Thursday 18 October 2012

Winemaking Worries

This has been the worst year for winemakers that many can remember. The weather has been all wrong all year. First very cold (February) then very warm and dry (March) followed by very wet with frost and hail (April-May) and not very sunny (June-July) then another bout of hot and dry (August-September) and now very wet (October). By the end of September everyone had resigned themselves to a much reduced harvest of about 50% of normal, but the grape quality seemed quite high -- perhaps a bit low in sugar, but no disease. Winegrowers in areas who were able to harvest in late September and did so are happy(ish) -- last year one of 'our' wineries in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher (Touraine) got no sauvignon blanc at all due to the dry. This year he has good sauvignon blanc -- not in his normal quantity, but enough to make a worthwhile vintage.

The chai (winery) manager's teenage son wrestles with the hoses at Chateau Gaudrelle.

Over in Vouvray it's a disaster. Many growers waited until around 10 October to start picking and the heavens have opened on them. Until a few of days ago it remained quite warm too, so the fungi were growing on the grapes while you looked at them. The original plan had been to leave the grapes as long as possible to try to achieve the best possible ripeness. They were also planning to make two passes through the vines, picking individual grapes by hand. This slows everything down, but was considered necessary, as the strange spring weather meant that individual bunches of grapes were a mixture of ripe and unripe berries. Flowering and pollination had been slow and intermittent earlier in the year, and the patchy development of the grapes is reflecting that now.

Grapes waiting to be pressed.

To top it all off, one of 'our' Vouvray wineries had some equipment failure and nearly lost a day's harvest -- you can't just leave grapes sitting in trailers, they deteriorate and develop bad flavours. Pressing and filtering eventually got underway, and a week or so ago we tried some really delicious fresh grape juice at Chateau Gaudrelle, with distinct Granny Smith apple flavours. This will go to making a very dry white wine that will ultimately undergo a second fermentation and become sparkling. Once the grapes have been pressed the winemaker is obliged by law to send the skins and pips off to a distillery, where they are used to make medical alcohol.

Grapes being transferred from the trailer to the press in the winery at Chateau Gaudrelle.

The worry will continue, as winemakers hope that their cellar stocks can compensate for this poor harvest. They need to be able to meet the needs of their regular customers or they will go elsewhere -- and not necessarily elsewhere in France, as all regions in France are reporting poor harvests.


Sheila said...

What an interesting post, Susan.
Great photos. The one with all
the hoses certainly does take
the "romance" out of winemaking.

Great post, Susan. And wonderful
photos. The one of all the hoses
certainly takes the mystique
out of winemaking, though.
Worldwide competition probably
means that there's not room for
price increases brought on by
scarcity, I suppose.

"Easing off a bit" seems to have
gone by the wayside!


Sheila said...

My comment above seems to have a
very long paragraph break!

Susan said...

Sheila: Your comments often have long breaks in them - dunno what you are doing to them :-)

According to our winemaking friend Alexandre, prices are likely to go down, as some Bordeaux winemakers are starting to offer discounts to try to combat the bad economic conditions at present.

Susan said...

PS Simon is not blogging at all now. I am blogging every day, but usually much shorter posts.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post as Sheila says... worrying also for vignerons and farmers alike. Eric was busy cutting maize out front this afternoon, he seemed to be covering much more of the field before filling the trailer than usual. And looking at some of the sunflower fields, it wouldn't surprise me if they weren't left for the finches... terrible really!
Tim (anonymously from the Archos)

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