2013| A wainting game.
A long, drawn out growing season; harvest dates later than we have seen for 20 years or more; wines that won’t reveal their true colours for a good few months yet – the 2013 vintage is definitely playing a waiting game; but in the end, it is likely to impress us all.
A year in the vineyard
2013 was cold, and full of delays. Temperatures well below the seasonal norm put a stop to growth until April 10th. Budbreak came around 10 days late; the cold, wet spring weather caused further delays in the cycle, and the vines eventually flowered a good two weeks later than usual. The resulting spread of coulure and millerandage led to lot of small grapes in the harvest, particularly whites. Then came a long period of drought – from 20th June until mid-September – along with some extremely high temperatures in July. Fungal diseases such as mildew and oidium and were kept at bay relatively successfully. The vines were able to draw on accumulated reserves of water in the soil and suffered little hydric stress; only in a few areas did the vines begin to show a failure to ripen. Three weeks of mild, rainy weather followed, leading up to October 9th; and so the growing season ended on a cooler note, still with the year’s trademark damp conditions.
A few spells of rain in the second half of September helped to speed up the accumulation of sugars, while cool temperatures ensured a gradual decline in total acid content. Mild weather at the end of September re-booted the ripening process, concentrating sugars, lowering acidity and defining flavours. This mild period also encouraged the development of botrytis, which can lead to two very different sets of consequences: in general, Sauvignon Blanc grapes have a thick skin, so the fungus affected them in its “noble” form, traditionally a positive aspect of late harvests such as 2013; it improves wine quality by increasing solids and concentrating flavours. However, elsewhere, especially on free-draining soils, the effect can damage the grapes and cause defects in the resulting wine. The white must had to be comprehensively treated (careful débourbage and fining), while reds, which were thankfully less affected, needed thorough sorting.
Sugar production remained good right up until the end of harvest. Acidity was a little high to start with, but by October 7 the balance was excellent.
Harvesting got off to a slow start. Pinot Gris was harvested in Reuilly from September 26th and the earliest parcels in Sancerre were brought in from October 2nd. The pace then gradually picked up right across the Centre Loire, and most of the grapes were harvested between October 7th and 19th. The vineyards were well placed to harvest quickly at exactly the right moment, and to process the wine in the best possible conditions.
As with all vintages where ripeness is a long time coming, 2013’s wines will seem a little austere while young.
White wines are still relatively closed. Florals dominate, mixed with grassy, fruity flavours. Depending on harvest date and provenance, they are either soft and fresh or brisk and lively to varying degrees. Experience tells us that this style of wine always improves with age: high acidity may make it challenging to taste in the first few months, but has a positive influence on the wine’s development over time.
The red wines are showing a good, intense colour, and their fruity flavours (raspberries and blackberries) also carry a hint of florals (peony). Keeping a close eye on polyphenol content in the grapes, and carefully checking flavours throughout the process has ensured an excellent level of tannic extraction, leading to measured, supple tannins.
A vintage with character.
The unusual shift between the seasons has created a 2014 vintage with great potential for Centre Loire Wines. The unexpected warm weather in autumn produced exceptional wines with finesse and power.
A year in the vineyard
2014 was characterised by a long growing season. The mild end to the winter and a dry March warmed the soils and accelerated growth. Bud break began in the first days of April. Except for the period from June 6th-13th, and the second half of July, the year was relatively cold until the end of August. Therefore, the vine was delayed throughout the whole season, despite bud break being 10 days early; there was a 3 day delay for flowering and a 4 day delay for veraison. For rainfall, 2014 was broken down into three phases: dry in March to mid-July, followed by heavy rain until 25th August when finally the return to dry weather permitted the moderation of water levels.
Regarding fungal diseases, Oidium occurred presented itself in some unusual areas this year while the risk of mildew lasted until the beginning of August. Little damage was reported. Botrytis was almost non-existent. There was a small amount of acidic rot which meant some had to enforce the process of sorting but only a few parcels were affected. September, however, was excellent for the vintage with moderate heat during the day, cool nights and very little rain.
The excellent weather conditions in autumn allowed for slow maturation where each element fell into place in harmony. The warmth increased sugar, while cool nights preserved the fruit and halted the decline in acidity which was high at the beginning of the year. 2014 stands out as a remarkable year as levels of sugar and acidity are high but still perfectly balanced. Healthy, thick skins maintained berry colour and aromas. The good hygienic conditions led to very pure musts.
The winegrowers have shown great skill in determining the harvest date. They were able to observe with precision the maturation of their parcels to pick each one at the best moment; a complicated exercise as vine evolution did not correspond with the usual schedule. Growers benefitted from the late autumnal heat and good weather, waiting until optimal maturity had been reached before harvesting. The harvest occurred in stages; Pinot Gris in Reuilly on 15th September and Sauvignon in Sancerre in 18th September. The largest portion of the harvest began on 29th September and finished between 6th and 11th of October. The maturity of reds were picked before October 5th. The last grapes were picked on October 13th.
The wines reveal consistency and density. High acidities are subtle on the palate as they are balanced by the grapes’ natural richness. White wines reveal promising aromas. The finesse and complexity already shows fruits (pear, peach, exotic fruits) and hints of herbaceous aromas. For some wines delicate mineral notes can also be detected. On the palate, the balance in taste is often marked by tension.
Wines exhibit a fine tension counterbalanced by a rich mouthful of fullness and richness. With a long finish, white wines from 2014 have real potential. Depending on the soil, they should begin to reach their full expression after 8-15 months of aging. For those who favour older vintages, these wines should be able to last a decade or two before enjoying their great aging qualities.
The rosés are pale salmon and with subtle hints of coral. The aromas of fruits, such as strawberry, raspberry and banana, dominate. Vivacity and freshness characterise the palate. They will be crisp wines.
The reds show vivid colours; bright ruby highlights with purple tints. Still closed, there are already elegant aromas of red fruits (cherry, raspberry). The measured tannins coat the mouth although they are currently increased by the acidity as at this point malolactic fermentation is not yet complete. The finish is full bodied.
Hot, dry weather makes for a promising vintage.
Just as any other northern region, the Centre Loire is profoundly affected by vineyard conditions in any given year – and 2015 will be no different. The weather has been rather distinctive this year, and has resulted in wines with very pure flavours.
The Winegrowing Season:
There was nothing particularly exceptional about the year. Winter 2014-2015 was one of the least cold for 100 years. After a mild start followed by a somewhat cooler February (but still no frosts), winter came to an end in March. Temperatures were well within seasonal norms.
Until the end of February winter rainfall was higher than average, helping to build up a good reserve of water in the soils and subsoils ready for spring.
The growth cycle kicked in slightly late, but mild temperatures from April 8th onwards quickly made up for any delay. Warm weather coupled with good water availability encouraged bud break, which progressed evenly and without any major problems. Sunshine was the order of the day – until the last week in April, which brought back chilly temperatures and poorer weather. The first days of May were also cold and rainy – but spring arrived at last on May 4th, and this time it was here to stay. In fact it was more like an early summer, with only small amounts of infrequent rainfall. A modest hailstorm on May 20th in parts of Sancerre, Quincy and Reuilly brought back bad memories, and caused localised damage in Reuilly.
Flowering started in the first half of June. Conditions were good, with temperatures slightly higher than average and little rainfall, although there was still some incidence of coulure in the Sauvignons. Some rain fell on June 12th and 14th – and then the drought set in. The first week of July brought scorching temperatures; the younger parcels were first to experience the effects of the drought, with hydric stress making itself apparent around mid-July. Elsewhere, very pale green foliage was a sure sign that vine development was slowing down.
Veraison started at the beginning of August, but the extremely dry conditions slowed progress down considerably; however, a rainy episode in mid-August changed everything, and veraison finished very quickly.
The dry weather acted as a natural suppressant for pests and diseases. Powdery mildew was closely monitored and kept under control.
Ripening: Ripening conditions were very good. Given the summer weather, we were expecting smallish berries with low acidity – it was to be part and parcel of the year’s experiences.
However, a final period of rainfall at the end of August was of great benefit to the vines, which still needed a little more water. The berries started to grow at last, and the rain had little effect on the speed of ripening. Sugar content rose rapidly and any reduction in acidity levels was contained. Technological and phenolic ripeness was quickly reached, and the fruit remained in excellent health. Harvest dates could be decided by tasting alone, and all the different components came together in a well-balanced, harmonious way.
Harvesting started calmly - on September 7th with Pinot Gris in Reuilly. Sauvignon harvests started on September 14th for the other appellations, while red varietals were picked mainly between September 17th and 20th. Minor episodes of sleet in September did nothing to dampen spirits; they even had the added benefit of softening the grapes’ rather tough skins.
Grape juices showed excellent purity of flavour, and this is set to be one of the 2015 vintage’s major features.
The whites are full and elegant with complex aromas of white fruit. They are dense and warm, offset by a refreshing tang of acidity.
Red wines meanwhile show an appealing ruby red colour and aromas of red fruit (strawberries, cherries and raspberries) with underlying floral notes. Rounded, silky smooth tannins are testament to good ripeness, and give freshness and elegance.
2015 is an excellent vintage. The wines are already well-flavoured, and, as in any high-sunshine vintage, their youthful character will stay with them for a long time to come.
2016 has been giving our winegrowers a run for their money. Weather conditions were difficult; growers have had to contend with rain, humidity, frost and even sunscald, but have carried on regardless. Luckily nature rallied at the eleventh hour, and the vintage will be an excellent one after all.
2016 in the Vineyard:
The beginning of 2016 was excessively mild, but also excessively rainy. In fact the weather bared its teeth on only two occasions - once to celebrate St Vincent's Day in January, and again in the first weeks of March. It ended on the same note as winter 2015 - without even a hint of frost. There was excessive rainfall throughout the winter.
The growing cycle started late - in April, a month marked by alternating periods of very mild and very cold weather. From April 18th, vines were exposed to sub-zero temperatures at night, with the worst of the damage occurring during the night from April 26th to 27th. Weather conditions were unpredictable – on some evenings, rain left the buds wet, leaving them even more susceptible to the night-time cold.
The extent of the damage is difficult to estimate, but we already know that the effects are likely to be serious in Coteaux du Giennois, Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé and Quincy, and to a lesser extent Sancerre.
May started – and finished – on a cold note, and will no doubt stay in our memories as a month of exceptionally heavy rainfall (15% above the norm); this made access to some plots particularly difficult. The first few days of June were cold and damp; there followed a period of calm from June 5th - 9th, only to be disrupted again later on. As we know all too well, cold, wet weather encourages disease, especially downy mildew, and diseased grapes, naturally affect production potential. Weather can cause stress not only for the vine, but also for the winegrowers!
Flowering started during the second half of June, but the weather continued to be difficult, and coulure and millerandage were rife. Nature rallied for the first time on June 23rd: the sun came out, temperatures rose – and given these newly favourable conditions, vines continued to flower rapidly.
Summer made its first tentative appearance - and the rain stopped. Cumulative rainfall for July and August was less than 90% of the thirty year average. On July 15th, temperatures began to rise, culminating in a late heatwave at the end of August. The warm spell also left its mark, and by the end of August the vines were showing early signs of hydric stress - and more notably, the effects of sunscald. Veraison started in the second half of August, somewhat hampered by the very dry conditions. Things moved along slowly – but prevailing conditions ensured that at least the fruit was in excellent health.
The start of September brought summery conditions, with sunshine and temperatures of over 30°C. Significant differences of temperature between day and night promote ripeness in the grapes, both phenolic and aromatic, by balancing out any touches of overly-vegetal flavour. Meanwhile, lack of water was really beginning to make its mark.
Hardly daring to complain, the winegrowers begged for just a drop of rain - and rain it did, on the 14th and 16th of September; a little miracle in an otherwise tough year. At last the berries started to swell, sugars continued to develop and declining acidity was checked.
Cool nights alternated with sunny days, giving perfect ripening conditions – and winegrowers felt safe enough to wait until both whites and reds reached the peak of ripeness.
The weather remained completely dry during harvesting, and for the fourth month in a row there was little rain. The very cold mornings are likely to become a hallmark of this year’s harvest.
Just like 2015, 2016’s wines are expected to show good purity of flavour; and as with all late vintages, they have plenty of freshness and a crisp texture.
While still slightly reticent on the nose, the white wines hint at notes of white flowers and white-fleshed fruit, with a base of underlying minerality. Rosés have a lovely intense colouring, and fresh fruit aromas such as blood orange and raspberry. The reds, with their deep, intense colouring, are expected to be the belle of the ball this year. They are showing aromas of red fruits including blackcurrant and raspberry, mixed with florals. Mouthfeel is fresh, underpinned by velvety-smooth tannins.
2016 will be remembered as a year of frost, and of high quality wines. And for Centre-Loire this year - all’s well that ends well.
A year of contrasts.
2017 is the latest in a succession of early harvests.
As winter drew to a close with temperatures worthy of late spring, nature snowballed ahead. The vines continued to reach each milestone early, right up until harvest - despite very variable conditions which changed month by month and area by area.
The 2017 growth cycle:
Winter 2017 was cold and dry, with rainfall some 60% lower than the norm. Temperatures varied, starting out lower than the seasonal norm in January, then rising in February ready to usher in an unseasonably warm spring. By the end of March, and for the first few days of April, temperatures were worthy of mid-May. Vine growth surged ahead, and the first buds began to appear at the beginning of April, 8 – 10 days earlier than the 10-year average.
Unfortunately, the second half of April was blighted by freezing weather, and growers spent around 10 nights battling the frosts. Temperatures plummeted to lows of -5°C; it was an unequal struggle.
Centre-Loire’s vineyards, like vineyards throughout France, are now paying a heavy price. Damage levels vary, but every vineyard has been hit to some extent. Châteaumeillant was decimated, and Pouilly-Fumé was again seriously affected.
April will be memorable not only for its heavy frosts, but also for low rainfall, some 70% below the seasonal norm; but once again, our growers picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and got back to work.
Growers spent 2016 battling with record levels of rainfall; May 2017, by contrast, was dry: cold and grey for the first couple of weeks, then the exact opposite towards the end of the month, with temperatures reaching record highs on May 27th and 28th.
Conditions such as these encourage growth, and the vines began to develop rapidly. Nature set a blistering pace, and growers had no choice but to keep up. There was no time to relax as the frozen vines made up for lost time.
Mildew made only a tentative appearance at the end of May, and oidium was also relatively understated; favourable conditions in winter and spring followed by rapid vine growth had played a major part in mitigating the dangers. This again was in complete contrast to last year, and proof that weather is not always the enemy.
Flowering started at the beginning of June under favourable conditions – warm temperatures with limited rainfall. The vines raced through their phenological milestones, and it looked as if ripening would be fairly uniform.
Then came the heatwave. For the entire two weeks between July 10th and 25th, temperatures regularly soared to 30˚C and above, while water was in short supply – down by 40% compared to the norm. Although not critical, the situation gave cause for concern. Vine growth slowed.
The hot weather persisted throughout July, with two peaks in temperature from July 4th – 7th and July 17th – 19th. Rainfall varied across the different areas, and cumulative totals were, in many cases, the results of heavy storms, some even including hail. This also had an impact on production potential.
The rainfall brought much-needed water to some areas, but other sectors – those which had escaped the storms – were beginning to show signs of hydric stress.
Veraison began in the first days of August, under these very divergent conditions. Vine growth had not stopped completely, however, and veraison got off to a slow start.
Ripening progressed in very distinctive weather conditions: light August showers alternating with sunshine and giving way to more heatwave temperatures towards the end of the month.
This weather encouraged the berries to swell, and helped develop sugar levels. The few extremely hot days reduced acidity and ensured the absence of unwanted ‘green’ flavours. Meanwhile, nights remained cool, helping to preserve fruity flavours.
Low rainfall affected certain areas throughout the season, and in these zones lack of water began to have a major impact. In areas with plentiful rainfall on the other hand, berries began to bloat and burst, or were damaged by wasps, raising concerns that the fruit may rot. Vigilance on the part of the growers went up a notch with every passing day – as did their unease.
September arrived – and so, suddenly, did autumn. Temperatures fell, bringing a return to normal conditions Grape health stabilised, and growers were given the chance to wait for their fruit to reach optimum ripeness.
The grapes continued to ripen under close scrutiny, and there was tension in the air as harvesting started. Picking began with Pinot Gris in Reuilly in the final days of August. In other appellations, Sauvignon harvests started on September 12th, while red varietals were mainly picked between September 19th and 22nd. Once again, Sauvignon Blancs didn’t disappoint – grapes were healthy and quality was excellent. For red varietals the situation was a little more variable, and grapes needed rigorous sorting to maintain wine quality.
Harvesters finally laid down their secateurs in October – this is one of the rare vintages where Centre-Loire harvests have been spread over 3 months.
This year’s whites are very elegant, with notes of citrus and white-fleshed fruit; minerality and a touch of liquorice add to their charm. They are full and rounded, underpinned by an appealing edge of freshness.
Rosés are generally fairly pale in colour, their dominant flavours of grapefruit and blood oranges beautifully balanced by a delightful edge of vivacity on the palate.
Reds are intense in colour, and show flavours of red berry fruits. Extraction and vinification has been tailored to suit the needs of this year’s vintage; the results are well-honed, smooth, supple tannins.
In short – Centre-Loire’s 2017 wines are made for enjoyment.
A record year for Centre-Loire.
Having braved the unusual weather conditions, 2018 is a unique, early vintage - a vintage shaped by extraordinary extremes of weather, ranging from record levels of spring rainfall to summer heatwaves.
The Wine-Growing Year
Winter was dank and gloomy, with limited sunshine and abundant rainfall.
Spring started where winter left off – with pelting rain - and any longed-for improvement to the weather failed to materialise. The first 10 days of March were very cold, verging on freezing. After a brief respite in February, the rain came back with a vengeance. Unlike 2017, nature seemed reluctant to get going.
April was marked by unseasonably high temperatures. The warmer weather encouraged budbreak, which took place around mid-April.
From then on, things became frantic on the weather front. Temperatures soared; the period from 18th – 22nd April was marked by intense heat, with extremely hot days and mild nights. April 21st went down as the hottest April day on record.
In the space of a few days, the vineyards had not only caught up on themselves compared to 2017, but had galloped ahead by a few days.
The end of the month saw a return to cooler temperatures, a painful reminder of 2016 and 2017’s frosts. Winegrowers braced themselves to do battle with the elements yet again; but there was no need. The danger passed.
May also featured copious amounts of rainfall, predisposing the vines to mildew across all areas. Thankfully, in most cases the attacks were not severe.
We could tell even now that water shortages would not be a problem for this vintage. It was a record year for rainfall, and in some areas cumulative totals were already approaching the annual average.
The vines began to flower at the start of June. Conditions were good. It was clear that 2018 was to be an early vintage.
Mid-June saw a radical change in the weather. Summer arrived at last, with temperatures reaching heatwave proportions – the start of a new growing season. July brought more of the same, with temperatures again above the seasonal norm; summer 2018 was the hottest since the heatwave of 2003.
Prolonged drought was another feature of summer 2018, the driest since 1945; but low rainfall turned out to be an effective remedy for the continuing mildew, which was proving very stubborn.
Things eased a little towards the end of the growing season. The more sensitive vines continued to show signs of water stress, but on the whole the soils had retained enough water to ensure the vines were adequately supplied.
Such were the conditions at the start of veraison, which kicked off in the last few days of July in the earliest parcels. However, growth had not halted completely by then, so progress was slow.
The grapes ripened in sunny, summer conditions. Good moisture levels helped the vines cope with the dry weather, save for a few parcels with particularly free-draining soils or shallow-rooted vines. The wet spring had its advantages after all!
One of the consequences of heatwave temperatures during ripening was a reduced level of malic acid in the fruit, which also ensured the absence of unwanted ‘green’ flavours. Sugars continued to accumulate well and the 2018 vintage began to take on its own distinctive character.
The vignerons were generally in good spirits, their main worry being the potential impact of the summer drought on berry weight.
September’s fine weather helped to maintain the quality potential of the harvest. No substantial changes were predicted, and vignerons could look forward to optimum ripeness across the whole vineyard.
Harvesting started early, with Pinot Grigios being picked in Reuilly at the end of August. For reds, picking started on September 5th. High temperatures at the beginning of the month had caused the berries to start shrivelling; sugar concentration rose rapidly, and the speed of harvesting rose accordingly.
Sauvignons were picked from September 10th. Harvesting in Centre-Loire was staggered this year due not only to differing ripeness levels, but also to harvest potential.
Another major feature was that harvesting took place in unusually sunny conditions, the sunniest since 2003. Temperatures were well above the seasonal norm, regularly reaching 28 and 29°C, and the afternoon sun proved exhausting for both grapes and harvesters. Schedules were rearranged, and night-time or early-morning harvests became the new norm.
2018 shows every sign of being a sun-driven vintage.
Whites are still a little reticent but show fruity aromas, including distinct notes of pear and mandarin. They are supple and delicate, balancing sweetness with freshness; aromatic profiles are already beautifully precise. Texture and mouthfeel may need tweaking, but all in all, the 2018s are already very pleasing.
All we need now is a bit of patience.
Rosés are intensely coloured with well-expressed aromas of fresh red fruit and a deliciously refreshing palate.
Reds are both smooth and powerful, showing a deep ruby-red colour with a hint of violet. Ripe red fruit is the overriding flavour, with a note of spice giving them the distinctive freshness of a Loire red. The palate is structured, with well-rounded tannins.
In conclusion, the 2018 vintage is set to be all about elegance.
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