As everyone has already seen and heard, there is a very serious drought in southern Europe at the same time as several heat waves have hit the countries. In Provence, it feels as if the whole summer has been one long heat wave and in the south of France the temperature in several places is now in mid-September above 30 degrees.
So in the midst of all this, what will the vintage 2022 be? The harvest has now lasted a few weeks in Provence and the quality of the grapes is reported to be good while the volume will be better than for the frost-affected 2021, more on this later.
Water crisis and heat waves
For virtually all departments in France, there are restrictions on water use, ranging from “General caution” to “Crisis”. An estimation is that just below half of France’s acreage is classified as “Crisis” (red areas), where “Only consumption to ensure the exercise of priority uses are allowed (health, civil safety, drinking water, sanitation)” !
In Provence’s wine areas, only the coastal parts have milder restrictions, otherwise the strict restrictions according to “Crisis” apply. A dwindling water reservoir is the popular swimming lake St Cassien northwest of Cannes where the water level is now 6 -7 meters below normal summer level.
If you study the rainfall for the city of Le Luc, which is located in the middle of Provence’s vineyard area and 35 km from the coast, the rainfall during the year has only been half of a “normal year“.
For all months except August this year, precipitation is below “normal”. In addition, Provence has been hit by three – four heat waves that further increase evaporation and with risk of getting burnt grapes or dried grapes.
Grape harvest 2022
With the extremely hot weather, the grape harvests started in record time, the earliest being the department of Aude in Occitania, formerly Languedoc-Roussillon, which began harvesting as early as July 25. In Provence, the harvest started 1 1/2 week into August, which is ten to fifteen days earlier than 2021.
The dry and hot weather gives grapes that are smaller and more concentrated, which reduces the volume but at the same time the grapes are very healthy as diseases due to moisture, such as leaf mold and botrytis, have been rare so despite the extreme weather, the forecast looks promising in terms of volume. The latest forecast for Provence is +14% compared to the average for the last five years and +18% compared to the frost-affected year 2021.
For the whole of France, the forecast right now is as much as 44 million hectolitres, just above the average for the last five years. The forecast for the harvests in Italy and Spain points to minus 10%, so perhaps this year France will have the largest wine production?
Grape quality in Provence
Thanks to the hot dry weather, the grapes in Provence are very healthy and concentrated without the attack of, for example, leaf mold. For those who aim for fresh wines with a good acidity, this year it is extra important not to harvest too late as the acidity then has dropped. For example, Domaine Rabiega, in Côtes de Provence, harvested the last parcel of the late-ripening Cabernet sauvignon grape as early as September 6, all to bring elegance and freshness to the wines.
Harvesting and sorting of Cabernet sauvignon grapes at Domaine Rabiega
Especially for the aromatic fresh rosé wine from Provence, this year it is extra important to harvest early in the cold hours of the mornings, preferably already at night.
The weather during the harvest has been perfect and the rain that came in mid-August was beneficial for the thirsty vines. The lack of precipitation means that the vine suffers from so-called water stress and already at the end of July, affected vines in Provence began to have yellow-colored leaves and where younger vines that have not had time to develop deep root systems are more sensitive.
What happens is that the vine uses the water to survive itself, thus photosynthesis is turned off and then the grape ripening stops. For the vineyards that received part of the rain in August, with more than 30 mm, hopefully the grape ripening has started again.
Very good wine year 2022
All in all, 2022 looks like it could be a very good vintage in Provence and definitely much better than the more mediocre vintage 2021 that suffered from frost and in parts of Provence also from fire damage. What are the challenges for the winemaker this year is to, as always, harvest at the right time and that the water stress has not made the grape ripening too uneven.
Sources: Vitisphere, CIVP
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Göran Boman, Author of the books “Provence – White, red and also rosé wines” and “The Wines of Provence – Tricolour”.