If you’ve been keeping an eye on such things, you may know that this is one of the earliest vintages ever, all over Europe.
And in the spring, partly because of the early bud-break, the hard frosts that struck in April did serious damage to the nascent grape bunches, decimating crops from Bordeaux to Burgundy (and Chablis and Champagne were particularly badly hit).
The frosts even reached the Roussillon.
Until now, I have confidently claimed that ‘the only vineyard problem that we DON’T have is frost!’, but we had a close shave this year. A few vineyards only a few kilometres away, those low-lying plots in frost pockets, were badly hit. But our hillside vines were spared (as, to be honest, were the vast majority of other vineyards in this hottest and driest part of France).
But early – yes – this is a pretty early vintage. So much so, that almost all of our neighbours have already finished picking. Some vines (early-ripening whites) were ready to harvest in July, and many vignerons had to curtail their ‘vacances’ and rush home to pick their grapes.
Our vines grow in the foothills of the valleys that wind up towards the Pyrenees. The higher altitude and slightly higher rainfall ensure that our grapes ripen much later, often not until mid October. And we like to leave our grapes as late as possible, because we prefer the flavours and the concentration that we get from really ripe grapes, and we want to avoid any green, bitter tannins. So we don’t pick on the analysis of sugar levels (although we keep an eye on sugars and acids), but on FLAVOUR.
It has been an interesting summer, with periods of extreme heat, and strong ‘tramontane’ wines, alternating with quite prolonged periods of rain. This means that the bunches are plentiful, and the grapes are quite large.
When it rains, the vines soak up the water through their roots, and pump it into the grapes, swelling them up, and diluting the sugar, flavour and acidity. And then the sun comes out, the wind blows, and the grapes shrink and concentrate again.
So, ripeness has come 2-3 weeks earlier than normal, and we have been waiting for last Monday’s rain to dry off, and re-concentrate those flavours.
On Friday, we started on the Carignan at our lovely La Roque vineyard. A bright and warm morning dawned, and around 20 pickers (most living in Perpignan, many of Spanish of Moroccan origin) got stuck in.
The fruit was in very good condition, and we’d already been through and removed many of the ‘grapillons’ (small, second set bunches), so there wasn’t much need to select, and this makes picking much quicker. Less than 2 hours later, we has filled the 145 crates that we had brought with us, (which we calculated was enough to fill the 4 barrels that we had prepared).
We knew there were a lot of grapes on this block – we were expecting over 3 tonnes – but when we’d filled our crates, we hadn’t even got half-way through the block. So we may have as many as 4 tonnes from one hectare. We leave the second half of the block until Monday.
One sad casualty of the tractor slipping as it rounded a corner with a heavy trailer in tow – two of our lovely 80-year-old vines were crushed. This is therefore their last ever vintage after over 80 years of loyal service. Thanks old fellas. Rest in Peace.