Some of France’s wine growers have only just come out of their harvesting session for the year, whilst others rounded off the most labour-intensive period a little while ago. For obvious reasons, they’ve been a bit tricky to get hold of, but we have managed to glean some details from vignerons in all of France’s main wine regions; they’ve recounted the outcome of a particularly dry vintage as it heads off to the winery.
All in all, the 2022 vintage was marked by dry conditions in the summer as well as bursts of unpredictable weather, but this doesn’t seem to have prevented growers from yielding a decent harvest, after several years of underwhelming quantities. According to the SSP (Services de la Statistique et de la Prospective) and Agreste, France’s viticultural production is estimated at 44.6 million hectolitres for 2022, a figure that’s up 18% on the 2021 vintage – a historically low year – and up 4% on the five-year average between 2017 and 2021.
Whilst the freak weather episodes were less extreme than those of 2021, they still let their effects be felt, with frost and hail particularly damaging in the South-West, Charentes, and the Loire Valley. If vignerons managed to overcome these conditions, it was thanks to them putting up a good fight.
By ‘dry conditions’, we’re talking about the driest July since 1959 (when records began); just 9.7 mm of rain fell between the 1st and 31st July 2022, compared to 90.8mm the year before. This gives us a good idea of what France’s vignerons were up against.
In Bordeaux, we’ve heard whisperings of 2022 being a great, sunny vintage, a promising year with quality at its core. The SSP explains how ‘due to the dry conditions, the red grapes stayed small, with little juice at pressing’, an observation shared by Quentin Maydieu, our Place de Bordeaux manager. He said ‘in terms of quantity, the harvest has been very disparate in Bordeaux. The vines didn’t get enough water, and the grapes stayed small, hence the low yields, but we can be confident of their quality. Certain consultants, owners, and wine makers are sure of this’. The vineyards of the Gironde seem to have resisted to harsh conditions this year.
In August, Dominique Guignard, president of the Syndicat viticole des vins de Graves, made the following statement: ‘The harvest began a little earlier than expected, but this isn’t the first time we’ve started picking grapes mid-August. The weather is beautiful, and everything’s going well. The red grapes are ripening and the outlook is really positive’. We also got to hear from Château Haut-Bailly: ‘The harvest finished well and in ideal conditions. We’re really pleased with the quality of grapes harvested, it’s a fine vintage we’ve got ahead of us! Unsurprisingly, though, yields have been a bit low due to the dry summer’.
In Burgundy, 2022 has been somewhat of a blessed year, with both quantity and quality showing up for the count. At Beaune’s September press conference, with the BIVB (Bureau interprofessionnel des vins de Bourgogne), François Labet compared the 2022 vintage to 1959, a year at once ‘beautiful and generous’. Thiébault Hubert, president of the CAVB, even described a ‘grandiose vintage’.
As for quantity, this was a vital revival after a 2021 that brought yields that were drastically lower than average (997,000 hl compared to 1,450,000 hl). ‘We had a season free of disease, with no frost or hail, except in a few disparate spots: we’ve returned to normal yield levels,’ adds François Labet. And yet, it wasn’t a vintage with the most optimistic predictions; ‘The rain in June helped avoid catastrophe’ explains Christophe Suchaut, expert in wine and the vines at the Côte d’Or’s Chambre d’agriculture.
In the Rhône Valley, vignerons were expecting the worst in terms of imbalance and excess levels of alcohol and heat in the grapes. However, many of them were saved by a rainy spell just before the harvest, with some even talking about a vintage for the history books, close in quality to the 2015. The grapes are rich in character, and we can expect some lovely tannin in the reds.
Pierre Combat, president of the AOP Crozes Hermitage, has confidence in the wines of the northern Rhône’s renowned appellation; ‘a balanced and beautiful vintage, though not very high in volume, the factor that we’ll most miss out on’.
Whilst 2021 was the rainiest year in Champagne’s history, 2022 was the sunniest, with 10-30% more sun than the decade’s average between January and August, according to the Comité Champagne’s records. And when the sun makes an appearance, the vineyards get the best health boost they could hope for.
The Union des Maisons de Champagne has already been talking about an ‘exceptional’ and ‘promising’ vintage. Both the quality and quantity of this vintage should be enough to reassure markets and consumers alike. It’s worth noting that the yield in this region has bee fixed at 12,000 kg/ha, the highest in fifteen years.
The Loire is no stranger to frost or drought. The SSP explains how ‘in the Loire valley, dry conditions have impacted volume, with Chardonnay being the most affected’. Rainy spells in August were beneficial, though, particularly in Anjou. We’ve heard several reports from partner domains about this year’s harvest.
Domaine Luneau-Papin: ‘The harvest began at 7:15 am on the 29th of August! The days passed with a sustained rhythm of harvesters and filled presses. A joyful, generous, and sun-filled year has truly spoilt us. We went to the aid of our Melon de Bourgogne and Folle Blanche grapes during several frosty nights and at the height of summer, too. We had to adapt to Mother Nature. Focusing all our attention and listening to the living world really paid off this year’.
Virginie Joly from La Coulée de Serrant: ‘Just 15 little millimetres of rain in our parts, but we’re pulling through! With the harvest predicted for the 12th of September, we hope for a few more drops of rain in the meantime.’
Domaine Bonnigal-Bodet talks of an ‘exciting vintage, from the quantities obtained to the quality of our grapes’.
And as for Domaine de l’Ecu: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled with the latest harvest, both in terms of quality and quantity. It’s wonderful to see the winery full once again’.
Unlike France’s other wine regions, dry conditions didn’t cause too much suffering in the southern Languedoc-Roussillon. At the end of August, when the harvest began, the vineyards were in a pretty much perfect condition, with excellent grapes. Domaine Saint-Sylvestre gave us a bit more information: ‘The 2022 juices are sublime, it’s the quantity that’s terrible, we lost about 50% of our red grapes and 50% of the white ones, too, all because of the drought’. Conflicting reports, then.
‘More fear than harm!’ is the expression used by Francis Backert of Synvira during the September press conference on the subject of Alsace’s 2022 vintage. The weather had been more than capricious, though, and the vigneron highlighted ‘the disparity in harvests. From one village to the next we saw very different situations, whether the vineyards are on the plains, in the forest, on soil that drains well…’. Overall, volumes are as expected, and the quality is good.
Domaine Zusslin confirmed ‘the harvests are going well! We started with the Riesling and Gewurztraminer vines on the 22nd of September and the quality of the grapes we’ve picked so far has been more than satisfactory. 2022 won’t be a vintage with exceptional acidity, but it will likely make expressive and aromatic cuvées’.
In the Jura, this vintage has brought hope back to the vigneron, despite the stormy conditions that marked 2022. In the Beaujolais ‘the harvest has given consistent results’ says Daniel Bulliat, president of Inter Beaujolais, ‘quantities are around 20% lower than the five-year average. As for the quality, there’s something to be delighted about! We find similarities with great vintages like 2009, 2015, and 2018. 2022 will be a year of signature cuvées’. In Provence, the SSP notes that ‘rain just before the harvest limited any losses of juice’ and in Corsica, ‘yields are higher than predicted, helped by the end-of-summer showers’.
We’d like to thank our partner domains for their comments, and we wish them the best for their upcoming vinifications.