France's 2013 vintage – not all gloom


Yohan Castaing writes:

It looks now as though the 2013 French wine harvest is approaching average size for recent years with an increase of 11% compared with the record low harvest of 2012. The cool and wet weather of June brought much coulure and millerandage to all French regions.

The very wet, long winter helped replenish the soil with water, which allowed the vines to withstand the scorching temperatures of July well. Unfortunately, the end of July and the first days of August saw violent hailstorms in the French vineyards. A total of 1,350 ha of vines were affected in Burgundy, 3,000 ha in Champagne and 10,000 ha in Bordeaux, not to mention the almost total destruction of the vineyards of Vouvray and Montlouis.

The climatic conditions of late August suggest a degree of optimism, especially the hot days which have been offset by cool nights and a light wind which is able to ward off fungal diseases and promote slow phenolic maturity.

Overall, 2013 should be a very interesting vintage year with the daytime heat offset by cool nights in August for a slow and good-quality phenolic maturity. However, no definitive conclusions about this later-than-usual harvest may be drawn until the grapes have been picked. Storms could still change things.

In Champagne, hail apart, flowering and fruit set went well, promising satisfactory quantities and a sound state of health.

In Burgundy, the coulure was very considerable, especially in Chardonnay, which is normally very sensitive to the perils of the vineyard during the flowering period. The cold has affected many vineyards and caused an outburst of millerandage, whose impact on quality should be mitigated by the favourable climate of the past few days.

In Beaujolais, coulure and widespread millerandage began to affect the potential crop size and fungal diseases are present. The vegetation is slightly delayed compared with the annual average. [26 Aug – See here for evidence of a 'mini tornado' that swept through northern Beaujolais, destroying the crop, in part of Moulin-à-Vent last weekend – JR]

In Alsace, the cold spring resulted in a lower production potential than in 2012. Vines suffered water stress in July because of the scorching heat which imposed a delay in grape maturity.

In Savoie the flowering went well, with perfect health and insignificant effects from coulure. In the Jura, a satisfactory state of health bodes well for both quality and quantity. This could be a great vintage.

In the Loire Valley the high temperatures in July helped the vegetation to catch up. Because of high water tables there was limited water stress.

In Bordeaux the vines are 10 to 15 days behind average. Merlot suffered greatly from coulure and millerandage causing wide variation in phenolic ripeness. Clay soils will play an important role in water retention as grapes ripen.

In the South-West, a very rainy flowering period engendered low quantities and quality will need to be checked region by region.

Languedoc-Roussillon has seen a delay of one to two weeks. The Grenache suffered from coulure as a result of cool, wet weather in June. However, the beautiful summer weather is expected to help vines catch up, especially towards the end of August and early September. [The photograph above of Carignan grapes showing very uneven ripening and incomplete veraison was taken in the western Languedoc lowlands yesterday, with my daughter's  iPhone, so much better than my Blackberry – JR

The Rhône has also suffered from coulure on some Grenache and Syrah. However, the beautiful weather, daytime heat and cool nights have given rise to real optimism.

In Corsica, the outlook looks promising with perfect health and average quantity.

In Provence, the heat and humidity is bringing significant disease pressure with threats from both powdery mildew and downy mildew, while coulure has affected Grenache.