2012 – A Difficult Year for Wines of the Loire

Machine Harvesting of Grapes

Machine Harvesting of Grapes

We have been living in France now for over eleven years and we have never seen a year like this one.  For the winemakers it is a year which has left many of them scratching their heads.  As is usual, here in the Loire Valley Saumur appellation, we have missed the extreme weather which led to regions such as Champagne and the Muscadet losing as much as 30% of their grapes to hail and frost but, nevertheless the yield will be very, very low.  Lower, in fact than at any time since 1991.  In addition, the Cabernet in particular has been subject to uneven ripening and you can see both ripe, red grapes and green grapes on the same bunch.  This creates a real conundrum for the winemakers as Cabernet Franc only retains its’ maximum quality for around 60 hrs. and then starts to rot.  Therefore the time chosen to harvest will be critical.  Even people who normally harvest by hand have had to use machines to get the grapes in before the next downpour and this then creates another problem in that the machines, by virtue of the bashing that they give the vines, will also collect excess water off the leaves thereby reducing already low alcohol levels.  Those who have chosen their timing well will get up to about 12.5% alcohol but those who have harvested in the rain or with the vines still wet will have much lower levels.  This is particularly unusual since, over the past ten to twelve years, the overall problem has often been how to cope with too much alcohol with levels of over 15% being common.  For dry white wine it is not so much of a problem as Chenin has naturally high sugar/alcohol levels and a bit of rot is not a problem.  In fact many wine makers do not pick the grape until there is a bit of rot visible, even in good years, the mould leading to an extra level of taste and complexity.  It is not that we have not had a warm summer! We have!  In fact at times it has been unbearably hot but we have also had much more rain than usual and also quite cold spells.  Unfortunately, each spell of hot/cool/wet weather seems to have come at the wrong time., ie., cool damp weather during the florison and torrential rain during the vendage (harvest).  Sadly there will be little or none of the delectable sweet wine , Le Coteaux de Saumur, made this year.  In fact over the whole of the sweet wine appellations very little will be produced, indeed, in the famous Quart de Chaume, there is likely to be none at all as the alcohol,  as shown in the refractometer is way below the minimum required under the appellation rules. The vignerons, (winemakers), are calling 2012 many things, but the best description I have heard is a “Vendange de Vignerons” that is a winemakers harvest.   In other words, the overall conditions have been very, very tricky and the success or otherwise of the year will depend very much on the skill of individual winemakers.  One of the few encouraging signs on the horizon is the fact that, due to the reduction in yields in champagne, there is likely to be a corresponding hike in the price of Chenin Blanc as negociants seek to remedy the shortfall in sparkling wine from Champagne, turning to France’s second largest producer – Saumur.  Overall we shall just have to wait and see until the first wines from 2012 are produced.

Bon Courage.

Brian