Incredibly 2019 is the sixth good quality vintage in the Loire.
Incredible because the Loire has never in its recorded history seen six consecutive good to very good vintages – previously a run of three good years has tended to be the maximum that the Loire enjoyed.
Since the start of the new millennium, all years with the exception of 2013 have been at the very least decent. Dreadful years like 1972, 1974, 1977 and 1984 are, for the moment at least, an increasingly distant memory.
2019, however, has not been without its complications and anguish. Yields are well down, especially in Muscadet and Anjou.
‘In terms of volume it is catastrophic!’ held René Papin of Château Pierre-Bise (Anjou). Producers there are looking at yields of 20 hl/ha or less.
Once again several April frosts, starting on 4th April, caused severe losses in parts of the Loire notably the Pays Nantais and Anjou. Over the last four years only 2018 was frost-free. Some unfortunate producers have been hit in 2016, 2017 and now 2019 giving them a succession of short vintages. Fortunately 2018 was a big harvest.
There were other complications. In early June, cold and wet conditions during some of the flowering affected fruit set. This was followed by drought from around 10th June to 21st/22nd September, so grapes were often small with thick skins.
‘Vines to the west of Chinon on very sandy soil have been particularly affected by the drought,’ said Francis Jourdan, president du Syndicat des Vins de Chinon.
Also, late June and late July saw sharp heat spikes with temperatures hitting the upper 30s˚C, even 40˚C. This intense heat frazzled grape bunches most exposed to the sun, especially those that faced the afternoon sun. Chenin Blanc appears to be particularly prone to sun damage, Cabernet Franc much less so.
In contrast, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé have enjoyed another good vintage both quality and quantity.
Early indications are that the reds may be less powerful and concentrated than the 2018s with a greater emphasis on fresh fruit. There is considerable enthusiasm for the whites in comparison to last year. ‘For me, 2018 is not a good white vintage – 2019 has the balance, minerality and freshness that the 2018s lack,’ says Jacky Blot of Domaine de la Taille aux Loups (Montlouis), ‘a great vintage!’ Others, like Bernard Fouquet (Vouvray), caution that it is too early to make such judgments.
There will not be much sweet wine made this year. In part this is due to the drought ending around 21st/22nd September followed by a period of rain. A bigger, factor, however is the move away from sweet wine because it is so difficult to sell. We are just not drinking enough of these wines.
In Vouray, Fouquet and François Pinon made no sweet wine this year as they made enough in 2018. Even in the Grand Cru Quarts de Chaume producers are making dry Chenin. At least 80% of Château de Suronde’s production is dry and Domaine Belargus, owner of nearly a quarter of the appellation, made only dry in 2019.
Jim Budd has been writing about Loire wine since 1988, a year after he bought a house with his friends in the Cher Valley. Jim writes for Wine Behind The Label as well as his own blog Jim’s Loire.
Geography: Climate varies from maritime (Nantais) to cool continental (Upper Loire)
Grape varieties: Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc
Regions: The Nantais (Muscadet), Middle Loire (Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, Vouvray, Chinon), Upper Loire (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Quincy, Reuilly)
Style of wines: White: sparkling, dry, medium, sweet. Red