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Apart from 10 days in June, the Rhône in 2014 has had no real sustained run of good, hot weather, and there has been enough rainfall to encourage a lot of greenery across the vineyards. Progress is therefore gradual, with growers cautiously content so far – unless they are in the north of the GARD département around the village of SAINT-JUST and the southern ARDÈCHE villages of SAINT MARTIN D’ARDÈCHE and SAINT MARCEL D’ARDÈCHE, where a tornado hit on Sunday July 20.

SOUTHERN RHÔNE: from the CÔTES DU RHÔNE at SABRAN in the right bank GARD département, RÉMY KLEIN of DOMAINE LA RÉMÉJEANNE told me: "it’s been a complicated year – we have lost 30-35% of the crop from hail, but have fared better than those further north in the ARDÈCHE. We had a lot of rain in July, so what is shaping up this year is for us to make basic wines, but not the top level range of cuvées, and that is what a lot of people will do.”

A lucky outsider – just – from the ravages of the July hail was CHRISTELLE COULANGE, who makes attractively fruited CÔTES DU RHÔNE wines at DOMAINE COULANGE, near BOURG SAINT-ANDÉOL, north of SABRAN. She told me: “we were on the fringes of the storm – we avoided catastrophe across the valley, just one slope away. The crop had been big before the hail, which lasted 20 minutes on the Sunday afternoon, came in from the south-west and at its worst delivered hailstones the size of ping pong balls at SAINT MARCEL.

We now need hot and dry weather, but haven’t been able to have a run of good days. Nights are fresh, and the days are around 27-28°C. My father has worked hard against oïdium, but there are a few spots of mildew. There was no coulure on the GRENACHE, the SYRAH is a little in advance, and we are nearing the end of the véraison (grapes changing colour). On the white crop, there has been a threat of rot on the GRENACHE BLANC and the ROUSSANNE, less so on the MARSANNE and VIOGNIER.

As for our date of harvest, we could be around 10 September, but a lot depends on August, which is absolutely crucial. If it remains as it is now – not very hot, rather unsettled – it will be slow, but with heat, it would be earlier. It’s been what we call  a “special” year – not straightforward.”

At SAINT MARCEL D’ARDÈCHE, two of the region's top names lay on the path of the devastating hail storm. The MAS DE LIBIAN of HÉLÈNE THIBON suffered around 80% damage, while their neighbour DOMAINE SALADIN, run by sisters ELISABETH and MARIE-LAURENCE, had just two plots spared from the hail. Their year was hammered on that fateful Sunday.

The left bank VAUCLUSE département has been spared the hail by and large. From the north-west of the 3,150 hectare area of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, LAURENT CHARVIN of the excellent, STGT DOMAINE CHARVIN reported: “things are OK. The year was very dry from the end of the winter until early July, but in the past month it’s been quite humid. We have work to do to air the vines because of the amount of vegetation. There has been hail, a very little mildew on the new small leaves and, as for oïdium we have worked on that. So the health of the crop is good overall. The GRENACHE looks very good, while the MOURVÈDRE is in good form. Yields can vary on the SYRAH, which happens every two to three years.

As for the rain, we have had around 100 mm (4 inches) over the past five weeks since early July. Days have risen to 30°-31°C, with nights down to 12°-13°C. Across the whole of CHÂTEAUNEUF, people say the same as me – we are all OK so far.”

To the east at later ripening GIGONDAS, LOUIS BARRUOL, patron of CHÂTEAU SAINT COSME,  told me: “we are a little in advance, and for once we have an enormous amount of GRENACHE – too many grapes, in fact – I have never seen so many, more even than in 2000. If we follow the 2000 comparison, it may not be a very great year, but a balanced, rounded one. However, if September’s weather is bad, we could be in for a bad year.

Our July rain came in five or six falls totalling around 40 mm (1.6 inches), so the vines won’t suffer even if we now have two dry months. In July temperatures weren’t nearly as high as they had been for 10 days in June – a moderate 25°C to 28°C, and nights were fresh, as well. The vineyards now look magnificent – but note that both bunches and vegetation are still growing, whereas obviously I would prefer the plants’ energy going into the bunches.”