A year of extremes producing surprisingly well-balanced wines
This vintage is characterised by extreme weather that caused a major water deficit at harvest time and one of the earliest harvests on record. At the same time, yields were at a historic low. Despite all that, the wines are delicate and well-balanced.
Water reserves were built up over the autumn and winter, having been at their lowest after the 2016 harvest. However, rainfall levels were very low later on, with hardly a drop falling in the summer, and this caused a major water deficit at harvest time.
At the same time, temperatures were very mild during the winter (except January) then hot in the spring and summer. This led to the vines showing an advance in growth of around 2 weeks compared to a normal year, and this continued right up to the harvest.
The plant growth cycle was also disrupted, beginning with a very low level of bunch formation (particularly with the Mourvèdre in our vineyards). Later on, flowering was far from perfect and there were frequent examples of “coulure” (poor flower fertilisation). Then, from 20 to 23 April, early-morning frost caused damage, which was fortunately limited in our vineyards. The result of all this was a 2017 vintage with a historically low harvest, the lowest since 1945 (in France and in the Languedoc), and for us the lowest since we started out in 1999.
The weather conditions over the year did not cause any plant health problems and, as last year, it was impossible not to harvest healthy grapes.
At La Madura, the harvest began on 17 August (a record!) with the Sauvignon, followed by the Piquepoul on the 29th. Yields were very low for the third year running.
For the reds, the Syrah and Grenache were harvested between 4 and 9 September (another record!). However, cool temperatures in September delayed the maturation of the late-ripening varieties, Carignan and Mourvèdre. We completed the Mourvèdre harvest on 27 September.
The pleasant surprise from this vintage is that, despite the extreme weather conditions, the wines are very well-balanced with good acidity:
- The whites are expressive, full and fresh.
- The reds are ripe and fleshy with good acidity.
However, the concern remains that we have now had two consecutive years with historically low yields. Let us hope that 2018 is kinder to us.
Saint-Chinian, 10 January 2018
Small grapes, great wines
This has been a surprising vintage. Characterised by a dry summer, it produced small grapes, particularly on the poorest soils (shale). Despite the extreme conditions, our wines are well-balanced, smooth, rich and beautifully fresh.
The 2016 vintage in Saint-Chinian was affected by a serious water deficit, particularly during the key periods.
Autumn and winter didn’t provide the rain that was needed to rebuild the reserves in the soil: the deficit was around 50 %.
In spring, May was unusually wet and cold. The rain certainly helped the vines to grow but didn’t rebuild the water reserves. The poor weather led to flower abortion (grape fertilisation problems) in the Grenache vines, which are very sensitive, and therefore a significantly lower harvest.
Summer was extremely dry (similar to 1981 and 2001) and quite hot. As a result, the grapes didn’t grow very large. Towards the end of the season, the young vines (which have still not got their roots deep down) and the vines planted on poorer soils suffered from hydric stress, which slowed the ripening process.
These extreme weather conditions led to the following results:
- A reduced Grenache harvest.
- A reduced harvest from the young vines.
- A reduced harvest from the vines planted on shale soils.
- High-quality grapes. Intense colours and an easy extraction, which have allowed us to take the vinification process gently.
The harvest was our smallest since 2009 (a little over 20 hl per hectare) but has fortunately produced wines in the cellar that appear, after initial tasting, to be very promising.
- The white wines are fresh but fleshy and offer good aromatic expression. This should be confirmed during the winter.
- The reds are very well-rounded and pleasing, with predominant dark berry and spice aromas.
Saint-Chinian, 12 November 2016
A superb, well-balanced, expressive vintage
Despite causing a lot of tension during the year, the vintage turned out to be a success in the end and was saved and transcended by the weather conditions in August and September.
After a wet November 2014, with a Mediterranean episode that built up water reserves, the winter did not provide its normal amount of rain.
May, June and July were then very hot and dry, causing some concern, with considerable hydric stress on some terroirs, particularly the shale.
Fortunately, the rains came in August (more than normal) along with reasonable temperatures, and the grapes were able to ripen properly.
Conditions remained favourable in September, with light rain and cooler temperatures than normal.
This all meant that the vintage ripened more slowly than expected after a historically early flowering and colour change (approximately 2 weeks in advance).
During the growing period (April to September), rainfall was 10 to 20 % down on normal, while temperatures were 15 % higher than average (among the highest in the last 10 years).
Other climate effects had a major influence on the quality of the grapes we harvested. There were significant temperature ranges in August and September, with cool nights. This helps develop the wines’ aromatic expression and colour.
As a result of the weather, we ended up picking some very fine grapes, as the work done in the vineyards had kept them in good health (the wine-grower’s work made the difference). The harvest was not as early as anticipated and we had to wait a little longer than expected to obtain peak maturity.
At Domaine La Madura, the whites (Sauvignon and Piquepoul) were harvested between 27 and 31 August to maintain sufficient freshness, while the reds were harvested from 15 September, starting with the Grenache and Syrah, soon followed by the Carignan and Mourvèdre, and ending on 30 September. The late-ripening varieties (Carignan and Mourvèdre) reached maturity quickly and are of remarkable quality.
Our initial tastings of the wines have confirmed our impressions of the harvest.
The whites are expressive and well balanced.
The reds are already pleasing to the nose and have a rich, elegant structure for such young wines.
We now look forward to tasting the wines after the winter to get a clearer idea of the profile of the vintage, but there’s no doubt about the quality.
Saint-Chinian, 4 December 2015
An unusual vintage
This vintage is characterized by three major, highly contrasting periods and unusual weather conditions:
Rainfall was very low during the winter and spring – around 50% lower in the winter, which meant that reserves were not reconstituted. As rainfall had also been low in the autumn, this was very worrying, especially as temperatures during the winter and spring were very mild, encouraging plant growth to be 2 to 3 weeks in advance of normal. In addition, the evapotranspiration observed over the spring was at its highest level for the last 35 years, making us fear the worst for the growth of the vines and the development of the bunches.
We were fortunately saved by the summer, in which temperatures were cooler than usual: the heat balance for the summer was similar to that of spring, whereas it is normally 25 % higher. Secondly, rainfall was normal in terms of quantity and effective because it was fragmented. This meant that it was available for the vines and helped them to get through the summer despite the fact that reserves were at such a low level.
Early September was warm and dry, which helped the grapes to ripen. Also, the nights were cool, as in August, and this is very favourable to the colour of the juices and their aromatic expression.
In St-Chinian, the rain in the second fortnight was limited (whereas there were major storms further east) and this didn’t impede the end of the harvest. We had excellent conditions for bringing in the grapes.
Following on from this vintage in three acts, during which we went from considerable anxiety to relief, we were finally able to close the curtain with some trouble-free vinification. The wines are now superbly balanced and very elegant.
For the whites, the Sauvignon then the Piquepoul were harvested on 2 and 3 September. The wines are already fleshy with aromas that are quite present but full of finesse, which isn’t always the case at this stage in the maturing process. We believe they are promising and should deliver up more of their potential during the winter.
For the reds, the harvest began on 12 September with the Syrah on schistous soils and ended on the 26th with the Mourvèdre on the sandstone and clayey limestone. The grapes were in excellent health and of limited size and are now giving us wines that are highly elegant in terms of aromas, structure and balance. The maturing process will obviously bring out further expression.
Saint-Chinian, 22 November 2014
Weather conditions from another era for a result that has a great future.
A brief description of the very unusual weather conditions.
This vintage is characterised by weather conditions that we haven’t seen for a very long time (for the oldest among us). To begin with, the winter was very cold from January onwards, leading to delayed plant growth. March, too, was cool and very wet (approximately 3 times the average rainfall). This was followed by a fairly cool April, while May was the coldest since 1950, leading to a physiological delay of around 2 weeks.
Although we enjoyed a hot July and August, this was not enough to make up for the delay.
To summarise, the climate record for 2013 was characterised by:
- A slight rainfall deficit over the vintage period, but 66 % of the rain was useful as it fell during the plant growth period and thus provided sufficient water reserves for the summer.
- Spring temperatures were the coldest overall for 20 years, which explains the delay in plant growth.
These weather conditions are worrying for winegrowers, who are always concerned about late-harvested vintages. Fortunately, the summer conditions and a dry, windy September allowed the grapes to ripen in good conditions, with the bonus of cool nights, particularly in September, during the ripening period, which is very favourable to anthocyanin (colour) and aroma synthesis.
The harvest and the wines.
Despite the worry about late harvesting, things eventually turned out well for us. Obviously, as far as the late-ripening varieties and terroirs were concerned, the winegrower’s work in aerating the grapes and leaves, along with reasonable yields, was particularly decisive in achieving quality this year.
As far as we were concerned, we started the harvest about 10 days later than average.
White – The Sauvignon and, this year, a small quantity of Piquepoul – were harvested on 12 and 13 September. The grapes were very attractive – ripe without being golden, which is prejudicial to the aromas – with a good balance between sugar and acidity. All this is promising but, although fermentation has finished, it’s still too soon for a more precise view of the result.
The Reds – We began harvesting the Syrah on 30 September (which is unheard-of for us). The grapes were magnificent, with excellent phenolic maturity and good residual acidity. The Grenache, too, were particularly fine but sadly only in small quantity (half the usual harvest) due to a high level of flower abortion (pollination problem during the flowering period).
We were very pleasantly surprised by the late-ripening varieties (Carignan and Mourvèdre), about which we were more concerned. We knew that the thinning work we did (sucker removal, trellising and leaf-thinning), which we took to the extreme, would help us to reach maturity. In fact, these varieties were not so late in ripening and we were able to harvest some excellent Carignan and Mourvèdre. This ended on 12 October, so it’s still too early to talk about the wines that we’ve made from them, although we have no real anxieties.
The alcoholic fermentation has ended for the Syrah and Grenache, which are showing great promise in our tastings, so much so that one is tempted to drink them now.
To summarise, the vintage gave us a hard time in the vineyards in the spring, caused us some sleepless nights and kept us waiting, but the result should help to put all that behind us. We should be even more grateful since others have not been so lucky. The Mediterranean climate has many advantages.
Saint-Chinian, 19 october 2013.
Unusual weather conditions that helped to produce a rich, pleasing vintage for those who were able to control it.
The weather in 2012 was marked by an unusual winter. It was, first of all, exceptionally dry with a historic lack of rainfall (the driest winter since rainfall statistics were first collected). Secondly, early February was particularly cold (the coldest since 1985), while the latter part of the month was very warm.
Fortunately, rainfall levels returned to normal from then on and were spread evenly through the growing period, apart from a bout of slight hydric stress in early August, accompanied by very high temperatures. Storms arrived at exactly the right moment in late August to provide a less stressful end of season.
Temperatures were higher than average (+10%) throughout the growing cycle; early August was particularly hot.
These weather conditions set the scene for a high-quality harvest.
In terms of plant health, the year was more complicated than usual, with significant pressure from oidium throughout the cycle. Pressure from mildew increased during the season to a peak in mid-summer with a considerable presence of mosaic mildew that had to be contained.
As far as La Madura was concerned, our high level of preventive work (plenty of leaf and bunch thinning) meant that we kept the vines in good health with 2 oidium treatments (3 for the Carignan). We don’t usually treat for mildew but this year had to do a leaf-spraying treatment in late July to combat mosaic mildew.
After this busy period, we enjoyed a harvest free of complications, with superb grapes and fine weather.
We harvested the whites on 4 and 5 September. We then left the reds until 20 September, starting with the Syrah planted on shale and ending on 8 October with the Mourvèdre, for which we had to wait some time before it reached its ideal phenolic maturity (that’s where the winegrower’s experience is important). We had not harvested so late since 2004.
We completed de-vatting this week, so we can now make an initial assessment.
The whites: the wines are now very pleasing, expressive and fresh, with a delightful fullness. We enjoyed good yields of 41 hl per ha.
The reds: it’s too soon to make a final judgement, but they are already showing good structure, with smooth tannins and deep colours. Aromas are already quite expressive, typical and fruity. The yield for our reds was 29 hl per ha, which is about average for us.
To summarise, everything points to an excellent 2012 vintage. This will certainly not be the case in every region. We therefore hope that opinion leaders will take on board the fact that we don’t have the same climate as other regions. Unfortunately, it’s quite common to lump all the regions together when it comes to talking about the quality of a vintage. This is often unfair to us, as we are fortunate to enjoy a generally milder climate and are therefore less subject to fluctuations between one vintage and another. For those who have ears to hear…
Saint-Chinian, 10 november 2012.
A generally, warm, dry climate (in the Languedoc), producing very harmonious wines
After a very mild start to the winter, December, late January and early February were particularly cold. March was extremely wet, which meant that there was plenty of water in the soil when the season started.
High temperatures and dry weather in April and May gave the vines a good growth spurt, and flowering took place 14 days earlier than the average.
July and early August were cooler than usual, which slowed the development of the vines so that growth dropped back to only around 5 days in advance of the average.
On the other hand, late August and the whole of September were hot, but a few light showers during the summer meant that the vines did not suffer.
Temperatures during the growth period were 1°C above average, with a rainfall deficit. Fortunately, the reserves built up during the March rains allowed the growth cycle to continue without difficulty.
As a result, the harvest went very smoothly, although temperatures equivalent to those expected in August meant that we had to rearrange the pickers’ working hours out of concern for their physical condition and also to be able to bring the grapes back to the cellars in reasonable temperatures.
After two years of very low production, yields this year were more normal. For us, the average yield for all grape varieties is approximately 32 hl/ha.
Our early tastings have already given us a good impression of the vintage. The wines all have a delightful freshness. The whites have plenty of density and volume, with elegant aromas that are already mellow. This should be confirmed with the arrival of winter. As for the reds, the structure is already very smooth, combined with a high degree of concentration. The aromas also reflect considerable maturity, with a dominance of dark berries and spices. Here too, these first impressions should be confirmed with a little more time.
In short, the 2011 vintage currently appears to be very harmonious and promising.
Saint-Chinian, 3 november 2011
A vintage that is both concentrated and fresh
A cold spell at the end of winter led to a vintage that was a little later than previous ones (the harvest began on 20 September and ended on 1st October). The dry winter was followed by a wet spring, which helped to build up reserves that turned out to be very useful later on. The summer was extremely dry, the traditional mid-July and mid-August storms did not come and, shortly before the harvest, some of the vines (mainly Syrah) were showing signs of a lack of water, as was illustrated by the small, highly concentrated grapes. This was combined with a small grape yield. In addition, the summer months, along with April, were hotter than average.
All of these factors led to a small harvest (an estimated 24 hl/ha to date), though slightly higher than last year (20 hl/ha). In short, these yields are not economically viable at our sale prices.
As far as quality – the most important factor – is concerned, ideal phenolic maturity combined with concentration has produced some fine, rich, colourful, well-balanced wines that contain a certain acidity. The cool nights prior to the harvest were particularly favourable towards bringing out the fruit.
In a vintage of this type, the quality of the terroirs (especially on the hillsides), the work we do to encourage the vines to produce good roots and the low yields were key factors in providing well-ripened grapes and balanced wines.
We now need to keep a close eye on the wines and confirm these initial observations with the arrival of the first frosts of winter.
Saint-Chinian, 18 october 2010
2009: A hot, dry year that favoured aromatic expression and produced concentrated wines.
Winter 2009 gave us temperatures that were close to normal. Rainfall was low and did not allow the soil to build up reserves to any great extent.
April was extremely wet, with rainfall double that of a normal year. This damp weather favoured rapid growth in the vines, but it also favoured the development of fungal diseases.
The weather then turned dry and hot, with May being the hottest for 50 years and August the hottest on record after 2003; temperatures were often over 35 °C throughout the month. The average temperature for the period April to September was 19.6 °C, i.e. 1.5 ° higher than average.
Another important and characteristic aspect of the vintage was the coolness of the nights during the ripening period. This was very favourable to aromatic expression and phenol potential in the wines (colour and tannins). The nights were cool in August and September, particularly so in mid-September.
Towards the end of the ripening period, hydric stress appeared in some of the more sensitive parcels.
Weather conditions for the 2009 vintage offered the potential for high-quality wines for those who were able to cope with the problems caused by the damp weather in April, and where reasonable yields, combined with good rooting systems on the vines, were able to counteract the hydric stress that occurred towards the end of the ripening period. The influence of the rootstocks and types of soils also led to disparities. Yields were low overall as the grapes were unable to swell to any great extent.
The harvest started early and took place in ideal weather conditions.
As far as La Madura is concerned, we are currently very pleased with the quality of the vintage. The whites harvested on 26 and 27 August are fresh; at this stage, the aromas are not as powerful as usual and are more oriented towards elegance. The reds were harvested between the 10 and 25 September; the vintage is full-bodied, delicious and concentrated. The only negative factor is the yields, which are even lower than usual and equivalent to those of 2003 (21 hl/ha for the reds this year).
Saint-Chinian, 5 february 2010
A fine, very pleasing vintage.
Winter 2007/2008 was particularly dry and mild, and water reserves were not built back up in the soils. Then came May, with heavy rainfall and high humidity, which led to considerable concerns about the health of the grapes.
The summer was then fairly cool overall, with little rain but above-average humidity levels.
Weather conditions during the ripening period were exceptional in terms of temperature differences and particularly the cold nights (record-breaking night-time temperatures equivalent to those for a month of November). This was of considerable interest as we know that these parameters have a significant influence on aromatic expression in the grapes and on anthocyanin synthesis (colour).
Although it was harvested a little late (by ten days) and was a bit difficult from a phytosanitary point of view, the vintage has turned out to be a very good one.
Weather conditions during the ripening period (August, September) brought the grapes up to normal size with good phenolic maturity, strong colour and, above all, a lovely aromatic expression.
Early tastings have clearly confirmed the quality of the 2008 vintage in terms of balance, tannin quality and, in particular, aromatic expression, which is already very pleasing during the first few months of maturing.
Saint-Chinian, le 3 février 2009
At last, a great vintage ending in a 7 ! (in the Languedoc)
The year was particularly atypical and contrasting from the weather point of view.
The winter was very dry and mild, and was then followed by an exceptionally warm, quite wet spring in April and May. This led to a very early budburst, followed by rapid leaf and branch growth. Added to this were a number of occasions when the “Tramontane” blew very strongly, causing considerable breakage in certain parcels and therefore a loss of harvest (mainly on the whites for us).
The summer then saw a the climate change to very dry (unlike the rest of France) and cool for the season. This led to a welcome slowing in growth and helped to avoid a harvest that looked at one point as if it could start on a historically early date. The weather also meant that the grapes remained in excellent health.
Overall, 2007 was the driest year since 2000, with temperature levels close to those of 2001 and 2005 (an interesting comparison!). Another feature of the year was the coolness of the nights, a factor that encourages polyphenol synthesis (colour and tannins) and aromas synthesis.
In the cellars, the wine clearly confirms these observations.
From a wine-growing point of view, 2007 was also a good year for those who are keen to limit the amount of spraying. By taking a few calculated risks in spring, we did not have to spray at all for mildew. The wind took care of part of the work, while thinning (sucker removal, careful trellising and leaf thinning) also helped a great deal. Only two treatments were needed to deal with oidium, while only the Carignan needed an extra dose of sulphur. You can’t do much better than that.
This year was also one in which the wine-maker and his ‘terroir’ worked closely together. Those parcels where the roots are able to burrow deep down to find a source of water – i.e. mainly the slopes – suffered little or no hydric stress, especially as the soils are worked in such a way as to encourage the roots to go deep (ploughing, winter grassing, etc.). We also note that our yields were comparable to those of previous years (apart from the breakage caused by the wind).
Against this background, we were able to pick the grapes with some peace of mind as they reached maturity. The harvest was completed quite quickly as the late-ripening varieties (Carignan and Mourvèdre) matured earlier than usual compared to the Syrah and Grenache.
The white was harvested on 30 and 31 August, and the reds between 12 and 27 September.
The quality of the 2007 vintage is already surprisingly convincing, even though malolactic fermentation has only just finished.
The white wines are rich and concentrated, and pleasantly fresh, with elegant aromas. The only major problem is the small quantity due to a rather low level of blossoming followed by the heavy breakage caused by the wind.
The reds are well-rounded, highly coloured and concentrated, but have remained fresh and harmonious, with fine, complex aromas dominated by notes of smoke and ripe fruit. Our initial tastings have reminded us of the 2001 reds at this stage.
A very typical, flavourful vintage resulting from a particularly contrasting climate.
The 2006 growing year began with a very wet autumn and winter (double the normal rainfall) that replenished water reserves, despite the violence of the showers. This was very useful, because April, May and June were exceptionally dry. Fortunately, the storms came at the right time in July and mid-August to allow the grapes to change colour and ripen in good conditions on our various ‘terroirs’.
As far as temperature was concerned, we had a very cold winter, which meant that budburst came late. This was followed by a very warm spring and early summer, with April temperatures often 20 to 50% higher than normal. July was extremely hot, and only August saw temperatures close to the average, with a regular north wind to keep conditions dry (as in 2001).
The hot weather during the growing period meant that the vines grew rapidly, making up for time lost earlier and leading to early ripening, with small berries, thick skins and, of course, a very healthy crop.
We harvested the whites on 29 and 30 August. The grapes were very sweet with good acidity, a promising balance that has been confirmed by our recent tastings.
We began harvesting the red grapes in calm conditions on 11 September (as in 2001) after a fine, warm start to the month. There was a short period of rain (23-24/09) halfway through the harvest (which ended on 30 September) but this had no consequences for our work later on, particularly as we had done plenty of thinning work (shoots, leaves, etc.) in spring and summer to make sure the bunches were well aired.
Our high hopes following our tasting of the grapes have been borne out in the cellar. The wines are rich, flavourful and very typical: very similar to the … 2001 vintage.
To be continued…
Winter, spring and summer were relatively dry with a significant water deficit (approx. - 40%) compared to a normal year. June and July were excessively hot, which allowed the vines to catch up on a delay in growth in the early part of the season. The weather led to the grapes being of a particularly interesting quality: small size, thick skins and early phenolic maturity (tannins and colours).
The harvest therefore looked highly promising but, just to add a little bit of spice, we were treated to a superb week of storms and heavy rain during the first week of September, which reminded us that there are certain disadvantages to vineyards on slopes, not least of which is gullying. Fortunately, there is also a positive side: the grapes don’t suffer the consequences of excess water and this, combined with bunch and leaf thinning, meant that the remaining leaves and grapes received plenty of air and we were able to start the harvest with some peace of mind. In addition, the thick skins made the bunches more resistant, allowing them to cope with this rainy patch. The weather was kind to us over the rest of the month, making the task of harvesting the 2005 crop much easier. For the reds, picking started on the 19 September and ended on the 30th, a speed record for us, brought about by the early ripening of the normally late-harvesting varieties this year. In fact, the cold weather in February delayed the early varieties, and this led to all the varieties ripening at roughly the same time.
Early tastings have confirmed our observations and grape tasting. The wines are highly coloured and concentrated, with rounded tannins combined with a delightful freshness. We obviously need to confirm this with further tastings.
Saint-Chinian, 22 October2005