There is such a range of wines in France as you travel North to South and East to West, with so many different climates and soils. The vintages can be different for major regions across France. Luckily I was contacted by the Vignobles & Signatures Club whose members span France’s major appellations to tell me about the 2020 harvest, which I am sharing here with you.
Vignobles & Signatures Club
A group initiated by Jean-Francois Janoueix at Vinexpo Bordeaux. The Club was first established with 8 leading winegrowers from 8 major appellation areas with members belonging to the leading family producers from France’s chief appellation areas. The members are:
- Domaines Francis ABECASSIS – Cognac
- Domaine Paul BLANCK & Fils – Alsace
- Domaine CAUHAPÉ – Jurançon
- COULY-DUTHEIL – Chinon
- COUME DEL MAS – Banyuls, Collioure, Côtes du Roussillon
- Champagne DRAPPIER – Champagne
- Jean DURUP Père et Fils – Chablis
- Domaines FABRE – Haut-Médoc, Margaux
- FIGUIÈRE – Provence
- GUILBAUD Frères – Muscadet
- Vignobles Joseph JANOUEIX – Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Côtes deCastillon
- Alain JAUME – Vallée du Rhône
- Famille LESGOURGUES – Bas Armagnac, Bordeaux, Graves, Madiran
- Famille ORLIAC – Domaine de L’Hortus – Pic Saint Loup
- Domaines Dominique PIRON – Beaujolais
- Domaine Philippe et Sylvain RAVIER – Savoie
- Domaine ROUX – Bourgogne
- Château de TRACY – Pouilly-Fumé
The Vintage Report from Each Member
Domaines Francis ABECASSIS – Cognac: the vintage is shaping up to be plentiful and magnificent!
According to Cellar Master Isabelle Couprie, in early September the grapes started to gradually change color from green through to a nice golden appearance. This was the last ripening stage before the harvest that began this year at DFA on the 17th of September. It was the right moment as the Ugni Blanc grapes were juicy and had reached a perfectly well balanced level of acidity and sugar…
“Fortunately, the rain arrived just in time!” explained Francis Abécassis. “To ensure a smooth crush over the next three weeks, all of our teams are present on the 370 hectares of our different estates, which have obtained High Environmental Value certification”.
Domaine Paul BLANCK & Fils – Alsace: an incredible vintage in terms of maturation and acidity.
“It was expected that the ripening phase would take place later than usual, but it turned out to be perfectly well balanced; the old vines easily made it through the dry period and the fruit was very healthy. The good weather, cool nights and light rainfall at the beginning of September kicked off the harvest on the third day of the month. Picking started with Pinot noir for a change, then Muscat, followed by Pinot Gris, which displayed slight acidity, and then Riesling, Auxerrois and Gewurztraminer. The grape varieties that are planted in light soils like granite were harvested first, as the ripening phase
takes more time for vines planted in much more consistent soils. The structure of the aromas of the Pinot noir, the devatting of which ended on the 13th of September, is well developed and benefited from rising sugar. As grey mold was absent this year, the air dried fruit should produce an excellent vintage with late harvest and noble grape offerings – digest wines without too much sugar”, Philippe Blanck.
Domaine CAUHAPÉ – Jurançon: Henri Ramonteu expects a very nice vintage, « 2020 is a good year for Jurancon ».
“It’s best to enter a vineyard when you’re in a good mood, as it feels our positive vibes,” stressed Henri Ramonteu. The grapes were tanned by the sun, they drew strength from the cool summer nights and the harvest was promising. According to Francois Bordenave- Gassebat, who manages the pickers, compared to 2019, this year was 15 days ahead of schedule, because of the very hot weather combined with some rainfall – perfect for the ripening of the grapes. Among the first bunches to display their potential were those of the rare Camaralet variety, dubbed gentil aromatique, along with the Petit and Gros Manseng used to elaborate the dry Jurancon wines. Facing the Pyrenees and ventilated by southern winds, this 2-hectare parcel ripened early.
COULY-DUTHEIL – Chinon: « we are highly confident».
Practically 15 days behind schedule following the hydric stress caused by drought and then by heavy rainfall, the harvest began with the first grapes pressed on the 18th September. “The white grapes boasted high degrees with nice acidity, so we had to rapidly transfer them to the cellar. When it comes to the rosés, picked as of the 25th of September, pleasant increases in temperature during the daytime brought about nice fruity flavor. The sugar of the red grapes rose well, but phenolic maturity came about at the end of September: this date was required to achieve balance and to begin harvesting,
before this period, the grapes still displayed some bitterness and a lot of acidity. This vintage is along the lines of 2018, but with a bit less sugar and alcohol, all the while expressing extra vivacity”, Philippe Verrier.
COUME DEL MAS – Banyuls, Collioure, Côtes du Roussillon: very nice juice, good freshness.
At Coume Del Mas, the harvest began on the 11th of August and lasted for a month without a break. According to Philippe Gard, the dry terroir of Collioure was not affected by the heavy springtime rainfall, as it delivered magnificent grapes and very nice juice. At Mas Cristine, the grapes matured quickly and hydric stress was not an issue following the rainy springtime. The degrees are not high this year (14 – 15°C for the whites and 15 – 16°C for the reds). Andy Cook is satisfied with the quality of the whites at the end of fermentation. The wines are very clear with very nice freshness, despite the small harvest (30% less than usual), and a complicated year due to weather conditions.
Champagne DRAPPIER: vibrant Pinots, fresh and elegant Chardonnays.
“Following a very sunny and warm season, we knew that the harvest was going to be ahead of schedule, but not to this extent. The pruning shears cut the first bunches on the 21st of August starting with Fromenteau, a rare grape variety, and a month earlier than picking dates 30 years ago. The harvested grapes are perfectly healthy, well ripened and filled with aromatic precursors. The patchwork of plots benefiting from various exposures, allow us to play around with picking dates and to harvest fully ripened fruit. Facing both east and north and situated at an altitude, our vineyard has assets in the present context of global warming. The Pinots, whether they be Noir, Blanc or Meunier are vibrant, whereas the Chardonnay, that ripened later this year, will provide all of the freshness and elegance that one expects from a great Champagne. The forgotten varieties (Arbanne and Petit Meslier) have once again achieved perfect ripeness, which is increasingly rare. We are expecting, once again this year, an exceptional Quattuor wine. Under the summer sunshine and aside from a couple of showers offering little relief, the harvesters were able to work in good spirits and without a raincoat.
Social distancing did not prevent them from enjoying good moments together, including daily tastings of Champagne – what else!”, Michel Drappier.
Jean DURUP Père et Fils – Chablis: a Chablis-style vintage, at once rich and full bodied.
Jean-Paul Durup observed early flowering, after a mild winter without springtime frost. He is expecting an excellent 2020 vintage, with heaps of freshness and mineral notes, despite slower growth due to cooler weather in July and buds dried by the heatwave at the beginning of August. Note: the new brand dubbed La Centenaire was harvested on the 4th of September. It is elaborated out of a vineyard planted in 1920 by Justin Durup’s, Jean-Paul’s great great grandfather. “This plot was tilled using a draft horse, handpicked, and its grapes carefully transported to the cellar in small crates.” The production of this
wine is going to be limited to a mere 2,500 bottles… Stay tuned.
Domaines FABRE – Haut-Médoc, Margaux: the vintage is shaping up well.
The harvest began on Wednesday the 16th of September with the picking of the Merlots in the estates in Haut-Medoc and Margaux, followed by that of the old parcels in Haut-Medoc on the 17th and the 18th finishing the following week depending upon possible rainfall and thunderstorms. Then came the Cabernets and the Petit Verdots, boasting good phenolic maturity. “The large amounts of rainfall on the night of 12-13 August helped to fully ripen the fruit,” declared Jean-Hubert Fabre, who stressed that a winemaking consultant inspected the vineyards before and during the harvest. “The grapes tasted good, the tannins and the pips were very ripe and the degrees were lower than we feared (the Merlots contained 13.5 – 14 % alcohol)”.
FIGUIÈRE – Provence: the 2020 vintage has been marked by a climate well suited to grape growing.
Estate Manager Francois Combard was pleased to have avoided the major spell of frost spell along the coastline at the end of March and to have benefited instead of wet springtime weather and fairly mild summer temperatures. The fruit gradually ripened – the sign of an excellent vintage: “Tastings of the fermenting wine already indicated average degrees – contrary to extremely hot years – juice with plenty of finesse and very beautiful colors”.
GUILBAUD Frères – Muscadet: a good year.
The grapes were very healthy. According to Pascal Guilbaud, this crush, which began on the 26th of August was the 5th of its kind to begin during this month of the year (the first one dates back to 1976). In addition, it ended on the 10th of September, the date of the start to the harvest in 2019! He will remember 2020 as the year of dried grapes similar to sultanas due to excessive heat, alongside top quality golden colored fruit. The skin of the berries seemed to be quite thick, their pulp was limited and the amount of juice was less than expected, although the yield was satisfying as around average.
The profile of the wines is similar to 2016, even if each vintage remains different. The juice was straightforward, frank and precise, so pleasant to work with, the outlook for the vintage is positive.
Vignobles Joseph JANOUEIX – Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Côtes de Castillon: a promising vintage with concentration and plenty of body.
The vine did not suffer from drought thanks to groundwater at a depth of 3 meters. Vineyard Manager Didier Beillon had to juggle the harvest of the parcel selections, which lasted about 15 days and only took place in the morning to avoid the heat, thereby providing optimum picking conditions: the crush began on the 15th of September with the Merlots for the production of organic wines, followed by the grapes of Pomerol, then the Cru Classé wines before returning to Haut-Sarpe to harvest the Cabernet Franc. Well ripened, crunchy and pleasant, fleshy grapes with thick skins confirmed that this is going to be a very nice vintage: the wines are displaying good balance and average degrees (13.5°C for the Merlots), a pH of around 3.5, a malic acid of 1 and must that is fairly rich in proteins, last but not least, the fermentation kinetics are rapid along the lines of 2015”.
Alain JAUME – Vallée du Rhône : prospects look favorable for 2020.
Very nice rainfall at the end of August allowed the vineyard to start off again after a fairly dry period. Christophe Jaume noted Roussanne grapes that developed amber and slightly red colors as they ripened. These were used to make the Fontaine wine brand, created back in 1990, and elaborated according to Burgundy-style winemaking procedures. It was necessary to pay more attention to some plots with red grape varieties because of fairly early frost, and to undertake green harvesting, as is the case each year. Picked mid-September, the ripening of the Syrahs benefited from light rainfall that
plumped up the berries, hence the nice green leaves and synthesis of the polyphenols.
Famille LESGOURGUES – Bas Armagnac, Bordeaux, Graves, Madiran: pleasant acidity and aromatic potential at Château de Laubade, highly fragrant wines and lovely freshness at Château HautSelve.
Denis Lesgourgues explains that « Chateau de Laubade, at the heart of the terroir of Bas Armagnac, kicked off the harvest on the 31st of August 2020. This is a first for the Lesgourgues family that has owned the property for three generations! The changing climate and record high temperatures accelerated the ripening phase. The Folle Blanche vines that are always earlier and intense, were picked first followed by the Colombards that were harvested with a very nice acidity and pleasant fruitiness, and by the Ugni Blanc grapes, and then the Baco variety as of the 7th of September. The crush ended on the 23rd of September when it usually continues through to early October. In view of maintaining very nice acidity and aromatic potential, the wine had to be fermented at a low temperature despite a thermometer that broke all records in Gascony. As always, the four chief varieties, joined by rare Plant de Graisse, were picked and made into wine separately, before being distilled, one after another, and before being matured in distinct individual batches; this procedure guarantees the uniqueness of the future vintages and blends, in keeping with the expression of Laubade’s great terroir!”
According to Arnaud Lesgourgues who oversees Chateau Haut-Selve: “we finished off the white varieties with the Semillon vines on the 10th of September. After a spell of frost in our white grape parcels and a dry summer, the yields represent around 25 hl/ha. The wine is extremely aromatic, underscored by pear and white flowers. It comes as a surprise, but we have nice crispness, but a bit less tension than in 2018 and 2019. We harvested the Merlots very quickly afterwards, with two early parcels on the 15th of September. We set up a manual sorting table, but there was not much to eliminate as the grapes were very healthy with even ripeness. The degrees average 14% and the juice, strongly underscored by red berries (raspberry and cranberry), developed color at record speed (it would seem that this is a feature of the Bordeaux vintage). The next day we decided to take a 3-day break to allow our later ripening parcels to fully mature. The start to the harvest on Monday the 21st of September was early for the Madiran appellation in Peyros.”
Famille ORLIAC – Domaine de L’Hortus – Pic Saint Loup: rich, fruity and refined, this is a rather elegant vintage.
There were huge differences from one vineyard to the next for Martin Orliac, who was surprised about the significant disparity of the harvest with few grapes in the vineyards affected by frost and the bumper crop of the spared parcels. He had anticipated this very early crush that started on the 17th of August with the Muscat à petit grain. The harvest was completed in a hurry to avoid heavy rainfall with the last plot of handpicked Mourvèdre on the 19th of September; “As it turns out, the yields are acceptable as it wasn’t too dry and rained quite a bit, despite our fears the first days with the whites and the Syrahs following the springtime frost.
The harvest of the Grenache and Mourvèdre was normal over the following fortnight with perfectly well ripened grapes for all of the varieties, thereby producing fruity, tasty and juicy juice. The degrees were acceptable (13.5 for the reds and 13 for the whites) and the tannins were very nice as not too firm. This is an excellent vintage. The Syrah wines with lower yields are going to be richer with better structure, whereas the more limited amount of Grenache has provided plenty of richness and nice fruit”.
Domaines Dominique PIRON – Beaujolais: a vintage with great density.
The harvest was very early this year as it began at the end of August. Good quality fruit appeared before the crush, and the very hot and dry summer produced berries with highly concentrated sugar, but also good acidity. The 2020 vintage is similar to 2009, 2016 or even 2003, that is to say perfectly well balanced with very low yields.
Domaine Philippe et Sylvain RAVIER – Savoie: a surprising vintage.
The year was healthy without any vineyard diseases. The rain was warmly welcomed as it arrived after a dry spell and helped to boost the size of the harvest that began at the end of August. The grape juice and fermenting wines are already nice with good structure but also acidity. According to Sylvain Ravier, 2020 will not be limited in terms of volume.
Domaine ROUX – Bourgogne: nice top quality grapes.
Early picking is rather exceptional in Burgundy. But this time round, the harvest began on the 20th of August and lasted through to the 15th of September. Matthieu Roux explained the difficulty this year of deciding upon the kick off date and appeared relieved about the plentiful harvest despite the drought. Indeed, the first week was complicated, “The vines that had suffered from water stress because of the drought delivered a fairly low yield. But I was reassured by the good whites and the nice run-off juice obtained during the second week, as well as the quality of the Pinot Noirs that delivered beautiful extractions. As a result, the rare occurrence of picking some Pinot Noir vines before the Chardonnay grapes largely took place during the second week. As each parcel supplied a heterogeneous crop, the 102 samples analyzed each week for all of the 185 parcels, allowed us to obtain a well-balanced harvest, good pH levels and remarkable acidity”.
Château de TRACY – Pouilly-Fumé: a fine vintage is in sight
Picking began on the 24th of August with special permission to start, as the official harvest date was normally the 31st. “Everything went really well, I hope that it will last,” explained Juliette D’Assay on the 11th September, which was the final day. “We were happy about the light showers in August. The harvest was nice, the grapes were healthy and the quantity produced was acceptable. We had to pick really fast as the degrees started to skyrocket due to sunny weather conditions: the team of harvesters and our new press allowed us to work swiftly. The rapid fermentations are also coming