Vouvray is an appellation within the Loire Valley in France. This relatively small growing area is known for producing some of the truly great Chenin Blanc made. In "the States" most producers who make varietal Chenin Blanc ferment it dry resulting in a crisp and zippy white wine. In Vouvray however the wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape are produced "off dry" meaning they leave some residual sugar in the wine making them slightly sweet. This sugar though is balanced by fairly high acid in most cases giving the wines balance and preventing them from becoming cloying.
The wines from Vouvray are some of the most sought after and can be quite expensive. Events in Vouvray in just the last week illustrate the peril for any growing region in the world that lurks throughout the growing season, and while what happened there appears to be mostly contained to this single appellation it illustrates how localized some of these challenges can be for farmers of wine grapes around the globe.
On Thursday morning we were tasting though a new and exciting portfolio with an importer and distributor of European wines. He told us that just days earlier he had heard from one of the wineries in Vouvray that he represents that the area had been hit by a hail storm. The hail stones were the size of golf balls! In a brief one hour period the storm wiped out 90 percent of the Chenin Blanc grape crop for the 2013 growing season! The storm hit when the vines were at their most vulnerable, during flowering when the tender new grape clusters are just forming referred to as "the set." Known to grape farmers as "shatter" the flowers or depending on timing the barely formed clusters are broken loose from the vine, or shattered destroying the fruit for the season, since grape vines only set a single crop each year.
For parts of France like Vouvray this may be as devastating as the extraordinarily tough back to back growing seasons of 2010 and 2011 in the Western appellations of the United States. Parts of France in 2012 harvested only about 60 percent of their normal grape crop due to a cool and tough growing season, what was harvested was of only moderate quality. Follow this up with a tough start to 2013 that we just described and the effects for growers and winemakers and even more so consumers are significant.
For wine consumers it is "le catastrophe" as you encounter diminished quality, so wines are less than what you normally expect, coupled with small crops restricting supply causing prices to increase for not very good wine, that there is little of. The situation for 2013 Vouvray is reminiscent of that for 2010 Zinfandel. That year was the coolest in Northern California in 50 years; fruit especially late ripening varietals like Zinfandel would simply not ripen. Growers began drastically reducing canopy to get the grapes some sun in the hopes of spurring the fruit to ripen. Almost immediately Sonoma and Napa counties were hit with days of plus 100-degree temps. Well the Zinfandel ripened and kept on going right into rasining. In parts of Sonoma County virtually the entire crop was destroyed. And while the timing was different than the events in France this last week the result for consumers was similar. For growers and winemakers it is just as devastating as their cash flow for that year is virtually wiped out.
Every year of grape growing, harvest, winemaking and wine consuming is different, and knowing early on of weather and other challenges can help consumers prepare for and insulate themselves from these unpleasant results. In the case of lovers of Vouvray you will likely see the 2011 and 2012 vintage wines get snapped up quickly as enthusiasts for that wine realize that there will be little 2013 and what does reach the market will likely be expensive.
We continue to hear from many domestic producers that they simply did not make certain wines in 2010 and 2011 due to supply restrictions on grapes, lack of quality or both. Talking to your trusted wine professional will help consumers avoid these restrictions and price spikes, so we encourage you to ask about your favorite varietals and how they are doing in the particular appellations where they are farmed. By know the growing conditions and progress it will help you avoid "le catastrophe" of not finding your favorites or perhaps over paying for them in a tough year.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.
George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party - a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo and is the wine editor for Coeur d'Alene Magazine (www.cdamagazine.com). You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.