We are always cautious in the early phases of a wine’s development. Humility, rather than brash promises about a young wine and what we think we may have achieved, is a better value for a business or brand.
The contrasts with season 2021 couldn’t be more pronounced. 2021 was characterised as a cool wet difficult year. 2022 was the opposite – completely opposite! Hot dry and disease free. Whilst we very much like the way that our 2021 wines are developing in the cellar, the intensity of fruit and colour with a balance of power and tannin of the 2022’s show a lot of promise.
This vintage, it was warm early, it was consistently hot throughout the summer and it’s still (unseasonally) warm as we enter late autumn. And it delivered very little rain – on average 15-20 mm per month only down the dry “Cardan corridor”. The vines and vineyard more closely resembled southeast Australia than southwest France. Weeks of 35 degree temperatures impacted all parts of the local ecosystem. Deciduous plants – vines included – started to shed their leaves at the end of August as the ground dried out and heated up.
In our vineyards, the Hourcat Sud Cabernet Franc plot is the more naturally wet terroir. Except for a small amount of sunburn sustained to a few young berries on the more sun exposed rows, it looked like a normal season of high-quality clean grapes. Only minor deselection of fruit to minimise plant stress where specific vines were overloaded plus holding back de-leafing towards ripening was necessary.
In the more exposed drier Merlot block, a very different strategy was required. Two thirds of this vineyard were replanted in 2014. In the middle section of the plot, these younger vines struggled to find the water they needed and growing fruit either deselected itself or had to be reduced in order to ensure that the vines could maintain enough momentum towards ripening. The top section of Merlot block demonstrated that its roots have made good progress in sending its roots down deeper and are starting to really show, after eight years, what they will be capable of in the many years ahead. The 65 year old vines tended to take things more in their stride although initial fruit set in early June could have more consistent.
The combination of a long term organic viticulture strategy – deeper roots, better soil and resilient vines – together with the first tentative trials in regenerative farming – full grass cover in all rows across the season helped reduce soil temperatures, water evaporation and carbon loss in the high heat – showed their value.
The Merlot harvest was our earliest ever on September 10th followed by Cabernet Franc a week later. Overall, the harvest was larger in volume than 2021 due to the healthy nature of the grapes and the season overall. Individual berries were unsurprisingly smaller with the hot dry conditions and contributed to the amazing colours and concentration of fruit in the young wines. Pleasingly the tannin levels are not excessive although careful fermentation and preparation of the young wines was carried out with more detail than ever. Our investment in one new 1000 litre vat (to completely fill up the winery space) was timely and put to excellent use.
The short summary for 2022 is that of a hot dry year that has produced a good quantity of potentially great wine. Barrel maturation and continued vigilance will give us the answer.