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2016 has been giving our winegrowers a run for their money. Weather conditions were difficult; growers have had to contend with rain, humidity, frost and even sunscald, but have carried on regardless. Luckily nature rallied at the eleventh hour, and the vintage will be an excellent one after all.
The beginning of 2016 was excessively mild, but also excessively rainy. In fact the weather bared its teeth on only two occasions - once to celebrate St Vincent's Day in January, and again in the first weeks of March. It ended on the same note as winter 2015 - without even a hint of frost. There was excessive rainfall throughout the winter.
The growing cycle started late - in April, a month marked by alternating periods of very mild and very cold weather. From April 18th, vines were exposed to sub-zero temperatures at night, with the worst of the damage occurring during the night from April 26th to 27th. Weather conditions were unpredictable – on some evenings, rain left the buds wet, leaving them even more susceptible to the night-time cold.
The extent of the damage is difficult to estimate, but we already know that the effects are likely to be serious in Coteaux du Giennois, Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé and Quincy, and to a lesser extent Sancerre.
May started – and finished – on a cold note, and will no doubt stay in our memories as a month of exceptionally heavy rainfall (15% above the norm); this made access to some plots particularly difficult. The first few days of June were cold and damp; there followed a period of calm from June 5th - 9th, only to be disrupted again later on. As we know all too well, cold, wet weather encourages disease, especially downy mildew, and diseased grapes, naturally affect production potential. Weather can cause stress not only for the vine, but also for the winegrowers!
Flowering started during the second half of June, but the weather continued to be difficult, and coulure and millerandage were rife. Nature rallied for the first time on June 23rd: the sun came out, temperatures rose – and given these newly favourable conditions, vines continued to flower rapidly.
Summer made its first tentative appearance - and the rain stopped. Cumulative rainfall for July and August was less than 90% of the thirty year average. On July 15th, temperatures began to rise, culminating in a late heatwave at the end of August. The warm spell also left its mark, and by the end of August the vines were showing early signs of hydric stress - and more notably, the effects of sunscald. Veraison started in the second half of August, somewhat hampered by the very dry conditions. Things moved along slowly – but prevailing conditions ensured that at least the fruit was in excellent health.
The start of September brought summery conditions, with sunshine and temperatures of over 30°C. Significant differences of temperature between day and night promote ripeness in the grapes, both phenolic and aromatic, by balancing out any touches of overly-vegetal flavour. Meanwhile, lack of water was really beginning to make its mark.
Hardly daring to complain, the winegrowers begged for just a drop of rain - and rain it did, on the 14th and 16th of September; a little miracle in an otherwise tough year. At last the berries started to swell, sugars continued to develop and declining acidity was checked.
Cool nights alternated with sunny days, giving perfect ripening conditions – and winegrowers felt safe enough to wait until both whites and reds reached the peak of ripeness.
The weather remained completely dry during harvesting, and for the fourth month in a row there was little rain. The very cold mornings are likely to become a hallmark of this year’s harvest.
Just like 2015, 2016’s wines are expected to show good purity of flavour; and as with all late vintages, they have plenty of freshness and a crisp texture.
While still slightly reticent on the nose, the white wines hint at notes of white flowers and white-fleshed fruit, with a base of underlying minerality. Rosés have a lovely intense colouring, and fresh fruit aromas such as blood orange and raspberry. The reds, with their deep, intense colouring, are expected to be the belle of the ball this year. They are showing aromas of red fruits including blackcurrant and raspberry, mixed with florals. Mouthfeel is fresh, underpinned by velvety-smooth tannins.
2016 will be remembered as a year of frost, and of high quality wines. And for Centre-Loire this year - all’s well that ends well