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Chablis battles rot to secure 2013 harvest

For Chablis winemakers who can manage rot in their vineyards, the 2013 harvest may yet yield some pleasantly surprising wines, say producers.

With the 2013 harvest in Chablis entering its last week, producers are reticent about forecasting too far ahead, but initial signs show some promise.

‘It’s not catastrophic, but we can’t say that it is exceptional,’ said Hervé Tucki, brand ambassador for La Chablisienne, a large co-operative. ‘I’m staying optimistic.’

Chablis escaped the summer hailstorms that devastated vineyards across France, including elsewhere in Burgundy, but growers still had to contend with poor weather during spring flowering. This led to millerandage – grapes of uneven size and maturity – and coulure, which causes undeveloped grapes.

‘The success of this vintage depends on the work that has been done in the vineyards,’ said Grégory Viennois, technical director at Domaine Laroche. He said deleafing done since August has been crucial both to aerate the grapes to help prevent rot and also to help the ripening process in this later-than-normal vintage.

‘The ripeness came on so quickly this year,’ said Laroche’s winemaker Stéphane Barras. ‘In just a few days the grapes went from green to yellow and the sugars increased. We had to be ready in an instant. But I’m pleasantly surprised at the quality of the juice already.’

Botrytis – both the noble and grey rot – is the key issue in 2013. Most producers have sorted berries in the vineyard and then again in the winery to select the best fruit.

Picking of the earliest-ripening premiers crus such as Fourchaume, Côte de Léchet, as well as grands crus Bougros and Les Grenouilles, started around 1 October. The latest-ripening sites, including Les Blanchots grand cru and Vau de Vey premier cru, as well as Chablis AC and Petit Chablis AC vineyards are set to be harvested by 15 October.

Matthieu Mangenot, director of Château Long-Depaquit, said yields look like being at least 10% down. ‘We’ve already had to pay more for the cost of grape musts, so our prices will have to increase too.’

While still at an early stage, the 2013 vintage has drawn comparisons with 2010 for its aromatic complexity, richness, roundness and power, but good acidity to balance.

‘It’s a grower’s year,’ said Tucki. ‘You needed to have made the right decisions at the right time in terms of pruning, picking and selection. We’ll only know if these decisions are right in about six months.’

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