Harvest time approaches – what are the first indicators for vintage 2021

September and harvest has either commenced or is imminent. In a year where climate has dominated news headlines and political agendas, and has challenged so many, we look for early indicators on vintage 2021.

This year has been no less than epic with frosts that wiped out swathes of European vines in Spring, rain fall that has delivered fatal floods, drought that has scorched the earth and fuelled wild-fires that have stretched across north-west America, Greece and Spain and Hurricane Ida, which has flooded parts of south and north-west USA and caused over US$50billion of damage – to name a few of the head-line grabbers. These conditions, with the backdrop of a global pandemic, have felt nothing short of biblical and provide enormous credence to the increased intensity in the climate change dialogue.

So, the challenges for vineyards managers have been phenomenal this year with the key regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Rhone all affected. At the start of the harvest period – what indicators are there for the 2021 vintage?

The severe frosts in April saw vineyards across Europe illuminated with Paraffin candles trying to protect precious vines. Sadly, even at this early stage in the year, productivity predictions were gloomy, with losses of 10 – 30% muted. And then, the rains came. Frost-weakened vines, deluged with rain were vulnerable to the principle threat of the year – mildew. One Pomerol estate manager stated that 2021 was the worst year for mildew in 40 years, causing 30 – 60% reduction in productivity.

The Merlot grape is particularly susceptible to mildew and even top St Emilion estates, Cheval Blanc and Angelus recently commented on the challenges faced and the importance of the last few weeks of September before harvest needing to be warm and dry. Precise vine management and green harvesting tactics are being used to help ventilate the grape clusters and keep them free of Botrytis. A warm harvest period is also an advantage for the Cabernets – which are difficult to ripen in cold, wet conditions. So the challenges aren’t over.

Technical Director of Chateau Cheval Blanc, Pierre-Olivier Clouet, stated recently “Making wine always means leaving a lot of room in the bottle for the climatic conditions of the vintage itself… that is the magic of wine. The pleasure for the team is to be confronted with the different challenges that each different vintage presents. That is how the domaine’s portfolio becomes more complex and more diverse.”

So true, and great to reflect the variety of a number of vintages in a vertical from one producer as well as in a varied and diversified collection of investment wines.

2021 is a technically challenging vintage, without doubt. The superbly resourced investment wine estates, who also have the benefit of some of the best terroir in the world, are better equipped to deliver great wines, but 2021 wines will be lower than average in supply. Only once the harvest is complete will we get the full picture to what extent.

Across ‘the pond’, in California, their harvest is underway and, unsurprisingly, reduced yields are already being reported. Drought conditions and epic wild-fires have ravaged the wine-growing regions with a number of estates reporting 50% losses. Water allowances were imposed on some growers, resulting in vineyards sacrificing this year’s crop to save the vines. Volume has certainly been hit, some wineries may have issues with smoke taint but there are also estates reporting “excellent to outstanding” grape conditions with high concentration.

Science suggests that some of these climatic influences are here for the foreseeable and the wine industry sees the green agenda as key for the future. Is 2021 a watershed vintage illustrating the effect of a changing environment? Time will tell.

Unfortunately, this is the second harvest that Covid-19 has prevented the Vin-X team from taking clients to visit Bordeaux during this most exciting time in the vineyards. 2022 is in the diary – see our Events Gallery for insight to next year’s Chateaux tastings.

To stay in touch with the latest news on the 2021 harvest and vintage predictions, follow our blog and speak to us on 0203 384 2262.