NORTHERN RHÔNE - 2008 so far
CÔTE-RÔTIE: "August has not been too bad," reports Gilbert Clusel of the excellent Domaine Clusel-Roch, a benchmark STGT estate. "The vintage is later than previous years - 10 days behind them. We are looking for a harvest date of around 20-25 September this year." There were two rainfalls of note - about 35 mm (1.4 inches) at the start of the month, and the same in mid-month. Fresh nights and warm days have permitted ripening to make progress, with temperatures around 30°C (86°F) on 27-28 August. "The vineyards are very irregular in their state this year," comments Gilbert, echoing comments from the Southern Rhône. "The better the care, the better things have turned out, since first there was coulure (poor fruit formation after flowering), then mildew, then oïdium." Mildew has still been around the vines later than usual - into early August indeed. Yields will not be abundant.
CONDRIEU: The Viognier is about 8 to 10 days behind 2007 in its ripening. Acidity levels are good for now.
CORNAS: August evolved quietly, according to Vincent Paris, without great worries about bad weather. "We are 10 days behind a vintage such as 2007, and will be harvesting around 22-23 September this year." There was rain in August, but nothing very heavy, and no hail, even though there were some storms. "The biggest lack in 2008 has been the heat, including in August, so I expect light and supple tannins this year." There has not been a really stable run of fine weather, with 2-3 day spells of heat then broken up by rain or cloud. "We have never gone above 35°C (95°F) - the hottest days have been 30°C plus (86°F plus)." There has been oïdium, for instance on Chaillot at the northern end of the appellation, but less mildew than say at Crozes or at Saint-Joseph. Quantity is very variable across the vineyards, with no real pattern attached to it.
SOUTHERN RHÔNE - 2008 so far
2 SEPTEMBER 2008
CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE: rainfall for August has been as follows: 11-12 August 30 mm (1.2 inches) and 4 mm (0.16 inch); 20 August 2 mm; 23 August 4 mm; 31 August 18 mm (0.72 inch). Then, wham! 80 mm (3.2 inches) on the night of 3 September. The vintage is sorting out the optimists from the more cautious. In the optimist camp (Sept 2) is Frédéric Brunier of the top-notch Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe: "it is very beau now, we are a week to 10 days behind 2007. The laboratory says that our tannin ripeness is at a very good level vis-à-vis the sugars; we have Syrah at 13-13.5° now, and our Grenache blanc at 13.5° to 14°. I expect to pick the Roussanne and the Grenache blanc from 8 September. We do need good weather, though, since we are seeing hints of rot on the Grenache blanc, for instance, and this weekend 6-7 September there is talk of some weather upsets." Yields are irregular, with inconsistent ripening levels across the vineyard, especially in the Grenache noir. Colours are expected to be good.
Sophie Armenier of the excellent Domaine de Marcoux takes a more cautious line (Sept 2): "we still have rain forecast over the next week, and we are not yet near a mature state. Some plots have firm Grenache grapes that are well aereated, others have softer bunches - it varies. Across Châteauneuf we are talking about 12.5° ripeness today - not more. We have Syrah at 12.8°, for instance and Mourvèdre at 11°, so are looking at not starting until 15 September, for instance. I would prefer to be further forward in our ripening, and am more anxious than I was in 2007." Sophie reports a few signs of rot on her Roussanne, and that the Syrah is a little more fragile than the Grenache.
GIGONDAS & VACQUEYRAS:Roger Cuillerat of Domaine des Tourelles in the village of Gigondas, a good address with STGT leanings, is relaxed. "Fine weather in August, a storm with some rain that was well-timed in the middle of the month - twice 30 mm (1.2 inches) - and we are heading for a harvest date of end September, one like before the great heat of 2003" he says. All the varieties including the Syrah are doing well. A helpful factor has been the very hot days - 30-33°C (86-91°F) - followed by fresh nights.
"The first half of August was average, but the second half very hot," adds Dominique Ay of the excellent Domaine Raspail-Ay. There was a big storm of about 40 mm (1.6 inches) around 12 August, which lasted about 2 or 3 hours and contained no hail - that kept the freshness in the soil. "I estimate that wer are running about 3 weeks behind 2007, and judging from my latest analysis of the crop so far, we have a similar state of maturity to 2004. The Grenache needs more ripening - we are heading for 20-25 September for that." There was rain on the night of Sunday 31 August, but only 4 mm at Gigondas, while more fell at Vaison-la-Romaine and around Cairanne and Rasteau. The degree is lower than 2007. Vacqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise are in a similar position to Gigondas, comments Monsieur Ay.
At Vacqueyras, Guy Ricard of the STGT Domaine de Couroulu (The Domaine of the Curlew) says "2008 is very, very good for now. I may strat to pick my whites such as the Viognier and Roussanne around 15 September, while the Grenache needs another 10 days after that. We have not experienced coulure (flower into fruit failure), but have had mildew here and there, more on leaves than bunches. My yield will be about normal for the domaine - around 25-30 hl/ha." There has not been a blockage in the ripening this year - it has not been very hot by day and the nights have been fresh, while the second half of August was magnificent. Monsieur Ricard reports his Syrah at around 12° now.
LIRAC: "I have had luck on the mildew which has been among us," comments Marine Roussel of the good Domaine du Joncier (the 2006 classic red is now on sale at Waitrose supermarkets in England, which is good news en passant). "It helps to have been organic, I feel, and the timing of my treatments also worked out. I am crossing my fingers - hard - and hope that I can head for a 11 September harvest date, provided the weather stays as it is now - very hot days and fresh nights." Yields are a bit down on 2007. The mildew has struck where vineyards have low wind exposure or are in damp soil, or low down, whereas those on open plateaus have fared better, with the Mistral able to clean them up.
CÔTES-DU-RHÔNE:"Tricky moments for the northern Vaucluse and the Gard département (the west bank of the Rhône as it flows south). There has been hail around Valréas and Nyons in the Enclave des Papes area and the southern Drôme, and higher rainfall at Rasteau than on the Plan de Dieu just south. "We have had a lot of rain throughout the summer," reports Elodie Balme, a promising young vigneronne from Rasteau.
"We are ripening 2 weeks behind, heading for harvesting around 18-20 September - as my vineyard is small, I can be very exact with my chosen date." The weather from around 5-15 August was cool or even cold - 10°C (50°F) in the morning, with cold nights that served to block the ripening. Then there was 100 mm (4 icnhes) of rain in 2 days in mid-August (a lot more than at Gigondas or Châteauneuf), and another 25 mm (1 inch) on 31 August. The vines' vegetation is still growing as a result, not where its energies should be directed. Mildew and then oïdium that started after the first week of August have been problematic. "We need stable weather now, and I cannot see 2008 as being up to the standard of 2007," concludes Elodie.
The troubles of the Gard département were chronicled last month. Rainfall and mildew have been the bugbears of growers on this side of the Rhône. Lirac reflects this to some extent.
PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ REVIEW
The 2005 and 2006 vintages were reviewed in London at their new agent, Liberty Wines, in May, 2008. Please log in to see the various comments on the Paul Jaboulet Aîné domaine pages.