The Douro Valley experienced its first rain since nov 04 on the night of 06 sep which interrupted a port harvest that had started earlier than any other. The effects of the unprecedented drought are everywhere to be seen in this extraordinary, virtually uninhabited valley: scorched hillsides in the lower reaches after fierce forest fires; bedraggled young vines with hardly a wisp of green to be seen; brown leaves everywhere, including in inconveniently powdery form in the grape hoppers.
But producers are reasonably optimistic about the quality of wine likely to be produced, and overall quantity, which was threatening to be dangerously low, was boosted by the six hours, roughly 20 mm, of rain on sep 06/07. The first grapes harvested were tiny, shrivelled things but the rain really boosted volumes and potential alcohol levels were back to 12.5 to 13 per cent after a few days of the uninterrupted sunshine that has characterised the 2005 Douro growing season.
Expected volumes are also way down on 2004, by 25 to 30 per cent often, in Italy where the harvest has been relatively early and is over in many regions. September has been notably wetter than in 2004 although the near-drought conditions leading up to the rains left the danger of split or shattered grapes. Drying winds following the rains minimised the risk of rot on the Tuscan coast and subsequent fine weather, though no drying winds, contained it in Piedmont. Selection is likely to be important but most Italians are delighted not to have embarrassing quantities of wine to sell, whatever the quality of the reds turns out to be. White wines are likely to be characterised by ripe fruit flavours.
Below-average quantities are expected in the Loire Valley where the harvest has been unusually early with high ripeness levels after a record hot summer but no shortage of acidity, thanks to the relatively cool nights which characterised summer 2005 throughout France. The harvest began on 02 sep in the Muscadet vineyards and 07 sep in Anjou-Saumur and Touraine. The fruit was generally unusually healthy thanks to the dry summer.
Those in charge of communications on behalf of Languedoc wine producers are understandably keen to point out that the devastating storms of 07 sep in southern France did not affect all Languedoc vignerons! Worst hit was the Gard and in particular Costières de Nimes. Further west, many Minervois vineyards escaped relatively unscathed and even in the Hérault there was minimal damage, as was reported by Domaine Sainte Rose. This was sent on 09 sep by Graham Nutter of Domaine St Jacques d'Albas in the west of the Minervois:
Just back from a morning's walk around the vines to examine their condition. We've had 120 mm of rain over the past four days, far less than for many vignerons in the region but enough to consider marketing a new wine "Noah's Ark", given that the worst fears were having to bring in the grapes two by two. No hail and no flooding, thank God. Weather reminded our régisseur of 1995, for those interested in history. That aside, our experience goes to show that one can't generalise about the weather in this region, as the public press has a tendency to do. Every locality has its own weather. Grapes in surprisingly good condition but need those two to three days of north winds to dry the fruit - as well as the soil for the pickers to walk on. We think that the prior 10-12 weeks of hot and dry summer weather have provided protection via smaller grapes and thicker skins. If the forecast dry north winds hold, we'll start harvesting next week. If we have more rain, I could well be rolling out the new Noah's Ark label. What a business - 53 weeks of labour and on the last week, you're in the lap of the Gods!
The weather has stayed fine substantially since.
Hugel reported on 22 sep "Our 2005 harvest starts today in glorious sunshine. From now until the end of our harvest you can follow our vintage live and on video, with real time updates at http://www.hugel.com/en/videovendange/index_webcam.php