Thursday, 9 October 2014

2014 Vintage prospects

For the past two vintages (2012 and 2013) the Languedoc, and indeed most French Mediterranean wine areas, have faired much better than the rest of France. The Languedoc avoided the 2012 wet spring and summer, in fact rainfall was well below par in most sectors. In 2013 the late cold wet spring was shared with the rest of France, but in many areas grenache struggled to set in the early June downpours. After that, buoyed by healthier water tables and sun, things purred along into a 2-3 week late harvest blessed with ideal weather.

By all accounts 2014 is a great deal more encouraging for France as a whole than the previous two growing seasons. However, for the Languedoc 2014 has been one of the more challenging of the millennium along with 2007, 2002 in the east and, for heat reasons, 2003.

First up there was very little rain for the 12 months to June 2014 with the region suffering the driest winter for 20 years. This reduced yield to varying degrees and the vines I've observed had noticeably less foliage as the summer went on. Water stress could have been much worse had there not been several summer storms to keep the vines going although some pockets received very little precipitation.

Hail damage was a France wide phenomenon over summer and, unusually, the Languedoc didn't escape. Vineyards in the Languedoc-Roussillon are a big target with La Clape along with significant parts of Corbieres and Minervois suffering extensive damage.

Grenache vines on 9th October 2014 waiting to make a late harvest style red
Nevertheless, the quality of the grapes was excellent and most whites, along with quantities of early ripening red varieties (such as Cinsault), were harvested before the storms of the 8th September. Further deluges followed on 17th and 29th. Each event deposited weeks, even months of rainfall in just a few hours with the axis from Béziers through to the Pic St Loup particularly affected. The storm of the 29th broke records for a single day's rainfall around Montpellier. I head an extreme story of a vineyard near Montpellier severely damaged by trees carried down by a torrent.

Some vineyard in the flatlands were under water to varying degrees for an extended period. Those on the slopes fared better, but matters were not helped by humid weather after the deluge on the 17th. The normal pattern after rain is for the bone dry Tramontane wind to dry the vines in hours. One upshot is that yields have been reduced further by the necessary triage. All these factors mean that for quality concious domains the harvest is down from 20% to over 60% on 2013. Mourvèdre, the latest ripening popular variety, will have suffered the most. Some good new is that the gaps between the storms were long enough for the acid/sugar balance of the grapes to stabilise.