The second week of June has brought the first real high summer heat to the Rhône - a gradual intensification up to levels of 35°C (94°F) in the shade at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. “The vineyard is in magnificent condition,” reported MICHEL ARNAUD from the traditional quality DOMAINE LA MILLIÈRE in the north-west of the appellation. “flowering is nearly finished, and I am optimistic; there is very little sense of coulure (flowers failing to convert into fruit) on the GRENACHE, which is encouraging for yields vis-à-vis the past two or three years. The last rain of consequence was around the middle of May, but our vines, which are mostly old, have deep roots and can draw on reserves built up during the wet winter and early spring.”
Away to the eastern end of the appellation in COURTHÉZON, the charming and peerless JACQUELINE ANDRÉ of DOMAINE PIERRE ANDRÉ has remained loyal to her father’s organic ideals that have been set in place since the mid-1960s, after PIERRE tried herbicides on two hectares and found that the effect in sandy soils was that the vine nourished itself above the soils and not deep down. “Our soils are in very good shape,” she related; “the spring was nice and regular – no swings, the wind not violent, and there has been a joli flowering, a lot of bunches. The GRENACHE and SYRAH are largely completed, the MOURVÈDRE just starting out on its flowers. The leaf colour is good, and when I am in the vines I feel a good energy and pulse.”
Further north at VALRÉAS, EMMANUEL BOUCHARD, the President of the Growers Union and long-time locomotive of the appellation with his late, much loved father ROMAIN at DOMAINE LE VAL DES ROIS, spoke of “a very good start this year, a lovely budding. There is very little blight, the leaves look good, and flowering is ending now. The only possible question will be the effect of the current high heat on the late flowers. A little hail hit the plain around TULETTE on 22 May. We are now shaping up for a classic harvest time of around 20 September.”
From late cycle GIGONDAS, DÉLPHINE FARAUD of the very good, traditional DOMAINE DU CAYRON told me: “Flowering started in the last week of May after a very good budding. The wet winter – we had over half our annual rain in three months - meant that our pruning ended over two weeks later than usual, at the end of March. Since then we have had very little rain, and that is a little bit of a worry. The storm of 23 May only gave us 10 mm (0.4 in), against hail on the plain towards TULETTE and VISAN. Hence our freshly planted vines on the high part of COL DU CAYRON may suffer a bit from this dry spell.”
From VISAN, MARIANNE FUES of the excellent DOMAINE DE COSTE CHAUDE had not been hit by the May hail: “things are excellent; we had lots of rain, which was needed, in the lead up to the season, but this hot and dry weather is just right; there has been no rain during flowering.”
The NORTHERN RHÔNE is proceeding quietly and well; PIERRE CLAPE at CORNAS stated that flowering went well, while LAURENT FAYOLLE of the stylish DOMAINE FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE at CROZES-HERMITAGE spoke of the quick-slow nature of the start of the season: “the vegetation got going really quickly due to the heat in April, but the fresh, quite capricious weather in May slowed that down. Flowering has ended except for in the most north-facing and windy spots.
With this high summer heat, the vines are galloping along again. As for yield, the areas with the poorest soils seem to be giving small berries and not too many bunches – some of our old vines may have just one bunch instead of two or three per shoot. There is very little mildew pressure so far.”
Across the river in the village of MAUVES, part of SAINT-JOSEPH, the STGT domaine of GONON view was as follows from vineyard chief PIERRE GONON: “well, it’s a lot easier than last year! It is a bit heterogeneous – flowering has advanced a lot in some places such as the most sheltered, but not very much at all in others where the effect of the North Wind is more felt. Water reserves are good – our last rain was a big storm of 75 mm (3 in) in late May, but there was no hail with that. There is hardly a spot of mildew. The white crop didn’t have a big budding, perhaps affected by the cold at flowering last year, but flowering on the MARSANNE and the ROUSSANNE is going well.”