Expertise

The 2019 Rhône vintage: Anatomy of a great year - practicalities

As our 2019 en primeur offer goes off to press, Marcel gives us an initial insight into the quality of the vintage and the extraordinary efforts required to make the wine selections.

The 2019 Rhône vintage: anatomy of a great year - practicalities

Part two: practicalities (read part one here)

I felt for my colleague, Tim Sykes, who was not able to go to Bordeaux for the annual Primeur tastings of all the top Bordeaux châteaux last year. Eventually, the top châteaux came to him in the form of samples, dozens of them.

The Rhône is organised differently from Bordeaux with a huge number of small estates, some occupying less than 10 acres of land. Winemaking is not so much a business as a way of life. For most of our Rhône suppliers, the preparing and sending of tasting samples would have been an impossibility and moreover, with vineyard workers often furloughed because of the pandemic, generations of growers were in the fields, preparing for the 2020 harvest.

Harvesting at Domaine Jaume. Even more of a family affair this year
Harvesting at Domaine Jaume. Even more of a family affair this year

Covid figures in late September showed a slight slackening off, just enough to be given the green light to go out to the Rhône and taste. The decision was not taken lightly. Considerable planning and preparation went into the exercise before it was agreed that everything had been done to ensure that no undue risks were being taken.

I broke my journey to the Rhône in Arbois, capital of the Jura, a quieter route south
I broke my journey to the Rhône in Arbois, capital of the Jura, a quieter route south

In the end I spent most of October in France, travelling back on the day full lockdown was imposed there. With a car packed with masks and umpteen bottles and tubes of sanitisers, I set off one morning for the Tunnel and 400 miles or so later ended up in Arbois, wine capital of the Jura. From there to the Rhône, it is not a long drive, but one that conveniently avoids Lyon which at the time was a covid hotspot.

The strangest thing about this trip was meeting people. For months, I had been the exclusive property of my familial bubble, seeing no one and going nowhere, other than the local shops. Suddenly there I was, a free agent among lots of French bubbles, meeting people I hadn’t seen for months.

No handshakes, no ‘bisous’ and plenty of sanitiser
No handshakes, no ‘bisous’ and plenty of sanitiser

The rules though were strictly observed. No handshakes, absolutely no ‘bisous’ and strict adherence to social distancing. And for my first visit, I was greeted by a fully masked grower. The occasional plate of nibbles were gone, replaced by sanitiser gels and wipes. The banter and good humour remained of course but this was never going to be an ordinary buying trip.

And as it happens, the 2019 vintage, the purpose of this adventure was no ordinary vintage either. More on that next time.

To be continued...

Read the first part of Marcel’s diary on the vintage here.

Marcel Orford-Williams

Society Buyer

Marcel Orford-Williams

Marcel has been with The Society since 1986. He buys The Society's Rhône, Southern and regional French wines and Germany.

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