The 2020 vintage in the Languedoc – some initial thoughts as the harvest draws to a close.
Official figures say a large harvest in Languedoc Roussillon - 13 million hectolitres and 7% up on last year. However, that was not borne out by anyone I talked to; low quantity but good quality was how they summed it up in a nutshell.
For Deborah and Peter Core at Mas Gabriel, it was a slightly smaller yield, especially for Vermentino and Grenache, but great quality, with clean fruit and nicely balanced wines. As for the weather, there were good reserves of water from last autumn and winter – their village of Caux was actually cut off for two days last October due to flooding. The spring was quite cool, and there was quite a bit of rainfall in late April early May, while London was enjoying summer weather during lockdown. The summer temperatures were quite warm but thankfully without the extremes of 2019. High summer did of course warm up and was dry as usual, but the August nights were quite fresh, giving a day/night difference of over 10°C, which is great for the ripening of the grapes and flavour development. Now in the cellar, the wines are looking very promising.
At the Abbaye de Valmagne, in the Grés de Montpellier Roland d’Allaines described 2020 as correct for quantity, especially for those who were able to control the mildew and oidium. However, he found the ripening complicated. You really had to wait for the right moment for each parcel. But then the balance between aroma, acidity and freshness is superb, for both red and white wines.
The year was characterised by its very wet spring, followed by a dry summer. No great heatwave, and only one day, August 1stwith a heatwave temperature. September was initially quite fresh, and then warm, with some welcome rain at the beginning of the month. ‘The climate was with us’.
Caryl Panman at Château Rives Blanques in Limoux said that it is difficult to give an overview. “The quality was good with us as with many people I’ve spoken to, but the quantity was unexpectedly low. I’ve heard the same complaint from others... but then again, there are some who had a bumper year, even in Limoux. People point to the unusually wet spring, the unusually dry, hot summer. Our flowering was textbook perfect, and our lab reports show absolute zero evidence of any water stress”. So nobody knows why the quantity is low. Caryl is still asking. However, it was also their earliest harvest ever, with picking beginning on 21stAugust, to finish on 13thSeptember
Bruno Lafon in Magellas was more circumspect, saying that it is difficult to have an opinion about the vintage. Rain in spring made for mildew. Then it was very dry. His crop is small - 20-30% down – with an average yield of about 28 hl/ha. Ideally, he would like 35 hl/ha but he hasn’t had that for a long time. His Grenache suffered from mildew, and he had expected higher yields from his Syrah, as some of his vineyards are quite vigorous, but some suffered from drought, and the long-term effect of several dry years. There is a high mortality rate amongst Syrah. However, his vat samples tasted very promising.
At Domaine Ollier Taillefer, they began the harvest on 31stAugust, a few days earlier than usual. The quality is very promising, with very healthy grapes, benefitting from cool nights, making for refined tannins and flavours. Ideal weather!
At Mas Lou they started on 7th September, a little earlier than usual, and had finished by 18th. On 2019, in comparison, they were still picking on 9th October. This year everything was ripe all at once, and they also hurried as the weather forecast had announced a downpour, that never came! The quantity is correct and the quality very good.
The other problem this year was the wild boar. They were thirsty and consumed about 70% of one plot of Mourvèdre, and also a large amount of Syrah.
Simon Coulshaw at Domaine des Trinités summed it up; “Low yields but very good quality”. His yields are down on last year.
Grenache is susceptible to downy mildew; he lost 15 tons to mildew. Simon stops treating six weeks before the harvest, so mid-July when the weather was heavy and humid and consequently the Grenache suffered. However, it is a perfect mushroom year, and there were some wonderful looking girolles in the market as we left at the beginning of October. Other varieties, the white varieties and his Carignan and Cinsault are fine. Syrah did not set very well, but is absolutely delicious - Simon is very excited.
Apart from mildew the other problem is the wild boar. This year the hunting season finished earlier than usual because of confinement. You can apparently get compensated for loss of fruit, but it is a bureaucratic hoop, and not worth the trouble.
However, there is no doubt that Simon is happy about the quality, quantity is 35- 40% down on 2019, which was a great year for him, after a disastrous 2018.
Domaine de Roquemale in the Grés de Montpellier.
The vintage started on 20th August and was finished by 14 September, the first time that they have ever finished so early. And everything had finished fermenting by the end of September except for a couple of vats of Grenache and Syrah. So a beautiful vintage, with less quantity than anticipated but very good quality with beautifully balanced juice in the cellar.
It all promises well. I am looking forward to tasting some during my next stay in the Languedoc.