my collection. (Translator’s note: According to an article that appeared on a French Wine Webzine, rock collecting is Catherine’s sole function at Clos Roche Blanche).
The beautiful weather continues.
Friday night, a storm unloaded 19mm of water and then on Saturday, a few showers came maintaining the previous night’s watering.
Sunday afternoon, the sun came out. In short, ideal conditions for porcini mushrooms….I’m going crazy with impatience!
As Didier says, I am stuck in the hunter/gatherer stage of evolution (without the hunting part), indeed a particular subspecies known as “homo ça pionce, ça pionce” (Translator’s note: pronounced homo sa-pi-onse – meaning “man that sleeps and sleeps”)
Getting back to the sheep…or rather the grapes….
Monday: Gamay (bought from some neighboring winemakers)
Between 12% and 13% potential alcohol
5 – 5.5 grams/liter acidity
yields: between 20 and 40 hl/ha
Friday: Pineau d’Aunis (at our place)
12.5 % potential alcohol
3.5 grams/liter acidity
yields: 23 lh/ha
(we won’t be able to make any red Pineau d’Aunis this year)
We are waiting until Thursday to harvest the last plot of Sauvignon Blanc (the latest ripening, the one which we were able to save from the frost in April when the homo ça pionce, ça pionce had to get up very early two days in a row!)
Finally, on September 15 (Tax Day), we will finish up with the Côt.
September 6, 2003The harvest is finished in Montagnieu. The weather in 2003 has been full of surprises. On April 8th, the frost destroyed much of the young buds; fortunately, the rest of the spring was calm and warm, and the blossoming went well, so that all the buds that were left gave good fruit.
Drought and heat started in May, after a quasi-rainless April. June and July were hot. In July, the temperatures hovered around 35C or more (95F) and never went under 20C (68F) at night. The vines grew very fast and it was hard to keep up with them.
July and August were also very dry, with two stormy showers bringing 20ml and 30ml only.
The biggest surprise came around August 15th, after a week of intense heat of 38-40C (100-104F): tests in the earliest ripening vines (Chardonnay and Pinot) showed 12 degrees of potential alcohol and weak acidity levels (lower than 4g/l). The heat burned down the malic acid and it was urgent to start picking to preserve at least some acidity. Altesse and Mondeuse vines are tardier and resisted the heat better. I had no dessicated grapes on any varietal.
We got started on August 20th. Degrees of potential alcohol were satisfactory, above 12% for Chardonnay, above 11% for Altesse and 10.5% for Mondeuse. It did not seem prudent to wait another week, for fear the acidity levels would fall even lower, and given there was no hope to concentrate acidity either.
I have chosen not to use tartaric acid (which has been allowed, as an exception, this vintage). I’d rather taste my wines as are when the alcoholic fermentation is complete. Also, my Altesse had better acidity than my Chardonnay, and some musts were 5 to 5.5g/l.
This vintage will no doubt be the year of ripe and round wines, and I also hope very aromatic wines. I am convinced that oenological manipulation, like adding tartaric acid or other products, cannot produce miracles. Adding acidity could only unbalance the wines.
2003 wines will probably better be drunk young. I believe that it is best to accept what Nature gives, and I thought that less alcohol but better balance was preferable.
We had no hail, fortunately, but the yields are very small: on my 5HA estate, I have harvested only 200HL.
Now I am waiting for some good surprises in my cellar. What a strange vintage this is….
No Tartaric Acid Here September 6, 2003Voilà, the harvesting is finished. The grapes were picked in record time and, in spite of a violent storm with hail one night, we had warm, dry weather every day. Here is a quick summary of the different cuvées:
Domaine de la Pépière (younger vines) – Harvested on August 26, 27, 28
Average degree of potential alcohol: 11% Acidity 4.6 grams/liter
Clos des Briords – Harvested on August 29 and September 3
12% potential alcohol Acidity 5 grams/liter
Cuvée Eden – Harvested on August 29 and 30
11.9% potential alcohol Acidity 4.5 grams/liter
Clos Comerais – Harvested on September 1
12% potential alcohol Acidity 4.4 grams/liter
Domaine de la Pépière (old vines) – Harvested on September 2 and 3
12.2% potential alcohol Acidity 4.4 grams/liter
The acidity levels are on the low side, but adequate. A later harvest would have allowed us to pick grapes with record levels of potential alcohol. Right now, some grapes are at 13.2% with only 3.1 grams/liter acidity. These wines will require the addition of some tartaric acid. The choice we made at Domaine de la Pépière will allow us to vinify virtually all the harvest with neither chaptalisation nor reacidification.
The fermentations are developing normally with a few vats taking their time getting started.
In sum, everything looks good so far and I hope that this vintage lives up to the reputation that it already has!
September 6, 2003We have just finished the harvest after five and a half days of work: a whole day less than it would take in a so called “normal” year.
This vintage will remain etched in our memories for many reasons. First of all for being so early ; the earliest ever in the past hundred years. Then for being so spread out in terms of when various estates actually picked. Some were finished by August 29th, others just started today. We started with a partial crew on Friday, August 29th and then started officially on August 30th.
The scanty yields are another feature of this vintage that will be long-remembered. The small yields were due to various factors; a very early and small bud burst in the spring followed by a serious frost on April 11th (it is very rare that the young buds would be big enough to freeze by this date), then two hailstorms (one in early June and another in the middle of July), 2 or 3 days of extremely high temperatures in July and August which burned some of the grapes that were facing the setting sun and to top it all off, an unusual lack of rain.
The media has been announcing an exceptional vintage! For all the reasons given above, it is. As for its quality, it’s better to be cautious at this point.
We have brought in some very beautiful grapes, very healthy, very ripe but also low in acidity and juice. The fermentations have hardly begun. At this point I think it would be prudent to wait until juice turns into wine before saying much more. It seems quite likely that given the low levels of juice that we will see a lot of concentration : we will have to keep a close eye on the reds during the vatting to make sure not to over-extract.
The one thing that is certain as of today is that the yields have been very low. The various parcels of our estate have yielded a range between 25 to 28 hl/ha for the reds and 30 to 35 hl/ha for the whites. These are only averages of course, one must keep in mind that the yields of the vines which were hit by frost were extremely small.
After a few days of maceration, the color of the red wines is already quite intense and the aromas are delicate. The fermentation of white wine has been turbulent with foam spilling out from all the barrels which makes for extra work cleaning up.
The harvesting itself went very well, with a great crew, beautiful weather, no incidents and no accidents and in the final analysis, that is what really counts.
September 1, 2003 From Marc OllivierThe harvest started on August 26th with the younger vines of Domaine de la Pépière:
Average potential alcohol : 11% - Acidity 4.5 grams/liter.
Acidity levels are very low (30% lower than last year). The sun and excessive heat have broken down the malic acid which should result in the wine being very round and pleasant. On the other hand, the aging potential of these wines is questionable.
We started harvesting the Clos des Briords (at 11.7% potential alcohol and 5 grams/liter acidity) but had to stop on Friday morning. A violent storm beat down on the vineyard with hail hitting certains areas - among others the vines that produce Cuvée Eden. At that point it became absolutely necessary to focus our efforts on picking these mildly damaged - but still good quality grapes (11.8% potential alcohol/ 4.5 grams/liter acidity) -as soon as possible. The Cuvée Eden grapes were picked on Friday, August 29 and Saturday, August 30. By today, Monday, September 1 all the grapes that remained on the vines are virtually ruined.
Harvesting will continue this week with the Clos Cormerais, the second part of the Clos des Briords and the older Domaine de la Pépière vines.
August 31, 2003We are starting the harvest on September 8th. The grapes already have high levels of sugar and lower than usual acidity which will probably mean that their aging potential will be only average ( similar to the 1976 vintage which had comparable weather) for those who are not able to keep a little acidity in their dry wines.
Given all this and how quickly the grapes are ripening, it looks like there will be fewer passes than usual. . The dessert wine grapes will essentially be sun-dried (passerillés) with concentrated acidity which will make things very easy.
We haven’t seen conditions like these in a very long time and, to tell you the truth, very few winemakers would venture to make serious predictions about the end results which goes to show once again that we aren’t producing Coca Cola™.
Drink 2003, packed with sunshine
Drink 2000, packed with rain
Pre-Harvest Report 2003 – September 2, 2003After a difficult beginning of the year from the point of view of temperatures and the fact that some parcels were partially affected by frost in April (soon after our return from New York) – just when an early bud burst had left the young vines particularly vulnerable, the regular rainfall that we got in the winter and spring set the stage for a more serene opening of the summer season and allowed us to work the soil in a consistent manner. Without question, this working of the soil, which we did at every possible opportunity, greatly helped to keep the soil cool thus avoiding the stress from dehydration seen in so many other regions. These efforts to assist Nature’s charity resulted in what we are seeing at this juncture : ripening that is 2 to 4 weeks ahead of schedule (depending on the parcels and the varietals).
So like every year, the results of my first investigations into the progress of the ripening process are an average level of potential alcohol of 11% for the young Chenin Blanc grapes and for the reds, between 12% and 13% for the Gamay and the most mature Pineau d’Aunis. As far as acidity levels go, without doubt, they will be weaker than in a normal year because, apparently, the extreme heat of this summer has broken down the malic acid a bit. We will only know for sure whether this indeed holds true a little later in the season.
Anyway, we will harvest our grapes 2 to 3 weeks earlier than usual – an extremely rare occurrence in our region. So we will start up the harvest around September 20th instead of the usual October 10th. We are still hoping for ripe tannins in the Pineau d’Aunis grapes and super ripeness in the whites. If this turns out to be the case, 2003 will be the crowning completion of the two previous years. In the end, as all shrewd winemakers know, it is what lies in the future and the grapes that are actually brought into the cellar which will have the final word. It will be important to vinify this material with great care; it will certainly challenge our greatest skills. We will be in touch soon to let you know how it goes.
August 31, 2003I’m afraid that there won’t be a lot of harvest reports this year because the crop has been so reduced that the harvest will not last very long.
We started the harvest on August 27th - an extraordinary date for the region (we’re used to starting around September 20th…even later in some years). But this is an exceptional year for all of France’s wine regions.
In the Touraine, there were freezing temperatures on April 10th which caused serious damage to parts of the region (ours was very badly hit) followed by a promising spring and early summer: just the perfect amount of sun and rain. But, as it turns out, Mother Nature is capricious and in August (at the same time that the weather in New York was not so great) we had a heat wave with temperatures over 40 C that lasted for 11 straight days. Certain grape varieties burned, in particular the Gamays, the Côts (enormous losses) and the Sauvignon Blancs (a little less damage). The later varietals like Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc (which we don’t have any more) and Pineau d’Aunis were spared or rather they resisted the sun’s rays better.
So, we started the harvest on August 27 under a blazing sun (it was hard for the pickers…Didier was in the cellar : he didn’t suffer too much!)
The morning: Chardonnay 13.5% potential alcohol, 4 grams/liter acidity, yield – 20hl/ha
The afternoon: Gamay 13.5% potential alcohol, 4 grams/liter acidity, yield – 20hl/ha
August 28th, the rain came…actually a few showers which were rather refreshing for the harvesters.
The morning: Gamay – 13.5% potential alcohol, 5 grams/liter acidity, yield 20hl/ha
The afternoon: Sauvignon Blanc – 13.5% potential alcohol, 4 grams/liter acidity, yield 23hl/ha.
August 29 : the rain of the previous night seriously cooled things down. I had to switch from shorts and sandals to long pants and boots. By the afternoon, I was able to put my shorts and sandals on again (whew!).
All day: Sauvignon Blanc – 13% potential alcohol, 4 grams/liter acidity and the same appalling yields.
We had the pleasure of admiring a deer – another reason our yields are so feeble (after having eaten the buds in the spring, they are now eating the fully ripened grapes!)
Today, Sunday, the weather has stabilised. It rained 8 mm last night…not quite enough to swell the grapes! More to come in our next installment.
Joe DressnerIt has been a horribly hot summer here in France. Record-breaking temperatures and relentless sun. This is not a nation equipped for such heat, there is little or no air conditioning, and the summer has taken a human toll.
And what about the vines?
The harvest has started way earlier then anyone can recall in much of France. The official date here in the Mâconnais was August 13th! Essentially, the hot wave begain in April and has not stopped since. The vine's vegetation cycle is nearly a year in advance throughout France.
It is always difficult to generalize, but this has been amazing year with a little bit of everything in the vineyards. It has been incredibly hot, so alcohol degree is high. Yields are fairly small throughout France, with various regions having suffered from frosts or hailstorms earlier this year. Additionally, the heat has dried out a many vineyards and there is more concentration and less juice then other years.
Dried out grapes are a deep worry. They can add disagreeable tannins and flavors that work to the detriment of the wine's fruitiness.
So, the harvesting has begun and we will have to see, case-by-case what the results are in the vineyard. Apparently, some sources are trumpeting this as the "Vintage of the Century." This is patently absurd at this point -- no wine has been made and the final results are yet to be seen.
Yes, there is a great deal of concentration and small yields, but on the other hand there is a low level of acidity and uneven ripeness. What this will be like several months down the road is still anyone's guess.
Denyse Louis and I happen to be in France through the beginning of September and we went down to Domaine des Terres Dorées in the Beaujolais to watch and minimally participate in the harvest.
Jean-Paul Brun is one of only two Beaujolais producers equipped with a genuine table de trie. The grapes are dumped out onto the table and are then sorted by hand.
Unlike most Beaujolais producers, Jean-Paul Brun does not do a carbonic maceration, but has a sophisticated destemming machine that cleans up the grapes. Absolutely essential this year, with the state of the incoming harvest. There are beautiful grapes, but also dried out grapes that are eliminated at the sorting table and by the destemmer. The picture below shows me sorting out the crop:
Below is an example of how good this vintage can look. These Gamay grapes are small, ripe and fairly high in alcohol. These grapes, in this batch, are destined for this year's Nouveau.
The final test is to taste the wine. Of course, it is very early and the fermentation is only first beginning. Nevertheless, there seems to solid fruit, good acidity (better acidity then the technical reports) and no lack of alcohol. Below, Denyse Louis, Jean-Paul Brun of Domaine des Terres Dorées and I taste a batch of Nouveau:
We will be posting regular news here as the harvest progress.