Thu 26 Sep 2013

2013 Harvest? We’re Still Waiting!


25 years or so ago, this was normal: people harvested in October. And even then, most grapes were picked at a much earlier stage in their ripeness. Fashions have changed, tastes have evolved and, by and large, we prefer drinking wines that are riper, fruitier and rounder.

Two things have happened to make the grape harvest start so much earlier: the climate is a little warmer and grape yields have reduced in size. Lower yields often mean better quality, and besides, a smaller crop has a better chance of reaching optimum ripeness.

The Rhône, photographed from L'Hermite, Hermitage, on 10th September

The Rhône, photographed from L’Hermite, Hermitage, on 10th September

And so harvest dates were brought forward to September and even earlier: the heatwave 2003 vintage was largely done and dusted by the middle of August.

Ten years later and by the end of September little has been picked, and hardly any red grapes at all. We didn’t really have a spring to speak of, just a long winter, with snow over Easter. Flowering was put back by at least three weeks and nothing really changed until the summer, which of course has turned out to be exceptionally good.

The situation now is one of fine weather but with cool nights and a harvest that is only very slowly coming to ripeness but there is still a lot to do. I was in the Rhône ten days ago and the syrah was barely sweet, though otherwise very healthy looking. The cellars are immaculate; everyone has been busy cleaning or bottling a previous vintage. Growers were still tinkering in the vineyards, removing excess growth, or grapes that had not changed colour and so would never ripen.

In general, it is going to be a smallish crop. Some grapes suffered from a poor flower set; that is the case of grenache in the Rhône Valley. In other cases, lack of rain means that grape berries have remained very small, which of course should be good for quality.

Chablis, photographed in June

Chablis, photographed in June

For some growers, 2013 will already have been blighted by hail. For some growers in the Côte de Beaune, this will be their second hail-damaged vintage in succession

Quality is looking good. England might be about to experience something of a record vintage both in quality and quantity. Champagne starts next week as does Beaujolais. Other regions might start a week later and doubtless there will be people still harvesting in November.

Fingers crossed…

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer


  1. James Chapman says:

    We visited Sainte Eulalie in the Minervois towards the end of September and met Isabelle Coustal who said that the vindange would be a lot later this year and would probably be at least another few weeks. Elsewhere in the Languedoc, in the Luberon and around Aix the situation was the same with very few machine or picker in the fields.

  2. Talking of England the harvest started last Wednesday at Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex. Very healthy looking Rondo and Pinot Noir grapes coming in first, although recent high humidities and the current rain causing some mould issues. Need every single berry we can get this year after 2012s appalling wet conditions so fingers crossed. Come along on one of the vineyard tours and see for yourselves…

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