A few weeks ago, I blogged about the record high summer temperatures across much of Europe and how these might lead to the same problems growers experienced in the heatwave year of 2003. Then, many wines tasted ‘cooked’ and lacked freshness and most were past their best much sooner than expected. But, the reports I’ve seen recently suggest that my worries may have been misplaced. In fact, the word is that, so far, the grapes harvested this year have shown excellent levels of ripeness and volumes are up on 2017.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that there have been no challenges during the growing season; many have noted that, as the heat was accompanied by humidity, vine diseases, notably mildew which attacks both leaves and berries, have been a major problem. And harvesting has had to be careful and painstaking as pickers are often finding healthy grapes and shrivelled, dried out berries in the same bunches.
But the 2018 harvest is only part way through and, where later ripening varieties are involved, things are still uncertain. Take Bordeaux as an example: there, the white grapes were all gathered in by the end of August and are now safely in the fermentation tanks. Now, thoughts are turning to the Merlot, which, in most places will be reaching full ripeness. I’ve not heard that the storms that affected the UK last week had an impact on Bordeaux to any great extent and, hopefully, that variety will be soon be picked and it, too, will no longer be subject to the vagaries of our autumn weather.
More problematic is the Cabernet Sauvignon which some growers are insisting needs at least another three weeks of dry, warm weather to fully ripen. Will they get it? There will certainly be nervous eyes looking at the skies for rain clouds. The decision of when to pick is such a crucial one; too early means the grapes are short of peak ripeness and the wine will taste thin and green but waiting may risk rain, rot and a ruined crop.
The challenges of being a winemaker!