On paper, 2018 looked very much like a catastrophic year for the vintage: heavy rain in winter; very hot and humid weather in spring, which causes attacks, sometimes virulent, of mildew, the microscopic fungus that wreaks havoc on the vines and affects yields. Morale was at its lowest, fatigue was becoming intense, and prospects were not bright. In addition to this, in Champagne to a lesser extent but especially in the Bourg region, in Blaye, part of the southern Médoc and Languedoc, localised hail storms caused great damage. A rather gloomy atmosphere!
Then, in the last days of June, the weather changed suddenly and dramatically. Sunny days were the norm, with high temperatures approaching 40 degrees in some regions. All this lasted throughout July, which was, according to weather statistics, the second-warmest month since 1900 (after July 2003). Fortunately, the nights were not hot (except in Provence and the Pyrénées-Orientales) and the vines did not experience water stress.
The veraison, the stage when the grapes change colour, brought a breath of hope (mildew no longer develops on the bunch when the grapes change colour), giving a little respite to winegrowers who were drunk with fatigue from their struggles. Unfortunately, though, in some regions such as Bordeaux, Provence to a lesser extent, the Loire and the Rhône, some areas were already devastated by the invasion of this cryptogamic organism. Let’s not talk about biodynamically or organically grown winegrowers, for whom the fight was fierce.
Early August was in the same vein as July: hot or very hot days, a lot of sunshine and very limited rainfall – everything to ensure that the grapes ripened perfectly. The smile came back; the atmosphere improved.
Strangely, despite hot days and a lack of water during summer, it was the northern regions that were the earliest. The northeast began harvesting well before the southwestern to southeastern part. The Alsace region, the Jura, but especially Champagne, began harvesting at the end of August as the last holiday-makers were just leaving; the Pinot Noirs seemed exceptional. Alsace, during magnificent weather, has already, at the time of writing, finished picking, as have Burgundy and Champagne.
In Bordeaux, if the earliest whites have been in the cellars since the last days of August, the reds are still taking a little longer. A few properties well located on the limestone plateaus of Saint-Emilion have started harvesting. In the Rhône, some whites have already been picked, while the Marsanne grape variety is lagging behind.
Burgundy, where some whites were picked at the same time as the reds, had an early harvest. As in Champagne, the quality of the Pinot Noir is exceptional. On the other hand, the whites lack acidity, after tasting the first juices. Beware of acidification!
Overall, where we were expecting a half-hearted vintage, where the cold of spring did not make us optimistic, it could well be that 2018 is, in many regions, a beautiful – even a great – vintage.