Part one: anticipation
At what point can one start talking about the vintage? Certainly, there isn’t a time in the year that doesn’t have a bearing on the size and quality of the harvest, but things start to get properly serious from the time of flowering onwards.
Flowering takes place in late spring. For the vine, it is a time of stress as so much can go wrong. A sudden change in weather can completely derail flowering and that can alter the size and quality of the crop. I got to the Rhône last year when flowering had been and gone and it had gone reasonably well. Frost had been a little bit of a problem earlier in the spring but luckily there hadn’t been much damage. But it was close, and fires were lit on Hermitage on one particularly cold night.
The first big event happened on 15th June when the skies above the vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage darkened to a threatening black. The hailstorm that followed was spectacular. Hail stones, sometimes the size of golf balls, crashed down, smashing car windscreen windows and shredding foliage, leaving vines looking as in mid-winter. Much was said about the storm but in truth it only affected a part of Crozes and Saint-Joseph. Hermitage hill was untouched.
The other big event which was more problematic for some was the heat spike of June 28th when the thermometer hit 48ºC and very locally as high as 50ºC. The worst of the heat on that day was felt in parts of the Languedoc where some vineyards were quite literally blasted by the heat. Not long afterwards, there would be a second spike. Everything seemed to point to a very early harvest. Holidays were shortened or even cancelled as growers began to anticipate another August harvest. As it turned out, it didn’t quite happen that way, though the whites were indeed picked in August. The reds needed more time to ripen and the grapes desperately needed water. The rains finally came late in the month and then came a final heatwave to set the vintage straight.
I returned to the Rhône in September for the first of three trips, ostensibly to taste the excellent 2018s. But of course, I was able to taste a fair few 2019s as well, some still bubbling away. What colours! Vibrant, almost black and heady with ripe fruit. They seemed utterly extraordinary. And then the freshness on the palate, so savoury, almost sappy. At that stage, the new wines were about to be transferred from vat to barrel or ‘foudre’ where they would spend at least the next year. What would happen to them? How would they change? What would become of their exuberance?
To be continued…
Our en primeur offer of 2019 Rhônes will be released in early 2021. If you’d like to find out more about buying wines in this way, check out the Fine Wine pages on this website.