2015 Harvest Report

My 2015 report is late, for the simple reason that the wines have developed more slowly than usual. After 2 tastings of the final product last week, we only now have a confident indication of their character. Interestingly, a local told me last week that 20-30 years ago, growers only showed their reds in the summer after the harvest i.e. some 8-9 months later. Today, we are asked to give samples within 2-3 months of harvest and have to gaze into a crystal ball as to their potential! Everything has to be quicker – but wine doesn’t respond to the demands of instant communication. It takes its time, develops at its own pace and certainly doesn’t conform to internet speed and press demands. A topic for discussion one day?

As of early December, it's now some 9 weeks since the end of the harvest and the wines are revealing both character and a strong indication of their quality. Broadly, it has been what I call a Sinatra year (remember the song "It was a very good year"?), good since the budding, during summer, duringharvesting and since in tank.

Water tables were replenished during the previous year’s winter (2013/14) with some 750 mms for the year, versus an average of 600 - 650 mms, thus setting us up good for 2014/15. It is important to remember this, as it is the previous year’s rainfall that weighs in favour - or to the detriment - of the next year’s harvest (the year to us is 1 October – 30 September the following year). Rainfall for 2014/15 was woefully inadequate, with 380 mms, which you would think would be sending alarm bells to vignerons. Not for this year’s crop though – but could well be a problem for 2015/16.

Spring blessed us with warm and dry weather, with no noticeable problems occurring during flowering. This was followed by an equally friendly spring/early summer conditions for budding and leaf development (unlike the cold snap of 2013 which lead to "coulure" and collapse of Grenache yields).

Into summer, the weather continued to be propitious for healthy and clean fruit. We experienced no hail, nor any rainstorms of any serious note. In spite of the lack of rain, the soil remained “fresh” to the touch (due to the above-mentioned previous year’s replenishment of the water table), giving sufficient moisture to the vines.

Through summer, what was memorable was the long, dry months of July and August. Tourists loved it; not so sure about the younger vines with shallow roots. Again, no disturbing weather to remember - and we looked forward to a rich and plentiful harvest. But we didn’t experience the torrid weather of the summer of 2003, no high temperature extremes, nor hot nights. The vines were thus able to relax more at night time (compared to 2003), good for their health and acidities.

Hydric stress was an issue for younger vines with shallower roots, notably some 2006 planted Syrah. The older Grenache and Syrah just shrugged it off as a habitual event – and their deeper roots bought H2O solace. Little incidence of yellowing of lower vine leaves was in evidence.

Harvesting commenced early September, when some variable weather returned, making selection of harvesting day a small problem. However, as we nowharvest entirely by machine, we are able to bring in the grapes so much more rapidly - and at any time of the day or night. Machines are so much better quality, compared to 10 years ago (when we picked by hand) and don’t need coffee and croissants at b’fast!

Indian weather conditions returned from mid September (and continued to the end of October). The warm days and cool nights were a joy for harvesting. We finished picking end-September, one week earlier than ever before (normally we finish c 8/9 October). The Grenache was the star of the year; ripe, healthy and very juicy. The Syrah demonstrated smaller but very concentrated and fruity berries. The Mourvèdre and Carignan were equally a joy to touch and taste. The earlier-picked whites of Viognier and Vermentino were highly expressive, balanced by the necessary acidity from the cool nights, to denote high potential.

The cool nights and morning harvesting brought in fruit at under 10C, which effectively provided an unplanned but welcome cold maceration before the fruit warmed up to fermentation temperature (above 10c), allowing colour and fruitiness to be optimised. And the initial fermentation of sugars lasted longer than usual, over 18-20 days for the reds (versus a more habitual 14- 16 days). Cooler cellars reinforced this – and also to longer secondary malolactic fermentation, only finishing early December for some tanks.

Development in tank has taken longer than usual. And the tastings of the fermented products on December 3 and 4 have not disappointed us. The Viognier has taken time to come round but now displays those apricot/peach characteristics in its body, while the Vermentino (an increasingly popular cépage in the south of France, given its aptitude to semi-arid climes)) adds mineral/floral aromas to the blend of white. The Grenache is a joy to taste (I’m putting some 100% Grenache bottles in my cellar for tasting in 2018), displaying finesse, depth and complexity, while the Syrah gives sweetness and longevity on the palate. Super reds should emerge from the area and my neighbours have big smiles when discussing their tanked wines.

The combination of replenished water tables from the prior year, almost perfect weather conditions for grape development and the harvesting of healthy and ripe fruit provided the Frank Sinatra backdrop to a potentially excellent millesime.

Dare we say “une année vinabilis”?

Graham

Chateau Saint Jacques d'Albas

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