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France 2014: the unpredictable vintage

Rain, hail, sunshine and everything in between have kept winemakers guessing right up to harvest as vintage 2014 begins across France.

After several ups and downs vintage has started on a high across much of France.

In what Maison M. Chapoutier in the Rhone described as “surprising” and “unpredictable” the build up to vintage 2014 has followed several patterns and none.

An early Spring and a dry, hot start to Summer raised expectations of large crops, particularly in Southern France and Burgundy where the warmth also brought worries of a repeat of the extreme temperatures of 2003.

The Summer hail caused problems across France but Burgundy suffered in particular.

Late June and July saw rain across the country and destructive hailstorms across the Languedoc, Bordeaux, Champagne and the Rhone with some parts of Burgundy witnessing damage to as much as 90% of their vines.

Continued rain and cool temperatures into August across much of France raised concerns about ripeness but a rise in temperature in the South caused issues with rot in the Rhone as the combination of warm temperatures and rain created ideal conditions for the disease.

Le Figaro reported the Loire and Burgundy were worried about crop size towards the end of Summer, particularly problematic for Burgundy where they faced a third undersized vintage in succession.

But with a warm spell in late August Claude Chevalier of Domain Chevalier in Burgundy, speaking to JSL, said there was no reason for concern: “In Burgundy it is often said that September makes the vintage.”

Claude Chevalier said 2014 could be something to smile about.

And the ensuing warmth in early September also raised hopes in Champagne where Les Echos reported the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) declared the circumstances leading to harvest “favored a year of vintage quality”.

In Bordeaux the late heatwave had a transformative effect with Denis Dubourdieu, owner of several Bordeaux Chateaux and Director of the Institute of Wine and Vine Sciences (ISVV) telling Le Figaro Vin: “We want to believe in miracles, we lacked heat this summer but we caught up with the heat deficit in August to make September exceptional.”

The feeling was similar in Alsace, Southern France and the Loire where the early warmth had been nullified by the cooler Summer then followed by a favorable September, paving the way for what could be, against the odds, a fine vintage in many parts of France.

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