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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


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.


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.


NORTHERN RHÔNE - 2008 so far

CÔTE-RÔTIE: 6 weeks of mildew has meant  a lot of work for the growers, with oïdium now a problem. The crop will be small, since the flowering was limited. Like most of the northern Rhône, there has so far been no hail at Côte-Rôtie. "It is hot now - 28°C, and the last 2 weeks have been around 20-28°C," reports Brigitte Roch of Domaine Clusel-Roch. "We are heading for a  normal date of harvest, say 25-28 September. There was hail at Chavanay and Malleval at the end of June, affecting Condrieu and Saint-Joseph."

CROZES-HERMITAGE: growers have had to contend with mildew this year, as well as oïdium and coulure, or failed fruit formation after flowering. The flowering was late, and lasted over 3 weeks, a process that brought grapes of unequal ripening. "It is going to be a late year," comments Alain Graillot of Domaine Graillot, who also notes that at Larnage in the northern sector, there has been some insect, the cicadelle, problem. The veraison is just starting now, which is in line with many years: "a precocious veraison would be 25 July, and a late one 10 August," says Monsieur Graillot.

HERMITAGE: the heat came after 14 July - with rain and cool weather before then. "It is now stable, and if August is a good month, then we can have hopes," observes Bernard Faurie, known to be something of a worrier. "It could go quickly from now on - things have moved slowly so far, and we have had only a bit of mildew and oïdium. There has been some coulure (flowers failing to convert into grapes)." Monsieur Faurie reports that the vineyard state is more irregular at Saint-Joseph, referring to the southern sector of that appellation, notably Mauves and Tournon.

SOUTHERN RHÔNE - 2008 so far

CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE: mildew and coulure are words on growers` lips. May, June and early July were all tricky with cool, damp weather. By mid-July, the weather changed, became drier and the Mistral has blown from time to time. "We were very scared in early July, with the word "catastrophe" in mind, " comments Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes; "one of the big challenges has been the uneven number of bunches on the vines - some have 3, others have 10. We have cut back to 6 per bunch to try to normalise that. The earliest picking dates for us will be 10-15 September, and it won`t be a big crop. At least the vines are not suffering from drought - so the veraison, when they most need humidity, should pass off OK."  Vincent also adds that the last vintage with so much mildew is said to be 1961! It was 36°C on 31 July.

Laurent Charvin of Domaine Charvin expects a mid-September harvesting date. "There was a lot of mildew, but that is stable now since it is very hot. Now we need a run of good weather, and the next 2 weeks are expected to be fine. We have also been helped by cool nights, down to 15°-20°C. The veraison is just starting now."

GIGONDAS & VACQUEYRAS: 10-15 days behind recent, often precocious, years. The crop will not be big. May and June were cold and rainy, with some mildew. The veraison is just starting now - the grapes taking their colour. The high, later ripening areas are heading for harvesting in early October, with the lower areas around 20-25 September. The weather was poor until mid-July. Since then, it has been hot, with day time temperatures of 30° to 35°C (86°F to 95°F or so), but cool nights of around 20°C (68°F). "There has been coulure or fruit formation failure on the Grenache, and we have had to drop some of the Grenache bunches," reports Gilles Faravel of Domaine de la Bouïssière; "the Mourvèdre is OK. There is less coulure at Vacqueyras."

CÔTES-DU-RHÔNE: the Vaucluse, left bank, département has fared better than the Gard, home to Saint-Gervais, Laudun and Chusclan. Mildew is the main culprit, with the Cèze Valley, around the town of Bagnols-sur-Cèze, particularly badly hit. Hail also struck Estézargues and Saint-Hilaire d`Ozilhan - the area east of Remoulins - in late June. "The trouble has not been vast amounts of rain, but its consistency," remarks Rémy Klein of Domaine de la Réméjeanne. "We had 250 mm (10 inches) in 2 months, which is not a lot, but 10 straight days of some rain in early June, for instance, poses a lot of problems." 2007 was a precocious year, and growers are running around 2 weeks behind that, or about 4 days behind a normal year. Most problems centre on the Grenache, with the Carignan slightly affected, but the other varieties in OK shape. A harvest date of 15 September or so beckons.


Recently entered are 15 vintages of this remarkable white Hermitage. See The Big Tastings.


Recently entered are details on some of the domaines where younger growers are making their mark: Christophe Semaska, Xavier Gérard, Stéphane Pichat at Côte-Rôtie, and Domaine Mouton and Francois Merlin at Condrieu.


The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill
London W11 2AQ
12.30 start
Tickets £50 for 3 courses inc wines, coffee or tea
+44(0)207 792 9090

THEME: well, indeed, the Rhône, North and South. Brett Graham, the renowned Ledbury chef, has been keen for some time to design a menu that puts on show the qualities of Condrieu and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This luncheon will be run with Vine Trail - yes, the owner of Cornas, our mighty equine champion. Sommelier Emmanuel Barnay and Nick Brookes have chosen wines with the likely line-up as follows: 2006 Saint-Péray Les Pins from Gripa and Condrieu from Christophe Pichon, 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape red from Domaine Charvin and a singing 2004 Saint-Joseph red from Domaine Gonon, with an unusual, but good Vin Doux Naturel Grenache from Domaine du Trapadis: some definite STGT domaines in there, folks. I will be saying a few words on these wines and their growers. The Ledbury is right up there in terms of fine dining - winner of The Good Food Guide 2006 London Restaurant of the Year, and is also that relatively rare bird in Britain, the holder of a Michelin star. The contact details are for The Ledbury direct, or the e-mail of the Sommelier, Emmanuel, trading in much the same way as Mr E Petit of Arsenal once did, under the short form of Manu. See you there, I hope.


Vintners' Hall
London EC4
18.30 - 20.30
Tickets £25 per head, by e-mail or telephone
+44(0)1747 860423

THEME: the oldest, long-established Rhône specialist importers, Yapp Brothers here present some of their growers in person. The Rhône delegation is led by Pierre and Olivier Clape, Olivier the latest generation at this exceptional Cornas family estate. Also present will be the young generation form the excellent Châteauneuf-du-Pape domaine of Le Vieux Donjon, Claire Michel. Other growers making the trip include François and Jonathan Sack from the celebrated Clos St Magdeleine at Cassis, next to Marseille, whose wines I would drink in the early 1970s when living up the road in Aix-en-Provence. Domaine Torraccia in Corsica, Château de Ligré at Chinon in the Loire and Sylvain Hoesch of the progressive Domaine Richeaume in Provence will also be in London.


The Fine Art Society
148 New Bond Street
London, W1S 2JT
18.00 - 20.30
Tickets £15 per head, by e-mail or telephone
+44(0)1962 712351

THEME: a look at several regions of France, with a summer, rosé tilt, and also new wines from Washington State and Oregon, South Africa and New Zealand. 10% off any wine ordered from the tasting on the same evening. This tasting is followed by the company`s local one in their handsome home city of Winchester on FRIDAY 13 JUNE, 18.00 - 20.30 at The Guildhall, Winchester.

27-29 MAY, 2008

Asia-Pacific Vinexpo at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center in the sporting area of  Wan Chai. http://www.winexpo.com/. I would actually expect this event to be more interesting than London`s equivalent.

20-22 MAY, 2008

London International Wine Fair and Distil, at ExCeL, Victoria Docks, E16 1XL, arrive via the Docklands Light Railway. London`s big three day event, that grew out of the racy liberty of the Bristol Wine Fair of the 1970s. Now it is a largely branded goods event, so that a bumbling scribbler covering 4 to 40-hectare domaines finds little of genuine relevance. A highlight from my last visit two years ago was the Brazilian girl, in national football strip, walking around this enormous show hangar playing keepy uppy with a football, the ball never touching the ground as she glided it from one foot to the other. Cosa boa, gente.

Last year, I was in Moscow, and the highlight was the text received at 11 pm Moscow time (8 pm in London), as I was finishing my home-cooked spaghetti washed down by some Chapoutier Rasteau in my client company`s apartment, from a desperate Scandinavian importer seeking a restaurant in London. Talk about forward planning. After 90 minutes of texts, including his requests to me in Mosco