French 'demi-recolte' may produce wonders

French 'demi-recolte' may produce wonders News Wine News
  • Monday 15 September 2003

France is facing its smallest harvest in over a decade though expectations are running high for an excellent to exceptional vintage, the French Ministry of Agriculture reports.

The ministry said on Saturday that the 2003 harvest will be 48 million hectolitres, the smallest since 1991 and 15% down on the average for the 1998-2002 period. In Champagne the yield is half its normal size.

Frost during spring, summer hail and above all the now-famous three-month heatwave – which regularly produced temperatures above 40 Celsius - are all to blame for the low yield.

But the surviving fruit has gone on to achieve superb colour and ripeness as a result of the dry weather and uninterrupted sunshine.

'There are places in Bordeaux and Burgundy where the yield per hectare is as low as 25 hectolitres,' Professor Denis Dubourdieu of Bordeaux's Faculty of Oenology, and owner of Château Reynon in Southern Graves, told French journalists.

'In Pomerol, for instance, the yield is normally between 38-40 hectolitres. One could call it a demi-recolte [half-harvest] this year, with berries and bunches much smaller than normal.'

In Cahors, experts estimate a yield of 15 hecotlitres per hectare: around 60 is the norm. In Champagne, April frosts devastated bud set to cut the harvest dramatically. In Burgundy and Beaujolais, berries were scorched by the sun and withered on the vine, while in parts of Bordeaux whole vineyards were ruined by catastrophic hail storms in June and July.

In Bordeaux, as the threat of late-summer storms subsides, optimism among winemakers has soared. Several days of light rain in early September arrived just in time to relieve vines of undue water stress and the later harvested Cabernet Sauvignon has been able to gain that extra degree of ripeness before it is picked in a few weeks time.

The quality of the Merlot, which is already being picked, is generally rated excellent. 'It's showing remarkable fruitiness,' says Dubourdieu.

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