With mixed reports on the quality of the Bordeaux vintage in 2016, and distress in many parts of France from frost, then hail, 2016 is going to receive a subdued welcome from many critics. PIC SAINT LOUP in the LANGUEDOC saw about one-third of its 2016 crop taken out in a most savage storm that has qualified the region for State aid, while the early year woes of BURGUNDY and the LOIRE are by now pretty well known.
All the time, pressure on 2015 prices is tightening. As I predicted earlier in the year, 2014 will be very quickly forgotten about, although wise purchasers will have bought and tucked away cases of highly drinkable, spherical and en finesse 2014 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE RED, which will dance with pleasure in the glass around 2021-2022.
The focus for the very immediate moment is on the vintage being brought in now. I have returned from Châteauneuf-du-Pape where tractor drivers rev their engines like Formula 1 car drivers when spotting me walking along by the road (c’est toi, JULIEN BARROT) and where large smiles are the order of the day, so utterly happy are they with 2016.
I walked around the vineyards, tasting TERRET NOIR, VACCARÈSE, CLAIRETTE ROSE, and all the usual regulars such as GRENACHE and MOURVÈDRE before they were harvested. The juice is rich, the tannins supple enough to ensure balance in the wines. If the humans play their role without getting carried away into mass extraction, then 2016 will be very good indeed. The weather that was 25°C-30°C in the last week of September was glorious and settled. Most domaines had brought in all their crop before the rain on Saturday 1 October: this varied between 33 mm (1.3 in) at BÉDARRIDES in the East of the appellation to 25 mm (1 in) in SORGUES in the South-East of the appellation, on the way to AVIGNON.
The Southern Rhône reports pretty much the same story across the board – the warm to hot, stable weather of middle August to the end of September has invited ideal harvesting conditions, and crop without any semblance of blight. Sorting tables have been got out, set up, and then quietly folded away.
Most estates in GIGONDAS will be harvesting this week, with a stable, Mistral wind set-up for now, and more than a week of fine weather in prospect; there has been a loss of crop there of 10-20% due to coulure (flowers failing to convert into fruit), and the high zones around the DENTELLES have felt the drought.
The harvest is a little behind the South, naturally enough, but growers are also pleased with events. From CROZES-HERMITAGE, MAXIME GRAILLOT of DOMAINE DES LISES told me: “I’m very happy – it’s been an unexpected year. Yields are around 39-40 hl/ha, against 45-47 hl/ha in 2015, but the analysis of 2016 lines up as the same as 2015 for degree, total acidity, pH, with perhaps thicker skins this year. The crop is very healthy indeed, and the first vats came in at 12° to 12.3°, the last at 13°.”
Covering CORNAS and SAINT-JOSEPH, JOËL DURAND of DOMAINE DURAND was similarly content: “It’s very beau and healthy,” he reported. “It’s a late vintage, but a good one. The degree varies according to zones, affected by the dry weather. But we had 50 mm (2 in) of rain south of TOURNON in early August via two storms, and 15 mm (0.6 in) on 20 August, which set the vines up for the very hot weather in late August and early September. Acidity levels are good on the one hand, and on the other there are some jam and very ripe aspects to some of the wines – the solar influence of the late high heat."
CORNAS has completed the harvest by and large around the village, with the high, near the plateau outlying and less convincing zones bringing in the crop over the next ten days. Degrees can be irregular, with some spots at 12.8°, others at 13.5° to 14°.
CÔTE-RÔTIE is also reported to be in good shape via levels of ripeness and degree that are on the button.