Unpredictable and at times violent weather patterns have ravaged the Northern hemisphere over the last six months and no-one has had to front up to the repercussions in the drinks industry like the winegrowers. just-drinks brings you the first part of this year's harvest report to discover the truth behind the 2002 vintage. This week Bordeaux, the Loire and Champagne.

Bordeaux
After a very damp summer, the grape harvest began in ideal weather at the start of September.

However, the year has seen growers having to cope with very chaotic weather conditions punctuated by periods more or less beneficial to the growth of the vine.

The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), an association representing both producers and merchants, point to "a harvest small in quantity but of great quality."

It forecasts the harvest could show overall falls of 15 to 20% on the 2001 level of 6.6 million hectolitres.

There were doubts over the harvest until the end of August but good weather in September did much to allieve concerns for the vines.

"This must be one of the most spectacular turnarounds seen. There is now every reason to believe it will be a very good, even exceptional year," says the Union's president, Partick Maroteaux, who also heads the Chateau Branaire-Ducru.

However, he adds that for some Chateaux volumes could be down by between 25 and 50%.

"It's a little to early to say but based on initial grape analysis we are hopeful of a very good vintage and one probably on a par with 1996 which was excellent," says David Sichel of Maison Sichel.

"The good weather has allowed grapes to mature fully with harvesting in many cases as late as mid-October and this usually points to high quality wines."

However, quantities could be down as much as 30% due to poor weather during the flowering season which resulted in small grapes but with high sugar levels.

"Lower volumes are unlikely to create any supply problems or impact on prices as stocks are at reasonable levels and demand has been soft in the current economic context," he added.

For the dry whites, the cold nights of September contributed to good aromatic development.

The semillons are full-bodied and well-balanced while the Sauvignon matured slowly, the musts revealing  a potentially high alcohol content,  a well-balanced acidity  and richness of fragrance.

For the reds, the Merlots, the first vines to be harvested, there is a potentially high alcohol content (+12.5 degrees).

The late vine, the Cabernet Sauvignon, benefited from the very good September to reach full maturity while white wine liquors are expected to have a good level of sweetness and be rich in fragrance.

By Stuart Todd

The Loire
Gloom in the Loire Valley vineyards at the end of a variable summer was dramatically lifted by a dry September and first half of October. There is a now optimism that 2002 will produce a very good vintage.
While quality is very much to the fore, quantities are small, with the exception of Pays Nantais (Muscadet and gros plant).  The Loire wines federation, Interloire, expects the global harvest expected to be down by 20 to 30%.
Muscadet and Pays Nantais producer, Serge Saupin, said "finesse and elegance" best described the 2002 vintage.

"We have benefited from a magnificent September which allowed grapes to mature fully on the vine. While volumes will probably be down there will be a high level of quality, he added.

Sapin suggests 2002 will emerge as a real success for Loire wines as a whole and for northern France wines in general.

Jean-Ernest Sauvion of Sauvion & Fils said he was "extremely happy" as a Muscadet producer.

"There's every prospect of an excellent vintage and in fairly good quantity .We've  been able to take our time with the harvests and this has resulted in a high quality grapes with a lot of sugar. Maybe it's not as good as  '89 and 90 but not far off."

In the Anjou-Saumur-Touraine regions, the exceptional weather allowed the harvesting of grapes of very high quality for red , rose and AOC whites and there is hope of a vintage close to that of 1996.

Enthusiasm is high among producers of leading red Loire wines at Chinon and Bourgueil while to the east, in the Sancerre vineyards, there is talk of a "great year."

If the clement weather holds, harvesting of Vouvray grapes could go on until mid-November.

For Sancerre, Anjou and Touraine wines the main features are high alcohol content, a good balance between sugar ands acidity and pleasant colour.

By Stuart Todd

Champagne
Dry, sunny weather during early September has helped produced a good, in some cases very good, vintage quality harvest in Champagne. There were very few problems with rot, the potential alcohol level is generally high at around 11deg and yields are considerably down on 2001, when a very wet September resulted in a large, dilute, under-ripe harvest. In some areas yields in 2002 are not expected to reach the maximum set by the Champagne authorities (CIVC) of 12,000 kilos per hectare.

Producers are particularly pleased with the quality of the Chardonnay, which ripened early in the villages of the Côte des Blancs. "There is no doubt that the Chardonnays are of the calibre to produce vintage blanc de blancs," says Bruno Paillard. "The grapes are in excellent condition, with high maturity and they are beautifully healthy."

Georges Blanck, chief winemaker at Moët & Chandon describes the weather as "ideal, I have no complaints about it, at least since the beginning of September. It's been dry, with cool night temperatures and sunshine during the day, we cannot expect better. Although it is too early to predict whether it will be a vintage year, the potential of 2002 seems to be very good". 

"Ripeness levels reached more than 11° for the best crus of Pinot Noir and Chardonnnay," according to Ghislain Montgolfier of Bollinger, "it's a beautiful vintage for Bollinger, we can compare it with 1989, 1976 or 1959". They are also predicting good things from the vintage at Pol Roger. "I think we are looking at a very good vintage, possibly a great one, with the alcohol of '76 and the acidity of  '79" says Pol Roger president Patrice Noyelle.

By Giles Fallowfield