As the calendar ticks over into September, vineyard owners across Europe would traditionally be returning from their August holiday and thinking about when they should be harvesting their grapes. They would know there’s a narrow window when there’s enough sugar in the berries to provide the flavour and alcohol needed but the grapes still retain some acidity ensuring that their wine is vibrant and refreshing. Too soon or too late – it’s always a tricky call, sometimes made more difficult by forecasts of rain which can dilute the juice or introduce off-flavours through rot or, worse, hailstorms that can damage the vines as well as the crop.
But not this year! The record-breaking temperatures have given producers a different – and possibly more challenging – problem. In some places the grapes have ripened weeks earlier than usual and with worryingly low acidity levels. As a result, many European growers have already finished their harvests – some in the south of France starting to pick as early as the last week of July. Even the normally relatively cool Bordeaux region will begin harvesting its reds within the next couple of weeks, rather than in early October. And growers there will be hoping that the impact of the recent forest fires will be less disastrous than was at one time feared.
Elsewhere the extreme heat accompanied by severe drought has simply caused the vines to shut down to protect themselves, leaving very little to harvest.
So, with all these problems, what can we expect from the 2022 vintage? I think a lot is going to depend on the producer, when exactly they are picking and the condition of the grapes at the time. The dangers are, on the one hand, ‘cooked’ flavours and high levels of alcohol and (for the reds) high levels of tannin, too. The alternative, for those who have picked very early, is under-ripe, thin wines with little character. Either way, volumes will be lower than usual and prices will be higher. Not a happy outlook for wine lovers.
And, if that isn’t depressing enough, global warming means this situation is likely to become more common for future vintages. What’s that old expression about driving one to drink?!