they`re all talking about it: precocity - precoce, precoce, precoce. A bit like the Spanish romantic ballad Quizás, Quizás, Quizás, that the airline played as I was taking off from Bogotá one stormy day. The vineyards are three weeks ahead of normal dates in their ripening. Marcel Guigal told me in mid-May 2011: "I am a bit anxious, we are so very much in advance. The flowering has already ended at Condrieu, which is earlier than 2003, something I have never seen before. It rained the weekend of 14-15 May, which was helpful. We have more crop than 2003, though, and my Côte-Rôtie vineyards are very belle, very healthy. Our Hermitagevineyards do not look as good, though - they are showing more signs of stress from the drought."
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is also three weeks ahead. Pierre Perrin of Château de Beaucastel remarked that the absence of wind this year had been a boon, in not accelerating the effects of the drought. "We are three weeks early. Flowering has started on the Grenache at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as it did around now in 2003, but has not yet got going at the later ripening soils of Vinsobres. I am not worried for now - there is no blight or illness in the vineyard, so we do not face pressure from that. The budding was good, so yields are normal for now."
At Gigondas, Louis Barruol of Château de Saint Cosme commented in mid-May 2011 that his vines look good, with a 2 to 3 week advance. He added: "it`s quite dry. I think the rains will definitely be a key point this year, because we already know it will be an early ripening vintage. If this combines with dry and hot conditions, we will be in a kind of 2003 trouble. If we have a good spread of rain and mild temperatures through the summer, we`ll be OK."
France is suffering from the drought, with the middle area, notably the Charente, north-east of Bordeaux, affected. A Committee of Drought has been set up, with increasing worry about high food prices. Cattle breeders have had to send part of their prize herds to the abbatoir: in one case, a farmer-breeder said he had just one-quarter of his usual feed supply, and that his fields had no grass. He could not afford the cattle. The State has also allowed the use of Set-Aside land for active agricultural use.
In Sussex, we have had under 15 mm (half an inch, max) of rain in the past 6 weeks. The north and west of England has fared better. But basking sharks first appeared off the west coast of Scotland in March this year, around 6 weeks early, and the Rhône pattern is repeated even at this higher latitude. Prayer mats for rain are in order.
engine room Southern Rhône entries recently, with the emphasis on some new and exciting domaines. There is much to like about the approach of young growers who are often highly motivated, and I would signal some of these to readers. At Roaix, the most promising Domaine Pique-Basse deserves speacial attention for its Villages wines. At Cairanne, the Clos des Mourres likewise, while under Côtes-du-Rhône, have a look at Domaine Nicolas Croze - not a start-up, but good nonetheless. Under Brézème, see Domaine Helfenbein Charles, a singular journey for this young man who is working the most southerly Northern Côtes-du-Rhône vineyards at Brézème, but also vineyards from the Ardèche across the river.
At Cairanne, prime Domaines Oratoire Saint Martin and Domaine Alary have been visited - also see Denis Alary`s interesting comments about his whites under the latter. From Rasteau, Elodie Balme`s wines of finesse have been tasted, which now include a Roaix. At Vinsobres, the 2009s have been tasted from a range of domaines, led by Domaine de Deurre (STGT qualities), Jaume and Chaume-Arnaud. For the full range, use the Search engine under 2009 Vinsobres.
At Signargues, the quite recent Rhône Village in the west bank Gard département, the accomplished maker of fine wines, the Château Haut-Musiel has been entered, while nearby at Saint-Gervais, the regular leader of the pack, Domaine de Saint-Anne, has been visited. Under Côtes-du-Rhône, I would also point out the regular quality of the Château La Borie, a wine popular in Britain.
From the Northern Rhône, Yves Cuilleron`s range has been updated, from Condrieu on to the reds and the Vins de Pays as well.