Harvest comes earlier than ever in the Loire Valley

January 15, 2021
By Ioni Doherty

In 2020, Harvest came earlier than ever to the Loire Valley with he majority of harvest taking place at the end of the month; a fortnight earlier than ever before.

This earliness and the contrasting weather in September (a hot, dry, almost scorching period followed by rainy spells), make this year special. These conditions meant that winegrowers needed be decisive and move quickly to determine the profile of the wines.

The harvest is estimated at 3 million hectolitres per hectare, a figure above of the five-year average but below 2018 which was another warm vintage.

Even with early harvests right along the Loire River, from the west where it meets the Atlantic, good quality grapes were reported. Picked from 24 August, minimal sorting was required for perfect fermentation of Muscadet and  melon de Bourgogne wines.

Chardonnays and Pinot Noir, intended for the Crémant-de-Loire, saw a first pass of picking on 17 August but the majority started at the end of the month, this was 2 weeks earlier than ever before.

The Loire’s famous Cremant de Loire sparkling wines continue to find interest in the Australian market. Cremant was sought out by customers looking for exceptional méthode traditionelle sparkling wine at a more attractive price point than Champagne. With volume up 66% in Australia, will this be the year that sparks Cremant as a serious contender to Champagne’s sparkling crown?

In the centre of the Loire, home to the famous Sauvignon Blanc appellations of Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and Reuilly, bud burst came eight days earlier than the ten year average, following a warm winter with average temperatures 3.5 °C above seasonal norms. Vine maturity accelerated, with flowering appearing in mid-May, two weeks earlier than the ten year average. The resulting harvest took place from 27 August, with sugars racing higher and acids dropping, it was quickly time to pick.

The 2020 Sauvignons are aromatically very rich, lots of white peach, pear with distinct anise and fennel notes, good density and complexity and are shaping up to be excellent in quality.

Depending on the dates of harvest, different profiles of Chenin still wines are emerging according to tastings session feedback. Those made from early pickings are fresh with good liveliness while those picked later indicate ripe fruit profiles, and concentrated flavours.

The heart of the Sauvignon de la Touraine harvest took place during the week of 7 September and maturities have evolved very quickly to give very ripe juices. The wines offer aromatic profiles with notes of citrus fruit, lemon, and they have a good balance.

The warm weather after the rain in August has accelerated the concentration of the Grolleaux, Cabernets and Gamays harvested for the rosés. Today the juices are on the fresh red fruit spectrum and taste clean and bright. Work in the cellar is underway to reveal the balance and freshness that characterise the Loire Valley rosés and which remain a favourite with Australian palettes.

Cabernet Franc and Gamay are alsofinding a receptive audience in both sommelier circles and high end consumers. Chinon has seen the biggest volume  increase in Loire wines being exported to Australia, the quintessential example of Cabernet Franc, these wines appeal given their premium price points in both on and off trade, yet we are also seeing more entry level wines finding form with retailers.

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