From the 3D vineyards
It’s easy to forget amongst the colourful, vivacious harvest scenes just what a challenging year, vintage 2016, has been for the majority of winemakers – the most difficult in living memory for many. The fact there is so little to pick is a direct result of the spring frosts which devastated much of France during April. Then a long period of mid-summer rain meant frequent treatments in the vineyard. However, the last two or three months have been wonderful – sun and warmth a plenty. Ripeness and health look exceptional for many. If only there were more grapes to pick!
This is what André Gruss in Eguisheim had to say about the year as a whole. It certainly seems to have been a challenge, but constant weather in August and September has helped to stabilise things.
‘As in 2014, winter 2015 was again pretty smooth with just a few days of frost before Christmas.
Until the end of March, the beginning of the year was quite dry and allowed us to plant new vines in good conditions. From mid-April, the continual rains forced a strong vigilance from the first treatment of the vineyard. The soils didn’t dry until the end of June: mildew pressure is unprecedented and choices and implementations of treatments became complicated.
Flowering occurred around the 15thJune, which suggests a return to normal harvest compared to the advance of the past three years.
By mid-July the rainfall accumulated was already the average rainfall for a normal year.
The vineyard took very different choices and opportunities for protection against mildew (some winemakers lost 75% of their harvest because of mildew damage).
August was hot and dry with temperatures of 39°C which scalded some of the grapes. Paradoxically, the vineyard showed signs of hydric stress early in September despite all the water in spring.
Overall, the forecast for the Alsatian crop is a return to normal quantity after three years of deficit: it only remains to hope for a good ripening of the grapes in the four weeks to come.’
In the appellation of Brouilly in southern Beaujolais, Christiane Lacondemine at Domaine Les Roches Bleues was very ebullient. She said that harvesting began on the 18th September and finished on the 27th. Conditions throughout were perfect. She noted that both quality and quantity are evident this year – yields are back to normal after several years of smaller harvests. We are delighted the resurgence in Cru Beaujolais continues with another vintage of excellent potential. It’s now over to Dominique to turn this potential into great wine.
The Baudets at Château Monconseil-Gazin started harvesting their white grapes, Sauvignon and Sémillon on the 21st September, shortly before bottling our Blaye Grande Réserve vintage 2014.
Françoise was feeling relieved:
‘Today, we started to harvest at dawn (at 7.30 am exactly, with the sunrise), with a perfect temperature. The sky is now blue-grey and the temperature is about 20°C. We have been very lucky this year and avoided frost, hail and stress of the vine, so the quality should be nice. We had a very dry summer, but a real downpour ten days ago helped the bunches to reach a nice size, and the quantity should be good too.
We started machine harvesting some very nice, ripe Merlot on the 21st September, followed by the Malbec and Cabernet Franc grapes. As usual, Cabernet Sauvignon will be gathered last in mid-October.
We will harvest the very young and very old vines by hand as well as the Grande Réserve (4ha).’
In Margaux, harvesting started earlier than they had initially predicted, on the 22nd September, with Merlot being picked first, as normal. Régis and Jérôme were again feeling blessed as the frost, hail and heavy rain experienced in many other parts of France were avoided in Bordeaux, thanks to their Maritime climate. At the end of September they stopped for a while to allow certain plots to further ripen, especially the Cabernet. They describe the weather as a true Indian summer.
In St-Émilion on the right bank, harvest at Château Cardinal Villemaurine began on the 1st October with their Merlot. Jean-François Carrille told us that it has been a remarkable summer, in fact the driest since 1893! He said that a little gentle rain fell in September which helped the vines reach perfect maturation. Vines planted on clay tend to do particularly well during periods of drought, he told us. He is very positive about the prospects for 2016, both in quality and quantity, as they too avoided the frosts which hit so many other regions of France.
Domaine Lucien Jacob started harvest on the 21st September in their Beaune vineyards. The weather was perfect – sunny and cool. Christine remarked ‘the quality is outstanding but the quantity is tiny in many places. We will only make one Beaune Premier Cru 2016, without separating the three climats, as we normally do.’
I recall seeing some of their vines mid-June with virtually nothing visible, except a few tiny leaves. Normally you would observe lots of bunches of tiny grapes the size of small peas. Perhaps 12-14 bunches per vine. Not so this year, due to the frosts which damaged up to 80% of their vineyards. On many vines there was just one solitary bunch to be seen and often, nothing at all! They have not experienced such low spring temperatures since 1981. Inevitably there will be a knock-on effect concerning yields in 2017 too.
In lieu of the paucity of Beaune Premier Cru in 2016, we will be offering a special mix of previous vintages to Partners, put together by Christine and Jean-Michel, but it will be 2019 when this becomes available. Meantime, Partners can look forward to the brilliant 2014 and 2015 vintages next year and the year after.
Domaine Désertaux-Ferrand began harvesting their Meursault vineyards under sunny skies on the 22nd September. Again, smaller teams of vendangeurs were needed due to the diminished quantity. They suffered from frost, hail and drought and lost up to 70% in places. Quality looks exciting however.
In Chablis the situation was even worse. The reality is very little wine will be made in 2016. Not only did they experience the severe frosts at the end of April, they also experienced hail storms on Friday 13th May, which completely wiped out many areas. Their harvest yielded just 10hl/hectare which is a tiny amount. Normally you would expect this to be between 50-60 hl/ha. It is too early to say what the allocation of the 2016 vintage will be like, but we anticipate it being negligible, unfortunately.
In the Côte Chalonnaise further south, Thierry Drouin at Domaine Drouin was ecstatic, his appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé having dodged the hail and frosts. He mentioned both quality and quantity are something to smile about.
Although the region was affected by some frosting, our two vineyards near Reims and Épernay seemed to have escaped the worst, though spring was largely cold and wet with hail and mildew posing problems. Summer, like elsewhere, has been hot and sunny and the harvest started on the 19th September with considerable optimism as the sun shone on healthy Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. At Fresne Ducret, harvest was started by 3D Partners who happened to visit the domaine just as the vendange was about to commence!
The harvest began in earnest at Montirius in Vacqueyras on the 5th September. There were smiles all round – the weather was beautiful and the grapes fine and healthy, aided at times by Le Mistral wind which wards off disease and helps concentrate the sugar levels. The grapes are very small, concentrated and sweet tasting. It has been a hot and dry summer in the southern Rhône with no rainfall for two and a half months. This is what Christine Saurel had to say in her usual prosaic way:
We started the 5th September (the cicadas sang perfectly at the Le Clos plot once again) and we finished on the 28th September. We stopped for two days, the 22nd and the 23rd, to give to the Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes in Gigondas the opportunity to mature perfectly before picking the grapes.
The Syrah grapes were ready earlier than expected so we harvested the first week, each morning.
Thanks to the bio-dynamic farming – this is our twentieth year – vines and grapes were not affected by the very special climate we had in our area this year. We continued having leaves for good photosynthesis, with grapes maturing at a good rhythm in the plants’ life, even though temperatures reached 40°C in August. Only vines with enough health and strength were able to maintain their natural equilibrium and continue ripening grapes.
It was also a year to be prudent with weeds. ‘Enherbement’ [maintaining a grass cover between the vines] in the vineyard to avoid competition between weeds and vines was carried out, important when there is so little water.
We think the yield is close to the vintage 2015, around 28-30 hl per hectare. We had a little bit of ‘coulure’ [failure of grapes to develop after flowering] in the Grenache grapes in Gigondas. It was an easy harvest, because we could see the grapes clearly, making it easy to keep going. The pickers were an amazing, wonderful and enthusiastic group who were full of joy.
We are currently in the vinification process (fruit salad, alcoholic process, infusion) and ‘the birth of the wine’. Eric, Justine and I taste each baby wine in vat every morning at 7 o’clock – leaving a lasting impression on our palates; the story of the grapes harvested and of their special terroir.
At the moment this new vintage reveals wonderful fruits, velvety in mouth, equilibrium, freshness, lovely acidity, sweetness, minerality (lots of salt in the throat). It is very tasty and savoury. This is for Vacqueyras and Côtes du Rhone. Gigondas is in the fermentation process. It smells so good!’
There was similar positivity in Châteauneuf and Valréas. The general feeling is that it will be a great vintage, but small in quantity. Because there are so many older vines in the southern Rhône, their deeper root system ensures a good supply of water – especially important during the long dry summer they have had.
Early in September, it was evident that there were not many grapes to be seen – in the Sancerre region as well as further west in the Touraine and the Anjou. The combined effects of frost followed by a hot dry summer resulted in few bunches of tiny grapes. The Riffaults in Sancerre required some rain to flesh out their grapes.
Stéphanie Caslot at Domaine de la Chevalerie in Bourgueil shrugged her shoulders and smiled ‘we are waiting for 2017!’ Some 80% of their crop has been reduced by frosts and they will only make one or two cuvées as opposed to the eight they normally make. Next door at La Jarnoterie in St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, things looked much better. The Marys in Saumur-Champigny were in the same boat as Domaine de la Chevalerie, having lost up to 80% of their crop. They too were still smiling though and remained philosophical.
Meanwhile, in the Anjou, Georges Bureau started harvesting his Chardonnay and Grolleau for their crémant on the 26th September. They avoided the frost and the hail and received a nice amount of rain to fatten the grapes late summer. Georges and his son Max feel that Cabernet Franc will be especially good this year.
For Gilles Sorin in Rochefort sur Loire, sunburn was the latest peril he was contending with. Of the grapes … not him! The sun had been relentless throughout August and September and it caused much stress – this time for both Gilles and his vines. Rain was certainly needed, as in other areas. But Gilles’ luscious Chenin Blanc grapes for his Coteaux du Layon will be picked late in October, so plenty of time for a little rain to arrive.
Alessandro Griccioli had some observations to make just prior to his harvest, which began mid-September.
‘So far in Chianti we have been blessed with all the conditions for a great vintage. Spring brought regular showers, whilst summer struck the perfect balance between hot, sunny days and cool, damp nights.
At Monte Chiaro we expect to begin harvesting on September 15th, significantly earlier than in 2015. We are sharpening our secateurs with anticipation!
A lot of work has been put into our newest vines this season. Therefore, our employees – a youthful band of wine enthusiasts from various far-flung corners of the globe – have decided to celebrate the end of vendemmia by breaking bread in the field of our latest crop, Poggio ai Tordi, after its inaugural harvest. Situated on the estate’s finest and highest terroir, the diners will enjoy the stunning backdrop of Siena’s skyline, whilst indulging in the fruits of their labour.’
In Rocca della Macìe the harvest started on the 29th August in their Maremma at Campomaccione Estate, then they started on the 5th September in Castellina in Chianti with the early grape varieties such as Merlot. Only at the end of September did they start the harvest of their Sangiovese grapes for their single vineyards and top wines (including Partner’s Risserva di Fizzano and Tenuta Sant’Alfonso). They are delighted with the quality of the Sangiovese grapes this year.
We might be lulled into thinking that in the New World it’s mostly sunny and warm where grapes are grown. Obviously that’s not always the case, especially in a ‘cooler climate’ like New Zealand. It’s been a good vintage and an excellent one for Chardonnay and Riesling, but there was a little more rain about than the previous year, so more work was needed in the vineyard.
Sam Day from Kahurangi Estate commented, ‘Another vintage has just passed with the last of our grapes being picked on Wednesday 27th April. The 2016 Vintage was perhaps the most compressed we have had with the first grapes being picked on March 16th, lasting only five weeks. We processed a total of 679 tonnes, well up on last year’s 440.
The extra volume through our winery has come about with many local growers wanting our winemaking team to make their wine for them due to the awards our wines have been receiving over the last three years or so. This is a very encouraging sign and speaks well of our team at Kahurangi. A sign of this is our label ‘Abel’ which is a single vineyard wine from one of our growers that has just been awarded five stars from one of our top wine writers.’