I know you’ve all been waiting for it. The first report from Charles and Philippa Sydney, Loire courtiers extraordinaire. Charles and Philippa work with a wide range of growers, from Muscadet up to Sancerre, and they are always out on the shop floor during harvest. Here is their first take on 2015, as exuberantly informative as ever.
At last a morning off from tasting grapes as the growers pick across the Loire! It’s pretty well all in, and time to let you know how things are going.
After a hot, dry summer, with drought blocking vegetation in some places, we finally got some rain in September, at last softening skins and letting the grapes really ripen.
The only ‘hic’ is that quantities are down pretty well everywhere, in part a result of the drought, part too a result of a few cold days at the end of the flowering, especially for Sauvignons from Touraine through Sancerre and Pouilly.
Some growers grumble about lowish acidities, but everywhere we tasted, the juice had that tang of freshness behind the concentration. Some people are never happy!
Given the great summer, it was not surprising to see picking start early – but it was a first to see some growers in Sancerre finish just as others in Muscadet were starting! Normally we kick off with Muscadet then things head east, with the Touraine a week later and Sancerre a week after that. This year saw growers picking in the Touraine on the 1st September, the Sancerre ‘*ban de vendanges*’ on the 9th – while on the 10th we still had Muscadet producers (Fruitière, Choblet, Sauvion) wondering how much longer they could wait!
Overall, quality looks exceptional.
Muscadet: yields OK-ish, averaging just under 50 hectos/hectare, which for them is good but still about 10% down on what we’d have liked. The harvest was smart, a little rot towards the end as expected, but loads of lovely gold grapes and liquid gold juice reflecting the sunny growing period. Ripeness is good, with a smart balance of freshness. The rain mid-September dropped average degrees a touch, so some growers had to chaptalise a bit. That’s fine by me – 2015 looks to be a lovely vintage.
Touraine: Quality looks exceptional across the region – lovely healthy grapes, nice degrees, balanced acidity and super concentrated juice. The big bugbear is yields that were zapped by coulure post flowering, leaving an average yield of around 40 hectos/hectare for the Sauvignons. The 2015s are going to be brill, but if you still have reserves of 2014s, don’t let go!
Sancerre & Pouilly: 2015 looks hard to beat for quality – with an interesting comparison with 2006, which we noted the local Sicavac oenologists as rating ‘somewhere between 2005 and 1989 in quality’. Again, the ‘hic’ is quantity. At an average 50-55 hectos per hectare, it’s around 10 – 15% below normal, at a time when stocks are at an all time low.
Reds: There are two theoretical approaches to picking, depending on whether the grower wants to pick ‘fruit frais’ (fresh fruit) or ‘fruit mûr’ (ripe fruit). Some growers seem happy at having an excuse to pick early (we see unripe plots being picked first) while we know the potential that can be achieved with great vineyard management techniques. In our opinion, the real stars have only just started picking – and there the quality should be extraordinary.
Pinots: Looking fab too – maybe even better than last year!! We all know the handful of guys who push the limits in Sancerre, but it’s wonderful to see Sylvain Miniot down at the Cave in St Pourçain pushing his growers to get full ripeness. He’s still the one to watch.
Finally, Chenin Blanc.
Vouvray and Montlouis: The potential is lovely, so it’s still a shame to see over 2/3rds of the crop going to make sparkling. The guys who concentrate on making ‘real’ wines are on a high – look at the photos and see the gold chenin crinkling as it starts to concentrate and then going brown and raisiny. There should be some smart moelleux this year.
Anjou and the Layon: Here the saga is just starting. Late last week saw the great growers starting to pick the dry whites – and doing a first ‘clean-up’ *tri* to get the rest of the crop ready to concentrate in ideal conditions. We have never seen such beautifully run vineyards as René and Christophe Papin’s Les Rouannières plot…. they’re clearly going even further than the great daddy Claude Papin.
There’s a photo of a mustimètre showing around 22° potential – hard to be sure as it stops marking at 18°. And that’s just a ‘clean-up’ picking. If the weather holds, we could be in for a truly great vintage.
With apologies for the exuberance – and a final report to come once we finish tasting end December.
Charles and Philippa
Initially only one of Charles’ photographs came through, but I have since added a second, one of the juice from a pre-harvest nettoyage registering 22º, a figure that in itself would be rich enough to make a very nice sweet wine. Sorry, it is far from being the best quality picture that Charles sent, but I included it as it speaks clearly of the potential quality of the vintage.