A mild winter and warm spring look to be pushing France towards its earliest harvest on record
2020 is reckoned to be several days earlier than the vintages of 2007 and 2011, the previous earliest vintages ever.
With fruit set weeks early and vines growing at an exceptional rate of 30cm-40cm a week, many French regions are looking at vintage starting in the last ten days of August. Some styles and area – such as Alsace crémant and parts of Languedoc-Roussillon – could begin harvesting in the middle of the month.
‘It’s very early in Beaujolais,’ said Cyril Chirouze of Chateau des Jacques. ‘We’re mostly at the petits pois stage of development, but in some parcels the bunches have already reached closure. We’re looking at harvest starting on 24 or 25 of August, depending on the summer still to come.’ The early harvest has even led Beaujolais winegrowers to push for an early release of the Nouveau expressions.
It’s still too early to comment on the likely style of the wines. As one producer pointed out, a cool, cloudy summer on top of a very warm spring can give a vintage that is both early and fairly ‘classical’.
‘The weather in June and July (the time of flowering and fruit setting) makes the grape, the weather in July and August (closure of the cluster, veraison, and maturity) makes the wine,’ explained Patrick Galiano, Technical Director at Chateau Saint Maur, near Cogolin, in Provence.
For some styles, warm, dry vintages can be an advantage... Producers of more delicate styles, however, need to be careful
Nonetheless, the law of averages suggests certain likely characteristics. ‘Early years are often warm years and dry years,’ said Chirouze. ‘Wines therefore tend to have more colour, riper tannins, a good concentration, and a bit less acidity. The health of the grapes is also very good.’
For some styles, warm, dry vintages can be an advantage. Beaujolais for instance often has a highly sellable generosity and suppleness.
Producers of more delicate styles, however, need to be careful. ‘Early maturity requires precise monitoring of the maturity indices, so as not to be overripe,’ said Chateau St Maur’s Galiano. ‘The development of rosés and whites from Provence requires a perfect knowledge of the ripeness without having too many sugars, retaining enough acidity to preserve the aromas.’
In the Loire, Michel Redde believes the current state of the vines ‘bodes well for a good harvest provided there are no climatic “episodes” between now and the harvest.’
In Burgundy, Christophe Deola of Louis Latour says they are getting used to warmer, more ‘advanced’ years and have changed their picking routine accordingly. ‘Picking early in the morning, [and] no deleafing in the vineyard are examples of techniques that help us keep the kind of balance people look for in Burgundy. The 2020 should be rich and concentrated but with a good acidity, because we are prepared for this kind of harvest.’
The big challenge for 2020, in fact, might be in picking the grapes in the first place. Sebastien Walasiak of Champagne Collet pointed out that the August picking date could mean ‘growers will have more difficulties finding pickers’.
While Latour’s Deola added that ‘with the Covid-19 situation it might be harder for people who usually have pickers from abroad.’