« A difficult and complicated vintage » is a very common refrain from producers in 2013.
2013 is the second successive year where the Loire vignerons have been flayed by the weather, which has fully tested their mettle in the vineyards.
Since 2008 I have always spent at least three weeks in the Loire during the vintage as I think this is really essential. You get a real feel for how the harvest is rather than relying on reports from producers, merchants or PR companies. This year I have been able to spend five weeks here covering vineyards from the Fiefs Vendéens and the Pays Nantais through to Sancerre and Pouilly. So when I receive a preliminary 2013 Loire vintage report from Charles Sydney, a courtier en vin based in Chinon suggesting that everything is fine and enclosing a selection of photos of perfect grapes with not a sign of rot, I’m a little sceptical!
Although a difficult vintage it has been a fascinating one to follow and I think it has been really important to be in La Loire to see the vintage at first hand. It was only by being here that I could taste rotten grapes.
Rot has been a feature in 2013 from the Fiefs Vendéens and the Pays Nantais right the way through to Pouilly-sur-Loire, although its virulence varies very considerably from parcel to parcel. Also some varieties have resisted better than others. Cabernet Franc has generally stood up well, partly because until recently it wasn’t ripe. Curiously In the Central Vineyards it’s the Pinot Noir that was less affected by rot when normally it would be the Sauvignon Blanc. The good news is that through out. The Loire the rot tastes fine with no wrong flavours.
Another general feature of 2013 has been the low level of potential alcohol coupled with high acidity. It has not been that unusual for vignerons to report that their grapes are coming in at under 11˚. On average the degrees have been between 11˚-12˚ and it’s has been very rare for grape to come in at 13˚. Whereas over the last 15 years or more 13˚ has been common for the top domaines. Acidities this year are often between 6 and 7, where in previous years they have been between 5-6.
There is likely to be a big increase in the number of vignerons chaptalising at least some of their vats. This will include producers who have not enriched their musts for many years. Indeed for so long that they need help in filling in the necessary documentation. Of course this is good news for the beet farmers of Northern France who will be enjoying a bumper year and splashing out on new Mercedes and BMWs!
It is quite wrong think that 2013 is a complete disaster. There will be some good wines made but fewer than normal. Almost all the juice that I have tasted over the past four weeks or so has been promising – clean with good fruit and length.
2013 is a vintage that throws into question the rather facile assumption that global warming was a good news story for the Loire. A very late flowering – just scraping into June – was not part of the script! Those thinking of ripping out their Cabernet Franc and replacing it with Grenache will need to think again!
There remains the possibility that there could be some good sweet wines made in the Layon this year. Grapes in the Quarts de Chaume were looking promising last Friday. There is plenty of rot about all that is needed is some fine weather to concentrate the sugars and no rain. Time to cross fingers and toes!