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VINTAGE 2012 – Northern Rhône (Comments from Maison M. Chapoutier / December 12th, 2012)

VINTAGE 2012 – Northern Rhône

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Comments from Maison M. Chapoutier / December 12th, 2012

An early vegetative nipped in the bud

After a 2011-2012 winter among the driest since 2000, especially during the months from January to March (only 80mm in total over three months), we could have feared an incomplete refill of water reserves, especially for the deepest sedimentary soils. In this context the soils, hardly affected by the exceptional cold wave of early February, warmed up earlier, under the influence of very cool conditions (the hottest month of March within the period 2000-2012). All the ingredients were then gathered for an early start of the vegetation. In fact, the first buds broke around March 20th, on our better drained and exposed plots (especially the Syrahs on Méal). The very regular rains of April (18 days) quickly removed the fears of an early water deficit: even deep loess soils of Chante-Alouette were then naturally fully refilled. The bud break quickly arrived around April 1st, but the concomitant cooling down (a temperature on average 4 ° C lower than in 2011 throughout the month!) had quickly stopped the growing phasis.

A difficult Spring

This vegetation with few activity throughout April and the totals of precipitation (the biggest accumulation from April to May since 2000, with 276mm!) have naturally favored fungal pressure. The growing inoculum of mildew was only waiting for the next growing season to explode … During this slowed growing season, the stimulation of natural defenses of the vines by our preparations of nettle, horsetail and wicker probably had a very good impact on the subsequent behavior of the plots in this sensitive context. Paradoxically, this slowed growth has probably helped to limit the impact of hail that has marked the beginning of spring, as we had a few established vegetation therefore still soft and pliable. In fact, we have been totally unaffected by these storms.

The 2012 Vintage: Pure Rhône Classicism

The thermal kinetics remaining very sluggish throughout the month of May and the first decade of June, flowering was spread over three weeks. Thus, on June 10th, 2012 was the latest over the 13 last vintages together with 2004, despite being the earliest regarding the bud break. A very strange spring season, in fact. Marsanne, in these particular thermal conditions, expressed quite exceptional heterogeneity of flowering. It was thus not uncommon to find, on a same vine plant, clusters that reached the “pellet” or “pea” stage, alongside other clusters from the same rank that still did not have flowered! This heterogeneity, at that stage, emerged as the signature of the vintage and announced already a choice to make between harvesting with multiple sortings or having a more fatalistic but also sincere vision of the vintage and its expression.

A salutary summer

Between near-record lateness and no water as the fruit set was getting closer, we needed a good dose of optimism to see things through rose-tinted glasses in late June. Summer has finally (and logically) actually installed the first days of July. The water deficit happened gradually and continuously from that date until approaching 100mm at mid-August, a sufficient deficit in almost all of our soils to slow or even stop the growth and stimulate maturation. It is interesting to note that over the past 13 years, a serie of vintages (2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012) started early with little or no loss in water and that within this group, 2001 and particularly 2000 were the closest to 2012 regarding the consequences of the deficit. The similarity between 2000 and 2012 is particularly striking when we express this evolution not in calendar time, but in “thermal” time, much more illustrative of the rhythm of the plant (sum of effective temperatures > 10 °C, giving a clear idea of the phenology). 2012 therefore shares with 2000 and 2001 the same water conditions during the summer which allowed an interesting limitation of the berries’ growth, offsetting mechanically early conditions disinclined to stimulate the synthesis of tannins and to limit cell multiplication in the skin, between fruit set and the closing of the cluster.

Quite fresh flowering conditions have limited the number of seeds per berry (2-3 on average, compared to a potential of 4 under perfect conditions of flowering) and thus limited in proportion their contribution to tannic potential. In addition, the water stress at the end of the maturation (but quite bearable and beneficial considering the number of grapes and the density of plantation) has often supported the lignification of the seeds: on the granites as well as on the better drained sedimentary hillsides (Pavillon, Ermite, Meal, the upper Greffieux), stems’ water potentials reached 14 bars at the end of August. Consequently, the maturity of the seeds being, in many situations, reached early, the main problem for reds was, in the context of a late vintage, to get perfect skin maturity that our incessant berries’ tastings aimed at assessing throughout the harvest period. It should be noted that the minimum daily temperatures were, on September, the highest since 2000 (13.4° C). At the same time, maximum temperatures were moderate (22.6° C), so that the temperature variations during the month of September were the lowest since 2000 (hardly 9° C).

These limited amplitudes slowed the accumulation of pigments and aromas. This clamped aromatic certainly favored dominating mineral notes and largely explains the true signature of the origins. This is a major difference with 2000 that instead had large thermal amplitudes (13.2 ° C) conducive to the expression of fruit and color. In short, the climate has created all the ingredients to make 2012 a more telluric 2000, quite comparable in terms of density and mature tannins, but less spontaneously focused on color and fruit. Only patience and nerve during the harvest have achieved comparable potential and color extractions. Concerning white wines, and despite the particularly hot end of August (only 2003 and 2009 saw hottest temperatures in the last three weeks of August) particularly conducive to a significant reduction in malic levels, the phenological heterogeneity was incompletely erased. Except for extreme situations of lateness (Ermite, Chante-Alouette), we have yet limited the sortings to consciously make the richness of some clusters live together with the tension of late clusters imposedy the Nature. An exact photography of the vintage…

End of the season for winemakers with cold blood…

The cumulative rainfalls in September and October were not very important compared to the reference period (30 mm lower than the average of September-October since 2000). But the frequency of rainy days has unconsciously maintained a sense of moribund fall (11 days from September 1st to October 15th ). Paradoxically, these rainfalls, interspersed with dry weather episodes often carried by the wind from the North, were rather favorable to the weakening of the skins, with berries alternating phases of turgidity and concentration. This was a real acrobat role we had to play, between the obsession of full phenolic maturity and the growing fear of botrytis. The temptation was often high, at the end of a rainfall, to rush on picking. We did not do so.

The balance between these two objectives (successful phenolic ripeness and perfect health) was, just for once in the context of global warming, achieved at moderate natural degrees with “typically northern” acidities, quite comparable (or slightly higher), from Ampuis to Tain, to those we had in 2000.

A few dates…

Whites began to be harvested on September 20th for the Hermitage in Les Murets and the Granits on the lieu-dit St. Joseph, ending on the last days of October with Ermite.

For reds, the southern part of St. Joseph was picked nearly at the same time than whites, between the 20th and 25th of September, like the heart of Crozes on sedimentary soils. The Côte-Rôtie and Saint Joseph (Northern part) awaited until the first days of October. Pavillon, Ermite and Northern Crozes, on granitic soils, were finally harvested between the 5th and 8th of October.

TASTING THE WINES

LA MORDOREE (Côte-Rôtie): Full of aromas, a profusion of violets, subtle hints of soot. Long, delicate, with freshness and ultra delicate tannins.

COTEAU DE CHERY (Condrieu): Another great expression of Condrieu, where granite overshadows the « varietality » of Viognier. Exoticism is here implicitly in support of lemon tart, hot stone and rosemary notes. The mouth, crisp and enhanced by a noble bitterness, is a reference for purity.

LES GRANITS White (Saint-Joseph): White peach, green tea, and stones’ notes made it already an aromatic symphony. The finish is long, well structured with a persistent and very classy bitterness.

LES GRANITS Red (Saint-Joseph): Profound dark aromatic typical of the wine with black currant jelly, graphite, Sarawak pepper. Tense, very « northern Rhône » style, with mature tannins.

LE CLOS (Saint-Joseph): Very precise expression of fruits, heady fragrance of blackberry cream with hints of asphalt and pencil lead that expresses powerfully his great granitic origins. Luscious, smooth, without heavy character.

LES VARONNIERS (Crozes-Ermitage): Probably at this ungrateful stage of the end of the malolactic fermentation, one of the most extroverted wines of the vintage, with notes of red fruit, long pepper and musk. Salivating, consistent and nuanced delicate tannins.

LE PAVILLON (Ermitage): An aromatic festival under construction: fresh mulberry, syrup of violets, humus, mocha…A big structure, with tannins giving flesh to this impressive wine. The long finish is legendary.

L’ERMITE White (Ermitage): Beautiful reduction on noble celery, stone, graphite, enriched with notes of candied citrus. Large amplitude, great structure and salinity.

L’ERMITE Red (Ermitage): Although still in the difficult stage of completing malolactic fermentation, it already shows the full arsenal of the great aromatics of Syrah on granite soil: hot stone, roast chicken, creamy black fruit, menthol, graphite. The palate shows an unforced density expressed by powerful tannins yet subtle, soft, with ash notes and a noble austerity. An iron fist in a velvet glove…

LE MEAL Red (Ermitage): Nose of kirsch enhanced by notes of laurel, camphor shades and carbon. Generous, homogeneous, spherical-like, ending with compact tannins and flavors of cocoa.

LE MEAL White (Ermitage): The vintage at the moment seems to suppress the natural exuberance of the cru; nice aromas with tomato leaf, almond milk and meaty notes. The palate reminds the solar character of the cru by its amplitude and the strong honey character, but the “reduction” approach already began to make it more refined.

DE L’OREE (Ermitage): Still reserved, the nose expresses roasted notes, citrus and dried herbs. The mouth is more approachable at this stage, the wine is already balanced, onctuous, focused with roasted notes.

LES GREFFIEUX (Ermitage): The typical accessibility of the Hermitage on sedimentary soils, defined in a rich, licorice, exotic aromas dominated by fruitcake notes. On the palate, compact with sweet tannins and empyreumatic aromas.

LIEU-DIT PAYROLLES (Saint-Péray): This « late » terroir shows a breathtaking aromatic freshness between lemon and kumbawa, enhanced by a nice reduction. The natural richness of the Marsanne seems restrained on these granites in altitude, delivering a crystalline and pure structure. Crystal-clear water…

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