If you have been driving around the roads of the Languedoc in the last few days, you are more than likely to have found yourself sitting behind a large mechanical harvester, or a trailer full of grapes heading for a nearby cellar. The harvest is in full swing, which begs the question: how is it looking? In a nutshell: Good, but not uniformly so. We had a wet spring – remember the deluge of Easter – so that there are good water reserves, but some vineyards have suffered more than others from the dry, hot summer. Vines like warm sunshine, but they need a bit of rain too, or else they begin to suffer from stresse hydrique or drought and the ripening process slows down. This year there were none of the usual storms around the middle of July and the middle of August and the whole of August has been hot, with mutterings about a canicule, similar to that of 2003.
The harvest has started earlier than usual. One friend, Jacques Boyer from Domaine la Croix Belle, in the Côtes de Thongue, picked his Sauvignon on 11th August and now in early September most wine growers have started their harvest. Most people I have spoken to are relatively happy about quality; some even very happy, but winegrowers tend to be cautious in their judgements, and will not commit themselves until the harvest is finished. But most are lamenting the lack of quantity, for the grapes are small and tending to lack juice, and in some cases even shrivelled and sunburnt, so that yields are down, and by as much as one third in some cases. Chardonnay for some reason seems particularly affected. Also although sugar levels are good, some people are expressing doubts about phenolic or flavour ripeness. But on the whole, if the sunshine continues, there is every reason for optimism and we can look forward to some delicious bottles of Languedoc wine from 2009.