As just-drinks reports, the 2002 harvest appears to have been a challenge for winemakers from Napa to the Northern Rhone. Despite the tough growing conditions, as our 2002 harvest report suggests, there will be some great results for those who battled the elements with success. This week we investigate California, The Rhone and the South of France.

Languedoc-Roussillon

Reminiscent of 1995, 2002 has produced a crop where the berries are small, yet concentrated.

A winter lacking in rainfall, which was followed by a dry spring led to the formation of compact, small bunches on the vine. July was also quite dry and further evaporation occurred due to the wind that decided to blow from the north.

The average temperature during the summer months was lower than in 2001, and this led to a long slow ripening period.  Rainfall did eventually arrive at the end of August. This contributed to the maturation of the grapes that had been suffering from stress due to the lack of rainfall. There was sporadic rainfall until the beginning of September, with significant thunderstorms on 8th and 9th September that touched the far northeastern section of the region.

Careful selection in the vineyard and during the vendange was needed to ensure healthy grapes were harvested. Some plots of Syrah had to be picked early to avoid further problems of grey rot. Those that picked later had a better chance to harvest healthy grapes since the wind had blown again and assisted in drying out the bunches. The wines are showing good fruit and colour with soft, supple tannins. Yield is down.

By Lyn Parry

Provence

The 2002 harvest was smaller in volume than the previous year; estimated to be around 900,000 hl.

Both winter and spring were dry. May saw some rainfall but also very variable temperatures. June was ideal with both high temperatures and rainfall, but during July there were hailstorms especially at the Golfe de St Tropez where several vineyards were damaged significantly.

Late August and the beginning of September saw a drop in temperature followed by rainfall. The Mistral didn't blow hard enough to improve the situation. The condition of the grapes suffered and careful selection was needed during the harvest.

The wines have good acidity, which is favourable for the rosés.

By Lyn Parry

California

Mild growing conditions led to a bumper crop in California, where the state agricultural statistics service estimated production rose 5% to 3.2m tonnes. That fell short of the 3.3m predicted in July, in part because growers pruned or "green suckered" more than usual to help concentrate the fruit.
"The 2002 vintage started out with a bigger crop," Duff Bevill, owner of Bevill Vineyard Management in Sonoma County, said in the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley's 2002 Vintage Wrap-Up. "A crop reduction pass through the vineyard was needed to maintain the expected quality."

Average temperatures, rainfall and phenological dates like budbreak gave way to heat spikes after Labor Day, which pushed sugars higher and compressed the harvest.

"September's heat and low humidity caused sugars to go up rapidly, yet flavor and tannin maturation lagged behind," Richard Sowalsky, Robert Mondavi's associate winemaker said in the company's harvest report. "It
was nerve racking to wait for full flavor maturity."

Still, many wineries including Mondavi, Silver Oak Cellars and Unti Vineyards reported good color, fruit intensity and flavor. "No question about it: 2002 was a winning vintage," according to a harvest report from George Phelan and Scott Loopstra, winemakers at Dunnewood Vineyards near Mendocino.

By Anne Bockhoff

The Rhône Valley

Mother Nature decided to set a challenge for the winegrowers in the Rhône Valley in 2002.

There were difficulties throughout the year although the growing season kicked off well and there were no major problems. The beginning of May was dry and warm and flowering was successful. However, the middle of May brought some hailstorms around the Dentelles de Mirail and a drop in temperature. This resulted in poor fruit setting, especially for the grenache.

The summer months saw diverse weather conditions, July was notable for its lack of sunshine and warm temperatures and the southern Rhône suffered some hailstorms again. August began hot for the southern Rhône and then the heatwave visited the north briefly. The variation in temperature, wind, rainfall and even mist increased the susceptibility of the berries to rot.

Despite these problems the grapes achieved good ripeness and maturity.

In the south, the lack of high temperatures and the 'hydraulic stress' have combined to produce wines with good acidity and an appealing freshness.

In the north, in contrast, many producers predicted an early start to the harvest due to the low acid levels.

A cold start to September was followed by the violent thunderstorms of the 8th and 9th which seriously affected the crop in Châteauneuf du Pape and the Gard. The north endured similar problems with cold, damp weather followed by warm temperatures that resulted in rot throughout the vineyards. Guigal comments (on Côte-Rôtie), "We were very worried towards the end of the harvest because rot was setting in fast."

Expert Analysis

The World Market for Wine 2002

This issue-led report on the world market for wine provides comprehensive strategic analysis of the latest trends in the market, as well as an overview of 6 product sectors, the major national and fast growing markets and 20 major companies. Sales of wine are analysed at both world and regional levels, as well as in over 50 individual countries. The sales period under review is 1997-2001, with forecasts to 2006.

 

The work throughout the year in the vineyards was especially important for this vintage. Those who worked hard to reduce yields avoided a lot of rot. Timing and luck also played a role since the rainstorms were intermittent throughout harvesting.

Severe selection was also needed during picking.

The irregular weather conditions have produced wines of a patchy quality.The reds are supple and should be drinking early. The whites have good freshness and aromatic qualities.

By Lyn Parry