While vintage designations are important wherever wine is produced, I always gravitate to discovering how a vintage is evolving in various parts of France more so than elsewhere. I admit to a bias, most likely because I lived, worked, and traveled in France a great deal and still maintain relationships with a number of French vintners.
As this year’s harvest approaches the end, reports from all the regions reveal how the many vagaries of weather and climate affect the final product. No single adjective or even group of descriptors can ever summarize the quality of a vintage for the whole of France, but this year one might be accurate to say that overall in the Hexagon, the wine is “good.” Perhaps in some regions, “Very good.” In others, “Not bad.” Except for those in the South and in Burgundy where some producers lost neatly 90% of their crop to violent storms, no one is describing the harvest as a disaster or even bad.
Even so, the 2014 season serves as a prototype of what can go wrong in a growing season and what can right the wrongs then undo the good before rectifying the bad. In general, spring and early summer were dry and warm. The June and July hailstorms that devastated vineyards in Languedoc, Bordeaux, Champagne, and the Rhone Valley made international headlines. Burgundy was especially hard hit.
August wasn’t helpful. It never really warmed up anywhere in the country, and most regions got far more rain than normal. There is a saying, however, that’s a bit of a stretch, that “September makes the vintage.” The sun came out and warmth returned to most regions causing ripening in the last stages.
Consensus among reports from the Bordeaux Institute of Wine and Vine Science and various Commites Interprofessionelle suggests that 2014 will be a “fine” vintage” overall. Undoubtedly, some of those superstitions I wrote about a couple days ago helped save the crops!
Ever notice how often an outfielder touches second base when running to the dugout after the third out? That’s a fairly common superstition, still widely practiced even though I doubt that many players any more really believe it will bring them good luck.
As this baseball season moves into the playoffs, the wine harvest season in the northern hemisphere is also approaching its apogee, and those who harvest grapes are not much different from ball players when it comes to hoping for a bit of luck. Most of you have probably heard of pitchers who won’t change their undershirts after a win, but did you know that some wine producers will wear the same jacket or sweater every harvest season if that garment was worn during an especially memorable vintage? It wasn’t long ago that women were barred from the fermentation vats during the harvest for fear that wine’s chauvinistic tendencies would sour the juice.
We have all seen batters raise their fingers to the Lord as if seeking divine intervention or after a home run to show thanks for such intervention; but it is not uncommon for vintners to seek a blessing for their crops as the harvest gets underway.
I know a wine maker who won’t shave during the harvest; remember the bearded Boston Red Sox of a season or two ago? One famous slugger blew kisses to his mother as he approached the plate; at least one wine grower I’ve heard of names his harvest clippers for his mother. If a harvest happens to be exceptional, the celebratory meal is likely to be served at the beginning of the next harvest.
These superstitions are completely separate from the growers who tend their vines in accordance with the phases of the moon. They are the kind that if at the end of the harvest and it is a very good one and you happen to light up a cigar as you finish, you can bet the same cigar brand will be at the ready next season. So whatever gets you to the World Series or to a vintage of the decade is worth remembering.
While in Paso Robles next month, I shall visit L’Aventure Winery, a place on my list ever since the late Johny Hugel told me about it. One must respect a Hugel opinion on wine; the family has been in the business since 1639. When I was last at the Hugel estate a couple of years ago, even Johny’s grandson was urging me to call on Stephane Asseo on his L’Aventure premises.
The Hugels explained that Asseo is a practitioner of sustainable agriculture personified. Their place is powered by solar energy, and their production methods are so rigid that each vine gives only a single bottle of wine.
The Asseo story is one of adventure, hence the name of his winery. Schooled in Burgundy, chateaux owner in Bordeaux, and spirited in such a way as to want to escape the strict production laws of his home country, Stephaen sought wine experiences around the world, finding in the 1990s that the Santa Lucia Mountains met all his expectations.
His top wines are blends of varietals not usually put together — Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, labeled “Optimus” and “Estate Cuvee.” Communicating with him is like making contact with an old friend, and when a mutual friend recently gifted me a bottle of his 2010 Estate Cuvee, I opened it immediately, even though its vintage year suggested a little more patience. It lived up to its hype.
It promises to be a highlight of my Paso Robles visit.OLDER POSTS »