Right until the end, the vineyard year of 2014 in the Rhône has posed hurdles and challenges for growers. It may be that the Northern Rhône has had a relatively more straight forward run into the harvest than the South, where copious amounts of GRENACHE NOIR and a lack of prolonged periods of sun and warmth have led to a stubborn ripening. By an act of providence, however, the disastrous 300 mm (12 inches) of rain that fell on MONTPELLIER on Monday 29 September did not move east into COSTIÈRES DE NÎMES and the GARD département, which had already harvested much of their crop, anyway.
CÔTE-RÔTIE: the weather was pretty dry, the rainfall lower than at CORNAS, for instance. But there was the onset of acid rot, which meant that growers had to harvest quickly. FRANÇOIS MERLIN reported “a good colour and maturity on the crop; I have lost 25-30%, making my yield around 30-33 hl/ha – but the main reason was the poor budding in the spring; there was light rot as well. My SYRAH degrees for both CÔTE-RÔTIE and SAINT-JOSEPH are 12.7° to 13°. I harvested both mostly around 25 September.”
CONDRIEU: FRANÇOIS MERLIN was happy: “it’s very good, both ripeness and quantity on the VIOGNIER, with harvesting between 15 and 25 September. I didn’t want to chase extreme maturity this year, and fermentations have turned out to be long – they are still going; it’s a good vintage, with good pH and total acidity as well, the degree 13.8° to 14°. There is more charge in the VIOGNIER than the SYRAH this year, and it is perhaps more rich than 2013, maybe a little gourmand.”
CORNAS: PIERRE-MARIE CLAPE gave this account of events: “we have devatted all the wines, and one or two malos have started. Our first harvesting was on PATOU in the south on 11 and 12 September, and we ended on 19 September. There was a big rainfall of 100 mm (4 inches) on the evening of 17 September, and between then and 22 September, we had 130-140 mm (5.2 to 5.6 in) altogether. Hence there is a divide this year between those who harvested before and those who harvested after the rain.
We harvested just in time, as did GUILLAUME GILLES and THIÉRRY ALLEMAND. Those with later vineyards high up at SAINT-PIERRE such as PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ also had hail to contend with on 28 September, and you would expect their degrees to be around 11.5° in the first instance.
Our yield was up to the maximum – 40 hl/ha. There were very fat grapes due to the humidity, a lot of juice in them. On the wines finished already, our degrees are 12.8° to 13.5°, the total acidity 3.4 to 3.8, near a normal vintage; the pH is 3.8 on the old SYRAH. It’s been a very complicated year, with a lot of weeds, and rain in July. We have had more rain than HERMITAGE, CÔTE-RÔTIE and SAINT-DÉSIRAT in the middle of SAINT-JOSEPH.
As for SAINT-PÉRAY, the degrees on the MARSANNE are good this year – 13.5° on the young vines, and 14° on the older vines. This year we have made 30 hl (4,000 bottles), which is wonderful – 2013 was only 6 hl (800 bottles).”
GIGONDAS: PIERRE AMADIEU noted the amount of effort needed this year, when he commented: “you had to sort an awful lot this year; we employ experienced Spanish harvesters, who understood that they had to be cutting back unripe or unhealthy crop in the vineyard. We had rainfalls in August and September that meant it was never really dry for long and the soils remained humid, so there were problems in those zones where the crop was copious; that was the case with the GRENACHE. If you took out the pink grapes, there is quite good fruit and balance in the rest, and there isn’t too much alcohol. Our GRENACHE ranges between 13° to 13.5° for the early pickings, on to 14° to 14.5° or 14.8° for the later harvest.
The SYRAH yield was OK, while there was quite a lot of MOURVÈDRE. Overall, our quantity is full, at 40 hl/ha – after the recent tiny vintages such as 2013, people have taken the opportunity to stock up on GRENACHE. There are some extraordinary aromas, and it should be good for whites and rosés, their degree not high. To give an example of the slow end to the ripening season, I had some GRENACHE BLANC that went from 12° to 12.5° over three weeks – very slow progress indeed.
Domaines such as GRAPILLON D’OR and RASPAIL-AY finished harvesting on 7 October; I know that SAINT COSME are harvesting their GRENACHE now; we have another 25% to pick. It’s definitely a vintage for the winemaker (vigneron).”
CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE: DANIEL BRUNIER of DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE reported “after the tricky year, the result isn’t bad at all; there are very handsome SYRAHs with attractive ripeness and nearly perfect health. The GRENACHE has been very slow to ripen, not helped by the rains from the West and a relative low incidence of MISTRAL Wind to clean things up. Late September harvesting was interrupted by spots of rain – just 5 mm (0.2 in) on 30 September, for instance, but enough in these conditions to halt us.”
TAVEL: PASCAL LAFOND, DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-EPINE: “of course the climate was damp, which meant that rot started in September after the rains. Hence a lot of sorting was necessary, although given the rosé vinification, the rot – on skins and pips and so on – it mattered less in vinifying the rosé than the red wines. So it’s an interesting year with less colour than recent vintages. It is perhaps like 2011 in style, and with a bit less concentration and richness than 2012. Alcohol degrees are less than usual, perhaps 0.5° lower, perhaps because we picked that bit earlier with the grey rot developing – we are at 13.5°, or a touch more. We started on 9 September.”
On LIRAC, PASCAL commented: "“a lot of discarding and sorting was necessary, which you can’t really do so well when you machine harvest, as we do for our CÔTES DU RHÔNE. We started harvesting on 15 September, but were halted for three days by the rainfall of around 70 mm (2.8 inches) on 17 September.
Grey rot was the big problem – we even had rot on the less abundant vines this year, which is unusual. Apart from the GRENACHE, there was also quite a lot of rot on the CINSAULT, though the MOURVÈDRE was OK. Our yield is normal, the maximum in fact – 41 hl/ha. We had some GRENACHE NOIR at 15° to 16° from a galet stone plateau vineyard at ROQUEMAURE near CLARY – it’s very exposed, very windswept, but elsewhere the GRENACHE degree was often 13.5° to 14°. Our SYRAH was 12.5° to 13°. This year, with all the rot about, you have to watch out very closely for any Volatile Acidity when vinifying.
I am very confident about the white wine, just like recent years. The VIOGNIER and the ROUSSANNE both did well, and it’s a good vintage for them.”