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MAY 2014

As the buds turn towards flowers, growers of Grenache across the SOUTHERN RHÔNE are preparing themselves for the most critical moment of their year. If the weather is cold, if it is damp, or if there is a biting wind, the Grenache may lose crop from coulure – flowers appearing, but not converting into fruit. The economic hardship from this is extreme, as is the damage to the region’s identity, which revolves around wines centred upon the Grenache, regarded as the natural Child of these soils.

“In 2013 I had a lot of coulure on my old vine Grenache,” relates JEAN-PAUL VERSINO of the excellent, traditional approach DOMAINE BOIS DE BOURSAN at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. In that regard it was similar to 1984, when there was also a lot of coulure, but those 1984s came back to give lovely surprises after 20 years, as their acidity settled in, their balance arranged itself,  and their behaviour reflected that of Burgundy reds.

We are on target this year for flowering between 25 May and 1 June, similar to 2012. We must hope that we can avoid cold weather then. Budding on the Syrah, Mourvèdre, Clairette and Bourboulenc has been average, not a lot nor a little, but the big question revolves around the Grenache at the end of the month. The vegetation this year is going well, and has slowed since a cooler spell from late April into early May. There are no signs of any oïdium or mildew.”

Reflecting the cooler zones of the Southern Drôme, PHILIPPE ARNAUD of the benchmark DOMAINE CHAUME-ARNAUD, makers of good VINSOBRES and also SAINT-MAURICE, spoke of flowering heading for 10 June or thereabouts. "What pleases me the most is that the vineyards are in a wonderfully homogenous state," he explained; "after all the heavy rains and little cold weather during the winter, the vines look good and are ahead of their usual evolution. There are no blights, and budding was joli."

In the NORTHERN RHÔNE, the early advance as a result of a mild winter and warm weather in March and April has been whittled back after some cooler conditions in late April and the first week of May. “We’re still ahead of schedule,” commented DAVID REYNAUD, who has been turning out excellent 2012s in the southern zone of CROZES-HERMITAGE from his DOMAINE LES BRUYÈRES. “Budding was belle on the Syrah, though the Marsanne was poor, and that will be a small crop this year. We had a lot of winter rain until mid-February. We need one more good raining before flowering.”

At CÔTE-RÔTIE, GILLES BARGE, doyen of matters syndicales for the appellation, and proud traditionalist, spoke of the very fast start in March and early April 2014. “We are now one week ahead,” he stated. “This year we had to delay our working of the soils by around two weeks because of the very wet weather in February. The vegetation’s growth has slowed with the cooler spell of late April and the start of May. Reserves of water are good.”

Meanwhile, the market for 2012s is strong and steady, the market for the lighter 2013s less stable. A good, abundant, sound quality vintage would be in everyone’s interests this year. There is du chemin à faire, there are ways to go yet. Already present in the vines is the makings of the 2015 crop, though, which may reflect the stresses of 2013. The cycle is not merely from one year to the next.