2014 Harvest Report

A Yo-Yo year of weather conditions, of health of vines and of vintners' temperaments!  We have not witnessed such a year of fluctuating conditions and emotions since arriving in the Minervois in 2001. A year which demanded above-average vigilance of the health of the vines, a need to be flexible in viticulture and cellar management - and keep a constant eye on the weather forecast.

Optimism was rampant pre-summer 2014, after near-perfect spring weather conditions, allowing good flowering and budding. Remember that 2013 was characterized by a cold and wet spring, hindering flowering with dire results for the Grenache varietal in particular and a significant drop in its yields for many domains, including us ( -60% for the Grenache). 2014 has been the reverse, with yields more than bouncing back under the influence of winter-replenished water tables and excellent spring weather. Grenache, after disappointing us in 2013, is back with interest ( + 12-15% yield over 2012), accompanied by fruitiness and concentration!
 
As the tourist reports reported though, summer was subsequently not kind to the Minervois vigneron. July and August were characterized by variable weather, with warm and humid air masses (normally dry and hot) coming in from the Mediterranean.  The warmth and damp of 2014 was “annus mirabilis” for fungal diseases in particular, as all gardeners would have noticed. Only rapid (within hours) and generous treatment with broad spectrum fungicides and/or copper/sulphate would prevent it rapidly spreading across the vines. Many vignerons were either late and/or insufficiently generous in treatment and thus ended up with fields characterized by sickly-looking leaves. As a result, crop yields, notably of whites, have been sharply down in some areas of the Languedoc and, what has been harvested in such areas would have been immature, lacking in ripening and sugars. Results from the caves cooperatives in the Minervois talk of the harvest being down 23%.
 
The other high profile but more newsworthy observation in summer 2014 has been the above-average incidence of hail. It not only seriously damages the vine, stripping off fruit and leaf, but also means that the subsequent 1-2 years will also be impacted by lower yields, as the vine recovers slowly from Nature’s salvoes. On top of hail, a number of our neighbouring areas to both the east and west of us, also suffered from bouts of torrential rain, leading to swelling and bursting of fruit while on bunch. Good providence has allowed St Jacques to escape any serious hail or torrential rain damage. We are just not in a “hail corridor”, thank goodness. 
 
So, how has the harvest gone at St Jacques? We picked our whites early September – and which are fruity and juicy. With another 1.5 hectares coming into production this year, we have been able to double production of white and will more easily be able to meet demand for our (unusual) blend of Vermentino, Viognier and Roussanne. The rosé is also tasting very well, benefiting from more Grenache than last year, giving the blend (with Syrah) added fruitiness.
 
We only started picking the Syrah and older Grenache reds after Thursday 25 September – late again, compared to the earlier part of the decade. As reported from elsewhere, the Indian summer through September and into October has been an absolute godsend, which helped to complete ripening and add taste. We completed harvesting of the Syrah and Grenache  on Tuesday 30 September. We then attacked the Mourvèdre and Carignan, ending on  Friday 10 October and which are tasting well. Even the stubborn Carignan, picked just before they literally fell off the bunches on their own accord, is promising. Being patient appears yet again to have rewarded us. 

Subsequent work on the reds in the cellars can best be described as "normal". The fruit was healthy and ripe, so little was required to modify a “normal” process of fermentation. Some tanks appeared to initially lack some concentration, so a series of "déléstages" (rack and return) satisfactorily addressed this issue. Pumping over was conducted only once a day and for 15-20 minutes only. Fermentation times were also normal and secondary malolactic came and went.

Our most acute cellar issue was ironically lack of tank capacity. Our régisseur was performing a regular juggler's act, both when the fruit came in and subsequently during fermentation. Yields have fully recovered from the 2013 lows - and with interest. All our tanks are full and negotiants are knocking on our doors for juice, notably Grenache. The wines tastes fruity, have good colour, little astringency and consistent natural acidity. All in all, a more than satisfactory year for St Jacques, after the vagaries that the weather could throw at us in 2014.

Our œnologue, Richard Osborne, after being initially concerned at levels of maturity in the fields and degree of concentration in tank, is very happy with the final product. Reports from other Languedoc areas have been variable and combined with the hail and rain, given the area an initially negative press. Readers must appreciate that, as in most years, there will always be variations in weather in the regions that go to make up the South of France. These differences have been particularly marked this year, with absence of hail and control of fungal disease perhaps the most important determinants of subsequent fruit quality and yield.

Graham Nutter
Château St Jacques d’Albas

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