BFM Business Interview | A first look at the 2021 harvest

Let’s take the temperature of the market with Angélique de Lencquesaing, interviewed on the BFM Business programme by Cédric Decoeur.

The month of September is a busy one for the wine industry, whether you’re harvesting the vineyards or making the most of offers in the Autumn Wine Festival. How is 2021 looking?

It’s true, since the Autumn Wine Festival first began in the 1970s, the spotlight turns to the world of wine right at harvest time. This year has been different for wine makers, a fact that has led many actors in the sector to rethink their strategy.

Let’s talk about the harvest first. How has this year’s vintage turned out?

This has been an unfortunate year in the vineyards. In April, many winemaking regions were struck by a major attack of frost, ‘the biggest agronomic catastrophe of the century’ according to the Agricultural Minister. This disaster affected thousands of hectares of land. For wine, a drop of around 29% in production has been announced, amounting to 33.3 million hectolitres. This means that even less has been made than in famously small vintages like 1991 and 2017.

So the frost destroyed all that?

Largely, yes, but this hasn’t been the only problem. Wine makers have had a disappointing summer, especially those in the north, with cold and rainy conditions that have caused mould diseases to develop in some vineyards.

Some of the southern vines, on the other hand, haven’t seen a drop of rain since April, so have been at great risk of water stress. This means that the vine has to extend really deep to draw nutrients; some terroirs cope better than others with these conditions, especially soil rich in clay and limestone, which has a sponge-like effect.

Then, France has seen some almost tropical weather since the beginning of September, with higher-than-usual temperatures followed by episodes of heavy rain, even flooding. This happened a few days ago in the Languedoc region, for example. Again, this is a perfect storm for mildew and oidium to develop.

There are clearly some wine makers who’d prefer to forget 2021 already, and we can see where they’re coming from. We’re thinking of them at this worrying time.

The harvest has begun in several regions now…a bit later than in previous years?

Yes wine makers have started to pick their grapes, especially those who make white wine. And it isn’t an early harvest this year. In Bordeaux, a relatively cool summer will likely produce an aromatic vintage. But the red grapes still need a bit of time; they need a sunny and dry period to finish ripening.

In Burgundy, we often hear ‘September will make the wine’, particularly in reference to red grapes. For the region’s whites, the Chardonnay harvest has started, and the fruit is high quality but tiny in volume. Burgundy was one of the areas most affected by frost, with some domains losing 80% of their produce.

The Rhône valley was also hit by frost then disease in the vineyards, events that have demanded the constant work and attention of vintners right up until the harvest. We’ve seen the same thing in the Loire, and also in Champagne, where the ripening of different varieties occurs on varying timelines. Basically, it’s been a really tricky year for wine makers.

Will this vintage be one to invest in?

It’s too early to draw conclusions on the vintage as a whole. This year has been highly technical for wine makers, who have needed to apply all of their energy and talent. They’ll have to be selective and make some hard decisions. Whether to get rid of any low-quality parts of the harvest (if they have the means). It’s going to be a difficult financial question for many, especially after a series of years hit by frost, hail, and disease in the vineyard. There will certainly be some really good wine, but it will take all that the wine makers have to offer.

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