First came a report from Reuters indicating that summer rains have made up for a dry spring, putting France’s winegrape harvest back on track—and perhaps even signaling the possibility of a “vintage of the century.”
It should be noted that “vintage of the century” proclamations are not uncommon in France, which already has seen two of them in the 21st century—namely, 2003 and 2007 (according to some critics, anyway).
Hyperbole aside, many vintners have been buoyed by the rains, and a very early harvest was anticipated. Rather than in October, as has been customary, some were predicting that grapes could be brought in as soon as late August or early September.
But just two days after I read that Reuters report, everything changed… apparently.
A sudden heat spike, prompting heat wave alerts in France’s Loire and Rhone regions, prompted officials to amend their prediction. Rather than being a month or more early, the harvest now is anticipated to be only about 10 days early.
The second report mentioned nothing about anticipated quality—good, poor or otherwise.
In Bordeaux, most would echo the hopes of vintner Yves Hostens-Picant, who told Reuters: “If the second half of August and September are sunny, we could hope to not just have a good-quality year, but perhaps even an exceptional year.”
The key word, of course, is “if.” And because nobody can precisely predict weather patterns beyond a few weeks, it’s a big “if.” A lot can happen between now and the time France’s winegrapes attain ideal ripeness for picking—things like more rain… or more excessive heat.
It’s amazing how such a small word can be the difference between an average wine year and a “vintage of the century.”
BONUS READING: Want to see how vintages compare from country to country, region to region, and year to year? Click here for a look at Wine Advocate Robert Parker’s vintage charts, which date back to 1970 and include the 2010 harvest. Note how highly he thinks of the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux—much more so than the 2003 or 2007 vintages, which demonstrates that all vintage charts, in the end, represent one person or one group’s opinion.
SPECULATION OR STATISTIC? Just like the weather, nobody can predict the production level of a harvest before it happens with real precision. But French officials are saying that they expect France’s wine production to reach 1.3 billion gallons based on the 2011 harvest—up from 1.2 billion gallons in 2010.
YOUR TURN: Do vintages really matter? Have your say in the comments box below. We’d love to read what you think.