The 2012 vintage is starting to present some shape now, and there is one refrain repeated across the Rhône, North and South - "above all, thank goodness we do not live in Champagne, nor in Burgundy, the Beaujolais and even Bordeaux." The wet, gloomy summer has brought on large problems for those regions, while the Rhône situation is still well manageable.
As expected, the SOUTHERN RHÔNE has been warmer than the North, and growers present a calm face for now. From CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, CHRISTOPHE SABON of the top-notch DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE, situated in the north-east corner at Courthézon, told me: "I have no complaints for now, unlike the other regions of France. Our yields will be low, like 2010 after we suffered coulure (flowers failing to convert into fruit) on the old Grenache. There are spots of mildew here and there, but we haven`t had storms and hail, only light rains when they have come. It`s been very dry and also hot for two weeks now, with temperatures around 32°C, our last rainfall being 3 mm last week and 20 mm (0.8 in) on the first weekend of July. Our Syrah are starting to turn colour, and we may be targeting a harvest for the Viognier, Roussanne and Syrah around 3 to 5 September, the Grenache 10-15 September for now. It is a year from the old days, when Parisians were forced to come to Provence to seek the sun," (did I detect a note of relish in his voice there?)
PIERRE AMADIEU at GIGONDAS told me a somewhat similar story: "it`s been fine for a month now, with a bit of oïdium around, as often happens at this time of the season. Flowering was very spread out over time this year, not helped by the freezing of the old vine Grenache with delayed vegetation all over the place a result. The bunches are loose which will mean less likelihood of rot (also noted by C Sabon), and the quantity will not be as great as 2011, more like 2009 and 2010, around 32 hl/ha or so. We have had to treat against mildew, and now especially against oïdium, but I am quite optimistic." The remarks about coulure on the old vine Grenache also apply to Vaucluse Villages such as CAIRANNE, so 2012 is set to not be a large yield year anywhere.
Over in the right bank Gard, FABRICE DELORME of DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE at TAVEL observed that there were no real worries, with a series of rains that had made very little adverse impact on their vineyards in TAVEL and LIRAC. "We are working to prevent oïdium and mildew, but seem to be heading for a normal date of harvest and normal yields this year. It is 32-34°C towards the end of the second week of July, and we have not had much rain since the end of June."
The NORTHERN RHÔNE situation is more delicate due to the lower heat levels, and hail has also played a role here. At CÔTE-RÔTIE, PHILIPPE GUIGAL stated "it is a classic vintage, indicating possible harvesting towards the end of September, about 10 days behind recent dates. There is pressure on the health of the vines, and the crop will be smaller than 2011, which is desirable. It is not a year when it will be at all easy to succeed with purely organic practices - it`s more a year for mushrooms with the constant cycle of rain then sun then rain. The vineyards look good, but I am aware that we have to be vigilant, even if I am not pessimistic." Philippe also informed me of a blow to their SAINT-JOSEPH vineyards at Le Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph at Tournon on the night of 9 July - "we had hail there, which also hit the commune of SARRAS quite badly."
Neighbour PATRICK JASMIN at CÔTE-RÔTIE also talked of the continuing tasks this year - "we have to manage matters, with oïdium lurking and mildew to combat, and it is not a vintage for organic working. I was in fact agreeably surprised by the quantity of crop on my Côte Blonde vineyard this morning, which never delivers a lot, but has held up well; overall we might be at a yield of 35 hl/ha, which is OK. There has been coulure on the high vineyards, though. As usual for the first two weeks of July, mornings have been fresh, around 15°C today, with a high of 25°C. If I am at all morose, it is only that I personally would like to see more sun for myself!"
From CONDRIEU, LIONEL FAURY of DOMAINE FAURY commented: "after our fast start to the season in the spring, we had two months of rain, and since then it has been hot and stormy, a difficult year for the climate side of the equation. I am not too worried, but there are traces of mildew and black rot, while coulure on the Viognier will mean a loss of crop. Ripening is also very variable from one plot to the next, so I expect harvesting to be on a dateline from 15 to 20 years ago, not before 15 September. At SAINT-JOSEPH we have some oïdium on the white grapes. Overall, we have had to do a lot of work this year just to keep stable in the vineyard."
Further south at HERMITAGE, JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE told me: "the vineyard looks really green and joli, but the growers are less joli because of all the work we`ve had to do. There was some rain at flowering, and what we need now is good weather to get the grapes going well. There has been some mildew, but it is controllable, and not anything like Burgundy and Bordeaux this year."
At CROZES-HERMITAGE, JEAN-LOUIS PRADELLE of DOMAINE PRADELLE also spoke of the higher than usual work load this year: "we have had to take off a lot of vegetation to air the bunches, which are small this year; our main pressure came at Ascension, with that month until around 20 June being a time of some mildew, and now mainly oïdium as the principal threat. I may be heading for harvesting around 20 September."
From CORNAS, PIERRE CLAPE of DOMAINE CLAPE gave me the dry comment: "well, there are still grapes on the vines, but also a lot of grass; we need heat, although a few grapes are starting to change colour today after some days of 26-29°C. The big pressure has been oïdium, not surprising given our rainfall of around 300 mm (12 inches) in April, May and June. There has been some coulure, especially at the bottom of the slopes and with the old vines, but the full slope vineyards are in good shape. Our SAINT-PÉRAY vines have some mildew, but are better off than those further south towards Valence. It is a Year of the Worker."
In unfortunate circumstances is JEAN-MARIE LOMBARD at BRÉZÈME, whose 6 hectare vineyard in this "mid-Rhône" area was struck by mid-July hail, borne by a large storm coming across the river from the Ardèche. "It hit the west-facing vines, and we have lost 20-40% in places," he reported. "Until then, all was fine; the last serious hail we had here was 1991, on 31 July, when the damage was a lot more severe due to the vast amount of small hail stones; this time the stones were fewer and bigger. The fruit growers - peaches, apricots - have been very badly hit."
NORTHERN RHÔNE VINEYARD NEWS, EARLY JULY 2013: the theme of a late to ripen year is constant across the vineyards. Quantity is small. Flowering has been very late, in some cases three weeks behind the dates of recent years, and still occurring at CORNAS in early July. From there, LUDOVIC IZÉRABLE of DOMAINE PIERRE LIONNET told me: “things have been better in the past two weeks, but until mid-June it has been complicated, with rain and cool weather. The grapes are coming through, but are very small. We look like a year with 25-30 hl/ha yields, which for us as an organic domaine is not far off the usual mark. For other domaines, it will certainly be less abundant than usual.”
PIERRE CLAPE of legendary DOMAINE CLAPE at CORNAS also talked of a “complicated time” this year. “Rain but also the low temperatures have been the main problem. Our flowering ended on 20 June, which, using the 100 day rule, would imply a harvest date around late September. The budding was modest, and flowering was irregular, with a lot of coulure (flowers not converting into fruit), while some plants did well. There has been some menace of oïdium, while mildew has been restricted to Roussanne and Marsanne at SAINT-PÉRAY.”
From CÔTE-RÔTIE, BRIGITTE ROCH of the organic DOMAINE CLUSEL-ROCH reported the following situation: “The rain has meant a lot of grass in the vineyards, which we have to pick axe out, but we have big lads to do that work! Mornings have been very cool, with the Bise north wind around. Flowering went well, during a rare week of hot weather. The last 7 to 15 days until early July we have had good sunny days up to 28-30°C, with only a few spots of rain. We are 2 to 3 weeks behind recent years.”
SOUTHERN RHÔNE VINEYARD NEWS, EARLY JULY 2013: a gloomy outlook here. The Rhône has been spared the catastrophic hail that has wiped out parts of VOUVRAY in the LOIRE and PROVENCE this year, but has been hit by widespread coulure on the staple Grenache variety. Just as the flowering got under way, very late, the sap was rising, vegetation was stirring, and a cold front came in. Bang.
As DANIEL BRUNIER of DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE and DOMAINE LES PALLIÈRES at GIGONDAS told me in early July: “flowering was awful on the old Grenache at Télégraphe – a loss of 30-40%, also on our white vines. The young Grenache is OK, but the Syrah crop is also small; maybe we will achieve only 23-25 hl/ha. The vines look super belles. Ironically the budding was great, now we are in big trouble. At GIGONDAS, flowering isn’t finished, but last week’s weather was fine, and as it’s a late ripening zone, things could yet be OK.”
From GIGONDAS, DOMINIQUE AY of top-grade DOMAINE RASPAIL-AY summed up as follows: “it’s not catastrophic, but is tense. We had strong coulure on our Grenache of all ages, thanks to the cold during flowering. All the most precocious vines were the worst hit, so there are now bunches with 3 or 4 grapes on them. The Syrah and the Mourvèdre are in good shape. Harvest date: the end of September. We are due a run of hot weather now into the second week of July."
ENTERED RECENTLY: in an attempt to unleash les bons temps rouler of hot weather, a full review of 2012 TAVEL ROSÉ has been posted under the sidebar THE LEADING WINES, subtab 2012 SOUTHERN RHÔNE. It is a generally good vintage, although the difference between the best and the worst is wider than it was in 2011. A series of notes on 2012 CÔTES DU RHÔNE WHITES and ROSÉS made by domaines at LIRAC, TAVEL and VACQUEYRAS has also been posted. Look for the LVT (Last Vintage Tasted) tag, either 2012 wh or 2012 rosé.
DOMAINE VISITS: a recent domaine, DOMAINE LA BARRIÈRE of PHILIPPE BRUN, listed under CÔTES DU RHÔNE. The main vineyard is north-east of Vaison-la-Romaine, at a little altitude near PUYMÉRAS. Philippe is married to a Taveloise, and also makes a good TAVEL, all 5,000 bottles of it. From VALRÉAS, MAS DE SAINTE CROIX, Belgian-owned, and making authentic reds and a sound Roussanne white. A visit also to one of the leading CÔTES DU RHÔNE estates, CHÂTEAU DE MONTFAUCON, which has raised its top red BARON LOUIS to LIRAC status, and is also now the owner of a fantastic pre-1900 CLAIRETTE BLANCHE vineyard in the good white wine zone of SAINT GENIÈS DE COMOLAS, one of the four communes within the Lirac appellation.