The 2004 vintage in the Loire Valley is remembered by a number of vignerons as a dreadful one, their work hampered by bad weather during the summer, the growing season eventually limping to an end in a melange of weather-related misery. I recall many years ago, when discussing the harvest with a well-known Ligérian winemaker, he described it to me as “les plus emmerdants depuis dix ans“, a rather colourful way of indicating it was the worst for at least a decade. Indeed, the summer had been the wettest on record for not one but for three decades.
Having said that, there is an idiom that can be heard in the cellars and tasting rooms of the region, perhaps less so in modern times although it does seem to apply to the 2004 vintage, and it is this; in any vintage in the Loire Valley only six weeks are important – three in spring for the flowering, and three in autumn for the harvest. And in the 2004 vintage both were favourable. The problem was that the three months that came between these two events, the period referred to in most vintages (although perhaps not in 2004) as summer, were unseasonably wet and miserable.
The Growing Season
In the early stages the season was uneventful, with very little worthy of comment during springtime. The conditions were on the whole dry and not too cold, which was indeed favourable to the flowering. As the vignerons then took stock it was clear they had a potentially large harvest on their hands. Quality on some vineyards would thus be determined not only by the vagaries of the growing season that was yet to come, but also by the willingness of an individual grower to reduce the crop through green-harvesting.
While many enjoyed some dry weather through June, some even choosing to describe it as a drought, what really defined the growing season for many was the weather that followed during July and August. The summer weather was predominantly wet, with some of the highest figures for rainfall for more than three decades. On many vineyards the vines started to lag behind, and it was not until the final week of August that there was a turn in the region’s fortunes, as at this point the sun finally appeared (to a joyous reception). Naturally there were fears that it would be a short-lived reprieve, and that the rain would soon return, but it wasn’t to be. The sun shone on, and September was characterised by warm and favourable weather, and it was only in October that the weather eventually broke. The vintage, despite the words of the vigneron cited in my opening paragraph, was saved. The harvest soon got underway, and by the third and certainly the fourth week of September picking of the white varieties, in particular the early ripeners such as Sauvignon Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne, was widespread.