Having lived most of my life in a city, I had never felt particularly bothered by the weather – other than how it might dictate my activities on a weekend, or whether to take an umbrella to work. But when I woke up this morning to a heavy Provençal downpour, I began to worry about what this would mean for the vines.
Last year was an awful year for the vineyards of Provence when a sudden and violent hailstorm at the end of May wiped out thousands of hectares of vines.
2013 has also been a tough year for vines, albeit for very different reasons – and herein lies the truism that ‘no two vintages are ever the same’.
This year we had heavy rains throughout the flowering season, which meant that the critical stage in the vineyard year, that of pollination and fertilisation, was severely impeded – causing many flowers not to be fertilised. This leads to what is known as poor ‘fruit set’ (coulure) whereby irregular bunches of grapes are formed and which are more sensitive to developing various grape diseases (many producers had big problems with mildew this year, some losing up to 80% of their fruit) but also the yields of the vines decrease, often substantially.
So having lived through heavy Spring rains and the ever-present threat of hailstorms, we had a lovely warm summer and everything seemed quite settled – until the past few days when the weather forecasts ominously starting predicting thunder storms.
So why is rain a worry? Well it isn’t necessarily bad and of course it is a vital component in the balance of healthy, happy vines. But when heavy rains come just before or during harvest time, it can lead to a swelling of the grapes as the thirsty roots lap up the refreshing rainwater. This can lead to a dilution of sugars (potential alcohol) and a reduction of the vital natural acidity in the grapes. So more juice, lower acid and less alcohol combined with the increased risk of mould caused by the dampness left in the vines by the rain means we could have another challenging vintage this year.
Thankfully the weather for the next week or so is looking hot and windy (the mistral comes in very useful here, in fact as it often following the rains and acts like natures hairdryer).
So, fingers crossed that the rain passes, the warm and breezy weather dries everything up and hopefully we can have another lovely vintage of Mirabeau.