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February Frosts

MID MAY 2012

now that buds are coming out, the sombre black shadows in the vineyards show the damage wrought by the frost of early February, 2012. Julien Mus, owner of the promising DOMAINE DE LA GRAVEIRETTE, which has vineyards at CÔTES DU RHÔNE and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, told me: "It is very mixed between one plant and the next; I have some plots where I have 15-20% dead Grenache of 60 to 80 years`old. My average is a loss of around 10%, I think."

Growers at Rasteau, Beaumes-de-Venise and the Northern Rhône tell a similar story. Temperatures were around -11°C on Monday 6 February, accompanied by a Mistral wind of 110 km, which brought in a severe wind chill factor. Old vines have been worst hit, perhaps simply because they were old. But contrary to the big freeze of 1956, olive trees have surivived. However, an 80-year old at Rasteau recounted that in all his life he had never seen a frozen pine tree - until this year.

Linking 1956 and 2012 was a warm period before the big freeze, with the sap high up in the vines. Pruning was on hold - for the sensible. Apparently some foolhardy folk tried to carry on pruning, but the branches would just snap, even before the cutters were rendered insane by the wind and the cold. The DOMAINE DE FENOUILLET at BEAUMES-DE-VENISE lost old Muscat in some quantity: "our Muscat was hardest hit by the frosts," Patrick Soard told me; "One plot has 20% of its vines dead, and 60% are just budding now, way behind the others, in mid-May. Our worst hit vines had not even yet been pruned". So the frost took out pruned and non-pruned vines alike. Total losses of around 10% mean that a low crop may be in prospect, since the weather has been very mixed during April and May - 2 days of 32-34°C at the end of the first week of May were followed by a drop of at least 10°C, and mid-May has been marked by sun, cool nights, and days not exceeding 24°C, with rain on the weekend of Ascension.

Cool April


a cool April, when the vines stagnated according to some growers, has ended. The main benefit was the rainfall, after an exceedingly dry March. At Condrieu André Perret recounted that at Chavanay they had received 130 mm (5.2 in) in April, while Anthony Vallet at Saint-Joseph told me that the Viognier was advancing ahead of the Syrah. The rain has , of course, been very popular in the Southern Rhône, where early May temperatures are around 20°C.

The DECANTER World Wine Awards week saw bling hit the Rhône in London. Usually the Panel of which I am Chairman gives 2 or 3 Gold Medals, after a few early years with none at all(2012 was the 9th year). This year, in the last week of April, we went haywire, and awarded 9 Gold Medals, and numerous Silvers. Most encouragingly, most of these wines were inexpensive, and featured, with no surprise, the fantastic 2010 vintage for all the reds, and the lovely 2011 vintage for the two white Gold Medals. The wines were all tasted blind, and their ID is not yet known, but I have a put a list of them under GOINGS-ON. ALLEZ RHÔNE!

ALLEZ CORNAS! The life and times of our Cheval Mascot have been at the bottom of the slope, metaphorically, recently, on the less noble terroir. He had an expedition to Auteuil Racecourse in the west of Paris, where Ernest Hemingway used to spend time, but unfortunately misjudged the Water Jump (different obstacle to the ones in Britain), and fell. He returned to England and a week later ran at Sandown Park, a track he likes, and finished last of 8 runners in a top 2 mile chase. Un peu fatigué, the Noble Beast. He may have a small holiday now. Hats off to CORNAS, none the less. His fan mail continues to grow.