What in the World?
Jane Masters MW is Opimian’s Master of Wine
As Opimian Cellar Offerings start to feature 2021 wines and the wine harvest in Europe is getting into full swing, it’s a perfect time to look back at this year’s growing season.
Each year, the Southern Hemisphere wine grape harvest kicks off in late January through to April, depending on the region. If Australia was anything to go by, this year was looking good. A relief for Australian wine growers after the hot dry year which was 2020 with its wild fires and low yields. The 2021 vintage in Australia had near perfect growing and ripening conditions, producing the largest crop ever. A cooler summer has produced refreshing wines across all regions with fresh fruit flavours, moderate alcohol levels and naturally balanced acidity. There are plenty of delicious wines to choose from in C290.
Sadly, New Zealand was not quite so lucky. The wines produced are high in quality, but they are very short in supply. The Marlborough region in the north of the South Island where Ben Glover is based saw an overall reduction in wine production of more than 20%. Losses were greater or lesser depending on the site and grape variety planted. Ben lost 90% of his Chardonnay, 70% of his Gewurztraminer and 25% of his Sauvignon Blanc. The reduced crop was essentially due to spring frost in September. The frost hit after warm winter temperatures and lower rainfall than usual had brought the vines into an early budbreak. Frost damages young shoots and buds and restricts yields. Earlier budding varieties are more susceptible. Inclement weather during flowering reduced the crop further. However from then on the season was perfect for ripening grapes and lead to harvest ten days earlier than the norm. In Ben’s words, “from a very challenging and small vintage – there are some exquisite gems.”
For many years, France and Italy vied for the number one position as the world’s largest wine producing country. For some years now that accolade has consistently gone to Italy, followed by France and Spain in third place, but with a significant gap. That’s all about to change, as the latest forecast shows that France will produce its lowest wine crop on record at -29% of 2020, taking it a peg below Spain. Similar to New Zealand, France experienced a nationwide frost in April, which the government declared a national emergency. In addition to the frost, regions with high humidity and rainfall have suffered attacks of downy mildew, while others have suffered from drought (irrigation is not permitted generally in France), both of which lead to further reductions in crop. Hail hit certain localised parts of Champagne with some fire damage in southern France. The overall trend is down, but the impact is heterogenous. The Burgundy region featured in C290 is expected to produce half the amount of wine in 2021, with Chablis in the far north even harder hit. As these wines are only just being made, the current Cellar is based on previous vintages. 2019 and particularly 2020 Burgundies are great – so now is the time to stock up the cellar. In other parts of France, generally earlier ripening varieties like Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot were most affected. The low volumes mean there will be price pressure and it is too early to say what wine quality will be, so if you are looking for nice everyday drinking wines, Australia should be a serious consideration.
As if harvest challenges weren’t enough, international shipments of wine are being hampered. Significant delays to shipping brought on by lock down constraints at ports, rescheduling of ships and container shortages are being experienced around the world with the cost of shipping increased dramatically. A general lack of truck drivers is also impacting road haulage. All in all, these are strange times with much uncertainty. At such a time, it is the small pleasures in life that make it worthwhile. I certainly appreciate having my sense of taste and smell more than ever! As well as a well-stocked cellar to dip into whatever the occasion.