The Harvest is on!

October 1, 2013

Today the harvest begins at Rives-Blanques, just two days before it ended last year.

The old adage that no harvest is ever the same seems more pertinent in 2013 … than ever before. This year has seen the latest flowering of the vines, perhaps in recorded history, and certainly in our history. Veraison, when the grapes soften and the ripening process begins, was so late this year, that even when we set off on the traditional early August holiday taken by every winegrower in France, it still was underway.

Up to the harvest, the year had been unusually cool and wet. In fact, our whole annual quota of rainfall (600 ml) had already fallen before the summer was even over. These were the most important contributing factors to the lateness of the harvest.

Bad weather also brought hail to Rives-Blanques in late July, and for the first time in our history we suffered a substantial overall loss of around 30% of the crop.

The other old truism that ‘the vintage is made in August’ was forwarded to September, when, thankfully, we were blessed with good weather, putting the grapes on the right road to perfect phenological ripeness.

We started the harvest this morning with 25 pickers, basically the same team we have every year, beginning with the mauzac for our Blanquette de Limoux.  Conditions were brilliant.

October 17, 2013

The harvest ended this afternoon.  Overall, it was a fairly ‘easy’ harvest, in that the weather was helpful throughout – cool, clear conditions which boosted the mood and morale of the pickers, with none of that desperate round-the-clock  scramble we remember so vividly from 2011.  We picked steadily and solidly from beginning to end, with welcome weekend breaks and very few before-dawn starts.

On the other hand, this vintage presented us with challenges unlike any we have ever experienced.  The grapes were exceedingly slow to ripen, forcing us to wait as long as possible; in fact, we were the last vineyard in Limoux to bring in its white wine grapes, possibly even the last in the Languedoc.  Waiting makes you even more vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, and in the last two days we noticed the beginnings  botrytis, ready to spread like wildfire.  Limoux’s appellation rules stipulate that the grapes must be harvested by hand, and there is only a certain speed hand-harvesters can move at (25 harvesters pick in a whole day what a single machine does in under two hours).  Fortunately by the time the botrytis started, we had already ended our hand-harvesting, and were able to bring in the remaining Vin de Pays grapes at great speed, before any damage could be done.

Ultimately the waiting paid off: all our appellation wines reached  good maturity, and came in at around 12.5%, 13% potential alcohol.

Their yield, however, was dramatically reduced: Odyssée, at only 28 hl/ha, and Occitania at 27 hl/hl.  The day went to the chenin blanc for Dédicace, which gave us an above-average 55 hl/ha.

You can follow our harvest on Facebook, Twitter, and our own Diary of a Vineyard.