Analysis

2001 Harvest report

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In the first part of our 2001 Harvest report, just-drinks.com brings you the latest news on the Northern Hemisphere crop. This week Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire.

Champagne

Heavy rain during the first three weeks of September, unseasonal low temperatures and further downpours after picking started, have resulted in a poor, dilute, unripe harvest in much of Champagne.

Disease has also been a significant problem, although the potentially very large crop has enabled producers to leave rotten fruit on the vine, picking only the best grapes. As a result the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) still expects the maximum yield of 11,000 kilos per hectare to be reached across the appellation.

The biggest problems of disease and ripening have been with Pinot Noir, particularly in the southern part of the Montagne de Reims, around villages like Bouzy, Ambonnay and Mailly.

Because of low sugar levels picking was not due to start here before September 28 in the hope of better conditions for ripening. However, although it did warm up a little, two additional outbursts of rain on September 26 and October 2 - when Bouzy had 18 and 31mm respectively further diluted the harvest. The CIVC says analysis of musts across the appellation give an average of between 8.5 and 9deg, well below normal.

Moet & Chandon's head winemaker Georges Blanck describes the harvest as "difficult with unfortunate climatic conditions, the average degree is low at about 8.5, but the juice is clean, without any bad taste. The southern part of Montagne de Reims was definitely the most difficult area, with widespread unripe and rotten fruit," says Blanck.

Harvesting by hand

Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay fared better with the "best ripeness and they were less susceptible to botrytis. The Pinot Noir situation is more difficult with the high yields increasing the sensitivity to botrytis and seriously limiting the ripeness potential."

Outlying parts of the appellation like the area around Chateau Thierry to the west and the Côtes des Bar to the south, where the fruit was riper earlier, generally had the best of the weather during the harvest. Michel Drappier at Champagne Drappier in Urville says, however, that the rot became worse just prior to harvest. "We had to leave 25% on the vines," he explains, "but we had enough grapes to choose carefully. We reached 9.2deg potential alcohol in some places, but generally musts came in at around 8.7deg. Meunier was ripe because the yield was low. Pinot was good, average or poor depending on the volume produced per hectare. Chardonnay was rather 'green'."

As elsewhere in the Appellation, Drappier says: "There will almost certainly be no vintage wine this year."

Giles Fallowfield


Burgundy

That good wine is made in the vineyard was horribly true this year in Burgundy. It was a vintage when you could never for one moment take your eye off the vines and even the good growers could get their timing wrong. Rot was the result.

The 2001 vintage endured mixed weather throughout Burgundy, right up to mid-August. The mainly wet and warm combination produced ideal conditions for botrytis and mildews. The growers who pruned severely, green-harvested (leaves and bunches), were pro-active with sprays and in daily contact with their vineyards, were ready for the sunshine that finally burned through around 14th August and stayed until the beginning of September. This eventually turned to rain, and growers, especially in the Côte d'Or, who had waited until the first week in October to pick, hoping for higher sugar levels and flavour ripeness, were left with rotting grapes. Not the vintage for weekend growers.

Unfortunately for Burgundy-lovers, the weather has been impartial, affecting both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. BIVB's latest figures report that the output of all regions is down on the 2000 vintage. In the north, Chablis shows around a 10% reduction and, in the south, Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise reveal a 9% reduction for Chardonnay and 14% for Pinot Noir.

These output figures, while admittedly down, may surprise those hands-on buyers and agents who tramped the vineyards during the harvest and witnessed the rows and rows of rotten grapes. A Burgundian vintage to choose with much more care than usual.

Martin Isark


The Loire

The west of the Loire is best for dry whites, with Muscadet the star. It has been such a smooth season for the 2001 vintage that Serge Saupin said he would be happy to sign on for another 10 years, if they could all be like this one. The only problem facing Muscadet's producers will be quantity - the harvest was smaller than normal.

The central and upper Loire have suffered a wet winter with some flooding and a spring delivering frost and hail, which cruelly hit Touraine. May, June and early July, though, kick-started the vintage and everything was looking promising until poor weather up to mid-August dampened expectations.

As a result, producers of both red and white needed to be one step ahead of the weather. Spraying, green-pruning and continuous nursing were needed almost 24 hours a day. Producers who unwisely took a break in August arrived back to find their grapes sickly and rotting. The popular regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé were very badly hit.

This was a vintage for the patient and vigilant. The end of August basked in glorious sunshine, which lingered well into September. Towards the end of the month, there were a few showers but these petered out by early October, when sunshine again helped the attentive black grape producers, who waited to pick their Côt, and Cabernets. Buyers must, of course, choose very carefully. Rotten grapes are bound to find their way into the poorer blends.

The Loire, like Bordeaux, could deliver some excellent sweet wines. Up to 19th October the weather was perfect for late-harvested botrytized grapes, with the mist in the morning burnt off by the warm sun that shone right through the afternoon. Phillippe Cady, producer from Coteaux du Layon, is very impressed with his first few tris, which delivered grapes with a sugar potential of 18 to 19 degrees. A year, it seems, for the Muscadets and the sexy sweets.

Martin Isark


Bordeaux

An autumn heat wave turned frowns to smiles in claret country. "We have all been very lucky," says Marc Guiraud, spokesman for the Union of Grands Crus. "Not an easy ride," agrees Maison Sichel.

Around 750mm of heavy winter rain meant that the water table rose, and in heavier soils the roots of the dormant vines were flooded. By spring, the sun started to shine but the winter had slowed growth and producers had to work hard to prevent disease, especially mildew. Conditions improved in May and June, and the hot sun enabled flowering and fruit set to happen as normal. But the cloudy damp and cold of July hung around until 15th August and the 2001 vintage looked like disaster.

But this is weather! And, hot and sunny conditions then prevailed right up to 17th September, enabling the Sauvignon Blancs and Semillons to be picked with excellent acidity and sugar levels (around 13 degrees). Most growers of Pessac-Léognan and Graves are predicting a good to very good vintage.

By 19th October most of the grapes had been picked. The black grapes were down in quantity, because of the need for pro-active pruning during the vintage, but all those who waited until the second week of October, especially for their Cabernets, have found the flavour, acidity and sugar levels (13 degrees and above) very much to their liking.

All the indicators are that this year has smiled on the sweeties. Chateau d'Yquem is on its last tris and already reports that this vintage will be a rare one for delivering grape quantity and quality.

Martin Isark

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

The World Market for Wine 2001
Wines & Spirits in France


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