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Strong Crop

3rd-4th week of September 2010

harvesting is well under way, and the crop is in good shape. Quantity is reduced according to Marcel Richaud in Cairanne, and according to Emmanuel Reynaud at Château Rayas at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Emmanuel will start his harvesting on Monday 27 September, and reports that, while there is not a lot of Grenache because of the dreaded coulure (like my 2010 runner beans, flowers fail to convert into fruit), it is attractive. The sugars are ready, but not the polyphenols, while the whites are in good shape. At the Clos des Papes, Vincent Avril paused on Friday 24 September with rain forecast, and will resume on Monday 27 September, having completed around half his harvesting.

Succusful Merchantry

mid-October 2010

please check out the very successful merchant range from Louis Barruol at Château Saint Cosme at Gigondas - these wines trade with the name Saint Cosme on the label, are mainly Northern Rhône, and are very good. There is a delightful 2009 w.o.w. red as well, a wine to get on and enjoy now. One-off wines to look up include the 2009 white Laudun from Domaine Pelaquié - always great value, great drinking - the white Vin de Table from Matthieu Dumarcher whom I regard as very talented under Côtes du Rhône, and a vin de pays red of great character from Château des Tours at Vacqueyras.

Having tasted their 2009 Côtes du Rhône Villages reds, the Château Courac at LaudunDomaine La Cabotte at Massif d`Uchaux and the Domaine Montmartel at Visan have been added. The first two have been exporters and providers of good quality wines for some time, while the last-named`s wines are pretty authentic.

No Rain No Pain

mid-September 2010

for Swedish readers, I tried two recent arrivals from the System Bolaget, one good value, the other less so. See the Louis Chèze Vin de Pays Syrah 2009 note (SEK89 or £8), and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Villeneuve Vieilles Vignes red 2007 (SEK339 or £30), a wine that raises some debate. 2009 Northern Rhône whites have been added to, in the shape of Saint-Péray and Saint-Joseph white. I prefer the former to the latter, and would include its 2008 vintage as well - both indicate a risurgimento as a wider group of growers - Cuilleron and friends, Chapoutier - take an interest, even a young debutant called Rémy Nodin.

2010 continued: in the NORTHERN RHÔNE, a few reports follow: at Côte-RôtieRené Rostaing said: "it is very, very good for the moment. We are 8 days behind the usual date - this delay has lasted since the cold weather during flowering in early June. July and August were very fine, with hot days and fresh nights - excellent for the polyphenols (tannic acidities)."

"The 2010 vintage looks so far like being one from 20 years ago - a structured year marked by dark fruit and tannins - the crop is very healthy. Degree is not important for the moment - 10.5° to 11.5°. Today it is a bit over 20°C, with a dry and very fine North Wind. I will start 22-23 September, with my vines on the Côte Blonde."

Philippe Guigal commented to me: "we had 65mm (2.5 inches) on 6-7 September - if anything, we are content, since a deluge was forecast. Hence the rain is not irreparable. There have been some very dry spots at Côte-Rôtie this year - old vines on rock face hillsides, for instance - where their leaves have been turning yellow already. The hillside vineyards should have a normal yield this year - they flowered in the sun, but the plateau areas have lost crop since they flowered in the rain. The ban des vendanges will probably be announced for 15 September this year." Philippe added that at Hermitage "we have a normal size crop, but a strange situation where the Syrahs are ripening ahead of the whites - this is unusual, and is something we cannot explain technically." As for his Condrieu, Philippe said: "the degree on the best Viognier has fallen from 14° before the early September rain of 65mm (2.5 inches) to 13.6° to 13.7°. The crop will be large."

At Saint-Joseph, from the heart of Mauves in the southern zone, Jean Gonon saw things as follows: "we had 78mm (3 inches) of rain across the day of 7 September, and the night of 7-8 September. It was a soft, continuous rain, not the violent fall that had been announced, so there was no damage in the vineyards, always a good start. 30mm would have been better, but we have observed a strange phenomenon that maturity has accelerated rapidly after the rain. My white grapes have become golden, the Syrah has advanced, and in my garden so have my tomatoes [faster than mine, Jean, faster than mine! Ed.]. A lot of colleagues find the same thing after the rain, even though the degree has fallen a little."

"We have fine but not very fine weather for now - the North Wind is not frank, but all we need now is dry conditions. The forecast is for 10 days of fine weather. The crop is healthy, attractive. After the rain during flowering, people thought the crop would be small, but that has not been the case, and we actually dropped grapes last week. Yield will be normal, around 35 hl/ha. I will start the whites on 20 September, the Syrah on 25 September. Some people have started to pick, but if you taste the Syrah now, the skin is still tough, the grapes are tart and there is still tartaric acid in them."

François Merlin reported that his Saint-Joseph Syrah was not especially advanced: "flowering was under rain this year, so I am aiming to harvest late September or early October, at least a week behind my Côte-Rôtie. We had 63mm (2.5 inches) on 6-7 September, but by 10 September the weather was fine, with a North Wind that is not too strong helping to clean the vineyards. I will be harvesting my Condrieu Viognier from 20 September. The influence of the wind this year has led to small berries on the Viognier bunches. As a result, I expect quantity around 30-35 hl/ha, a bit below the average. After the rain, I sense that degree and acidity have been concentrated., and the grapes have become riper. Strangely this year my Côte-Rôtie Syrah is riper at this stage than my Condrieu Viognier - normally it is the other way around."

In the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, a few reports also follow: at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Daniel Brunier of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe and La Roquète told me: "we had 140mm (5.6 inches) of rain from late on 6 September until the night of 7-8 September. Overall the rain has been about half positive, half negative. The later-ripening and dry zones gained, and of course the Mourvèdre was suited by the rain to finish its ripening, whereas the Syrah was largely ripe already, and the white crop has not been helped by the rain. The rain has been well spread across the appellation this time. The previous fall was 30mm (1.2 inches) around Orange, Beaucastel and Coudoulet in late August, while the south and centre around the village of Châteauneuf only had 5mm (0.2 inch) at the same time."

"Mistral wind followed on 8 September, and we were back harvesting by 9 September. At present we have harvested 80% of our white Vieux Télégraphe crop with a yield around 30-31 hl/ha, and will start on Roquète next week - from 13 September. We have also picked a bit of Syrah from Roquète and Grenache for Télégramme. There has already been Grenache on La Crau at 15° and 15°2, so we will really get going on Monday 13 September."

Referring to his Gigondas estate, the beautiful Les Pallières, Daniel continued: "we had 80mm (3.2 inches) of rain on 6-8 September, after 30mm (1.2 inches) at the end of August. The rain was less stormy than at Châteauneuf - it was a finer, slower rain, so there was less trauma for the vines. On 6 September before the rain, the Grenache at Pallières was 14.4° - now we will probably delay our harvesting for at least a week; the soil has clay there, and doesn`t drain as well as at Châteauneuf. The Mistral today is strong, around 60km an hour, and it is about 24°C."

The west bank Gard département and the Southern Ardèche received a lot of rain, but mainly in the far western areas away from the Rhône corridor, and prime vineyards. At Laudun, the accomplished Domaine Pelaquié started to harvest on 10 September, under fine weather. The first rain on 6-7 September there was 150mm (6 inches), then 100mm (4 inches) the following night.

A bit further north, in the southern Ardèche, Hélène Thibon-Macagno of Mas de Libian told me: "we have a small crop because of the Grenache coulure. We started to harvest last week, although a lot of people have started this week, after the rain. We were spared the worst of the local rain - we had 30mm (1.2 in) on the night of 6 September, then 40mm (1.6 in) on the night of 7-8 September, whereas places right in the Cevennes hills corridor in the far west of the Gard département - St Hippolyte du Fort, for instance, north-west of Nîmes - had 300mm (12 in). We have picked about one-third of our crop. The Syrah berries are not big, but are OK, and the Mourvèdre is in good condition. We have strong Mistral today, the temperature is 25°C, set to rise to 28°C on 12 September, and the forecast is good for the next week."

Vineyards Survive

2nd week of September 2010

the rains fell, the vineyards survived well. Everywhere in the Rhône received at least 2 inches (50mm) between 6 and 8 September, and the forecast into mid-September is for fine weather. Throughout the Valley, a helpful North Wind - the Bise (Kiss) in the North, the Mistral in the South - has been blowing, cleaning up the foliage and cutting down the risk of rot.

Wild Weather

early September 2010

the night of Monday 6-7 September is forecast to deliver plenty of rain all over the Rhône, so there is a certain amount of holding of breath across all regions. The one let-out is the lack of rain so far, and the fact that fine weather is also forecast to come in around 9-10 September, with Mistral wind in the south.

In the NORTHERN RHÔNE, a few reports follow: at Côte-Rôtie, Brigitte Roch of Domaine Clusel-Roch, while preparing 200 kg of chips to go with steak at La Vogue, the party in Ampuis for 18 year old conscripts, where pastis and beer are the order of the evening: "we are told there will be 50-100 mm of rain (2-4 inches) tomorrow, 7 September, but for now we are content, and expect to harvest 20-25 September, with a fair-sized crop of 35 hl/ha. The first week of September has been very beau, hot and dry for now." Côte-Rôtie has been dry this year, and not received the rain that has fallen locally at Chavanay to the south.

At Cornas, Pierre-Marie Clape: "today the vineyard is truly excellent, but around 100mm (4 inches) of rain is announced for tonight, 6 September. We had 20mm (0.8 inch) of rain on 15 August, and 5mm (0.2 inch) on 19-20 August, which has helped the vineyard in the face of the dry conditions.

We have also been helped by hot days followed by cold nights - around 25-26 August the days were 34-35°C, but the nights 13°C, meaning good levels of acidity. Even today, 6 September, it has been 30°C, with 12°C in the morning - very good for colour and polyphenol (tannin) levels. Our Syrah is now at 13°+, with total acidity of over 5 gm. On La Côte (central site), the Syrah is at 13.25° and 5.7 gm acidity - the acidity is mainly tartaric, not malic, indicating that it will remain. As things stand, we expect to harvest around 20 September. The bunches look pretty good, and we may be at yields of around 38 hl/ha."

At Crozes-Hermitage, Maxime Graillot of Domaine des Lises: "things are nickel for now, with rain announced for tomorrow; we have had no rain in August, although 20mm (0.8 inch) just before the véraison (grapes turning colour) at the end of July was helpful. Bunches can be small, but are healthy. The yield looks like being a bit less than our high figure of 50 hl/ha in 2009 - around 40 hl/ha. We had a very little oïdium at Hermitage in mid-August, but our little vineyard there is at the foot of the slopes with heavier soils than the most noble sites such as Le Méal. I expect to harvest my Crozes crop on 22-22 September, and my Cornas on 20 September - my vines are on very precocious spots -  Sabarotte, for instance."

At Condrieu and Saint-Joseph, Philippe Faury of Domaine Faury: "we have had a very good September so far, up to 6 September, with rain announced for tomorrow, but good weather again from 9-10 September. The Viognier is set to give a good yield, helped by the fact that it flowered before the cold weather of early June - we expect around 35 hl/ha for it. We had a few helpful storms, but no hail, here at Chavanay in August."

At Saint-Péray, Pierre-Marie Clape: on 3 September, our degree was at 12.2°, with total acidity of 4.35 gm - we will probably pick around 15 September, with a correct yield. Some growers have already harvested crop for their méthode champenoise wines."

In the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, a few reports also follow: at Châteauneuf-du-PapeVincent Avril of Clos des Papes: "40mm to 50mm of rain would be perfect (1.6 to 2 inches), along with the 3 days of Mistral wind after the rain that have also been announced for 6-7 September. There are quartiers where the tannic ripening lags behind the sugars, and I find the south of Châteauneuf a bit more ripe than the northern area. It`s not bad at all, and similar to the last few very good years we have had - 2005 though to 2009, missing out 2008. We have had a lot of coulure on the Grenache this year (failure of flowers to convert into fruit), which meant we did less green harvesting than usual, and we found millerandage on the bunches - bunches that lacked grapes. That means yields will be around 22 hl/ha for me as things stand, against under 20 hl/ha in 2009, and only 16.8 hl/ha in 2008. The Mourvèdre is ripening close to the Syrah this year."

"When I look back through my records, I see that the current cycle is one of a dry summer, but with rain of some quantity in September. In 2005, we had 92mm (3.7 inches) of rain from 5-8 September, plus 11 mm on 11 September; in 2006, it was 165mm (6.6 inches) from 13-16 September, and so on, so rain at this stage is OK. In fact, the old adage of mid-July and mid-August rain being the saviour of the vintage seems to have gone by the board. I will probably start about mid-September," Vincent concluded.

In the first week of September, the Maison des Vignerons at Châteauneuf found Syrah at 13.1° and Mourvèdre at 12.7°. Colour, tannin and acidity levels are all good.

At GigondasJean-Pierre Meffre of Domaine Saint-Gayan is happy with events so far, up until 6 September: "the crop is pretty, there is no trace of rot - it is very healthy. We were helped at Gigondas by our rainfall of 28-30mm (1.2 inches) on 15 August - the grapes would have been in trouble but for that. Acidity levels are also very good - a result of the hot days but cool to cold nights this year. The second half of August, we were having days at 28-30°C, but mornings at 10-11°C - these levels of acidity will also help us to resist rot.

Yields are down, around 28 hl/ha, because of the worst Grenache coulure (flowers, but no fruit after that, thanks to cold wind and weather in early June) we have had here for some years. The Syrah is very good this year, but needs picking. I expect to harvest my Côtes du Rhône grapes on 15 September, against 5 September last year."

At Rasteau, there was more rain in mid-August - 40mm (1.8 inches) - but there the growers are finding little juice in their white crop because of the dry summer.

The most rain in mid-August was in the southern Drôme, and Richerenches (ex-Tricastin, now Grignan-Adhémar) received around 100mm (4 inches).

At TavelFabrice Delorme of Domaine de la Mordorée: "we started on the whites on 2 September, and will be moving on to the red crop around 9-10 September. The only red picked so far has been some very ripe Grenache for our red vin de pays. We are happy for the moment. We had only a little rain in mid-August - 5mm (0.2 inch) at Tavel, and 15 mm (0.6 inch) at Lirac. Our vineyard at Châteauneuf - on La Crau, and Cabrières, for instance - is in good shape."