Saturday, 27 April 2013

Sunday lunch at Domaine des Agriolles

Domaine des Agriolles don't make wine, it's a Ferme des Cochons (Pig farm, although that just doesn't have the same ring to it). Lunch and entertainment was the centrepiece on their popular open day.

On the wine front it was BYO to accompany the fine - for mass outdoor catering - lunch. In our group I was reminded how racy and stimulating Muscadet can be, too good to be mixed with cassis as a kir. On the other hand a magnum of 2005 claret from somewhere in the Haut Medoc didn't inspire me; chunky and too firm.

We brought a bottle of 2012 SansSoo Domaine de la Réserve d'O from Arboras/St Saturnin (i.e. Terrasses du Larzac). A blend of Syrah and roughly a third Cinsault there is no added sulphur, hence the pun. Initially there was heaps of sweet straightforward red fruit that took a while to calm down; maceration carbonique was suggested. Attractive drinking but not as serious as the ridiculously thick heavy glass bottle might suggest. Well made and certainly won't upset those wary of the wilder styles of unsulphured wine. I suspect this was recently bottled and should improve as the elements settle down.

The Domaine des Agriolles is not far from the A750 west of Montpellier and has an attached shop Boutique Ô champs where the deep flavoured pâté included in the lunch can be purchased, along with plenty of other pork products and more. The cochons are raised on an artisan scale with unrestricted access to plenty of outside space. Everything is processed on site. Most of the produce is sold locally to those in the know.

Monday, 22 April 2013

En retard

Northern Europe experienced the coldest March ever recorded in places with the meteorological finger pointed firmly at the jet steam which was sitting further south than "normal" for early spring. The consequence of this in the Languedoc has been a wet March, certainly the wettest for more than 50 years and near the Pic Saint-Loup all records were broken with 357mm for the month (or pushing half and inch a day if you prefer).

Given there were relatively few damaging floods this is mostly good news as the water table is now back to "normal" after a run of too many relatively dry winters. Ditches have flowing water and the countryside looks greener for it, as do weed killer free vineyards.

Weed killer free vineyard enjoys a wet 2013 spring
An asparagus grower in the village told me the season started a month late, although a mid-March start would have been considered a bit prompt. Cold nights are blamed with the inability of the skies to string together more than a day of sun. In the photo above, taken on the 11th April, the vines are visually dormant. A week of sunshine from 12th has done the trick and bud-burst in under way.

Old Cinsault vine bud-burst 22nd April 2013
Given a "normal" summer, no doubt the least likely scenario, the harvest is going to be a couple of weeks late. At least the drier vineyards will be sparing established vines water stress.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Climate change

My post on "Freshness" in wine reminded me about climate change and specifically evidence for it. The Observatoire Viticol site for the Department de l'Herault is an excellent source of all sorts of statistics related to matters vinous. Original material can be reproduced providing credit is given.

The following chart is from the 'Documents' section under 'Viticulture' sub-menu 'Milieu Physique' and uses data from Meteo France. It plots the average annual temperature over 62 years in Montpellier.

Clearly the 1980s saw a transition and since then the average temperature has risen by pushing one degree C in relation to the long-term average since 1950. 1987 is the most recent below average year, although 2010 got close mainly due to a cool summer.

Further analysis of this quickly becomes subsumed into other variables, a reminder that statistics can be used to prove anything. This chart plots average winter temperatures with the interesting observation being that colder winters tend to come in 3 year clutches.

Other charts show that most of the warming since the 1980s is down to warmer May to August weather. This fits in with the winter temperatures chart above, along with 2010 having a cooler summer than recent years resulting in a lower average temperature than its peers.

I found some Eurostat and DataMarket data on Languedoc-Roussillon Degree-Days from 1980 to 2009. Degree-days are used as a guide to how much heating a house will need, so the lower the figure the warmer it is. On days when the temperature exceeds 18 deg. C that day scores zero. Below that, the colder it is the bigger the number so the data is more a measure of winter temperature than summer highs.

As expected, Degree-Days shows a correlation with the average winter temperatures chart above. What my chart displays is the moving average (purple line) which is clearly in decline.

When it comes to wine then cooler nights in the growing and especially ripening season will normally be more desirable for growers than the absolute average temperature.

I also looked at rainfall data for the Hérault. Because of the mountainous hinterland rainfall amounts vary dramatically but one conclusion that can be drawn is that since 1999 below average winter rainfall featured in the majority of years, especially on the coastal plains. Most climatologists seem to agree that we must expect more weather extremes going forward. March 2013 has been the wettest since 1960 in most places (Montpellier had 191 mm) and in some areas, e.g. close to Pic St Loup, the wettest on record. On a positive note the water table, having been in decline due to too many dry winters, has recovered and is good news for most vineyards.