Guide to the Loire regions



‘purée septembrale’                    

 …the pure Septembral juice…’
                           – François Rabelais (1494-1553) from Pantagruel’ 1532

Whilst Rabelais might have written of his ‘purée septembrale’, one should note that the Gregorian calendar (introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII) didn’t catch up the ten days lost until 29 years after the writer’s death in 1553. For the most part, Chinon has traditionally harvested in October…

This season was distinguished by a hard winter followed by a warm and very dry spring. By the time I was preparing my research for this report in April the growers were already claiming to be three weeks ahead of the normal growing cycle. Spring frosts remained a concern right through to mid-May although the risk passed without incident. The weather wasn’t great in July and August proved rainy, although by the end of the month the vines were still two weeks ahead of a normal season.

One grower stated that it was generally the more precocious growing seasons that ultimately are responsible for producing the greatest vintages. Let’s see…

The back-to-back vintages of 2009 and 2010 are to the current generation what the 1989s and 1990s were to their parents. This year didn’t start off with particularly high expectations, however. It was a year of quirky conditions and wild fluctuations in temperature. There was widespread frost on the evening of 2/3 May and more isolated problems as late as the evening of the 14/15th May. Summer was hot and dry and by the end of August there were concerns over hydric stress. This was a season where growers who elect to grass-down their vineyards saw both the costs and benefits of such an exercise. Initially, the grass was competing with the vines for moisture, but by the end of September the conditions had turned and the amount of rain that had fallen during the month was now starting to dilute and rot the crop. At this point the grass came into its own, helping to absorb the excess water. Regardless, this was a complicated harvest with picking needing to be done as quickly as possible if the harvest wasn’t to be lost to rot; the vines on the saturated plains being most at risk. The harvest started in the Véron on the 7th October and lasted for around ten days. On the evening of the 18th October the temperature actually dipped below freezing, although practically everything was picked by this stage and in the cellar.

This was not a vintage for mechanical harvesting since triage was necessary at every stage. Interestingly, the rainfall during the season in 2010 is not dissimilar (at 265mm) to that of 2009; it’s purely a function of when it fell. Sunlight hours too (at around 1,328) are also comparable and whilst the crop was short by about 10% (partly as a result of frost and the need to triage), the loss was mostly due to the size and weight of the bunch and individual berries that made the difference:

2010 – 200 berries = 250 grams
2009 – 200 berries = 290 grams

Despite the complex vintage, the resulting wines are excellent. Distinguished by good fresh acidity, there is also weight, concentration and fruit. There was less rosé produced this year due to the thick skins (Philippe Alliet made none at all). Only time will tell (as it did between 1989 and 1990) which of these two vintages will ultimately be considered the greatest for this current generation.

Coming out of a severe winter, the spring was dry without either frost or rain. Flowering was homogenous and summer heat and drought gave conditions that were not dissimilar to those in 1989. The threat of summer hailstorms failed to materialize (although Nicolas Grosbois confessed to one lost parcel in Panzoult), with the summer drought eventually broken by four days of light rain in early September, revigourating the vegetation. The sunny weather further concentrated the crop and picking started in perfect conditions on the 5th October. Despite the warmth, this was considered a late harvest lasting until around the 20th of the month. This is an excellent year and one that delivered an abundant crop (echoes of 1989 and 1990). When quizzed, growers are more likely to compare the style to 1990 since there was more ripeness that in 1989, but these are supple wines where even the more serious examples can be broached early on. Expect the best to last a generation.

The year started badly with frost in April followed by a difficult flowering period. Summer was miserable; cool and wet, but the vintage was saved in by a warm September. Temperatures were still reaching 29 degrees Centigrade towards the end of the month and with a beneficial north-east wind, the vines eventually started to concentrate and ripen their fruit. The harvest was small (between 30-35hl/ha) and late (Joguet started on the 13th October and finished – as is usual - in Dioterie on the 20th). For those who were prepared to wait, the grapes were evenly ripe. The 2008s are ultimately recognized by their fresh acidity with the best examples deep in colour, well-structured with good fruit. Those wines produced from the limestone slopes should be capable of ageing for up to two decades.

A very difficult year producing wines that are generally too vegetal and green; everything detractors of Cabernet Franc hate. The season started with a very dry spring, but the summer was colder than usual with August best described as ‘fresh’. Rain induced an outbreak of mildew and the vines stressed. Some growers even resorted to using second generation bunches. September was the best month of the season although could not compensate for the lost ripening period. Needing to avoid further deterioration and loss to rot, the harvest was quick (Joguet picked over a 14 day window) and yields were down as a result. This is a minor year. Don’t expect wines to age much more than a decade.  

A warm spring led to early budding (around 30th March) with flowering equally advanced (8th June). High temperatures and good weather continued right through from budding to mid-August leading to some concerns over drought. By this stage the growers were anticipating another 2005 vintage, but it was not to be. The second half of August was more humid and temperatures dropped. September looked promising, but the rains arrived mid-month just at the onset of harvest meaning that picking needed to happen quickly. For those who elected to wait, there was a window between 23rd September and the 1st October, but this became a complicated year with low yields as growers’ jettisoned grapes in order to avoid anything that was remotely tainted. What remained were mostly small, hard-skinned berries with little juice. At Joguet the average yield was just 30hl/ha. The wines do have a reputation for being ‘hard’ and tannic although the best, whilst full bodied, concentrated and rich in alcohol (reflecting the positive aspects of the season) remain balanced and elegant. This was set to be another great vintage, stolen from the growers at the last moment.

This is a great year, with top examples expected to last for the next 25 to 30 years. The growing season was very early this year. Summer was perfect and delivered clean, healthy fruit. One issue was that the grapes achieved sugar ripeness easily, but phenolic ripeness took a little longer resulting in some higher alcohol examples. Vignerons generally agree that this is the best vintage since 1990 and comparable in greatness to 1947, 1964, 1976 and 1989. Picking started at Domaine Joguet (in Le Clos du Chêne Vert) on the 26th September with the harvested completed by 11th October.

A large crop of variable quality although 2004 is seen by some vignerons as a forgotten vintage. After a rainy August, the harvest started in early October in good conditions and lasted for around three weeks. Sporadic showers showers made picking conditions difficult towards the end. This is a ‘classic’ vintage, but unfortunately a year not generally appreciated by those who might have been introduced to Chinon by way of the 2003 or 2005 vintages.

The year of the great canicule with vineyards struggling in the heat and drought; one grower I met that year had lost 40% of his crop due to the fruit burning on the vine. The harvest, however, took place in ideal conditions with the long summer carrying through to the vintage - which was around 14 days earlier than normal. The ban de vendange was on the 10th September, with Domaine Joguet starting on the 18th September and finished on the 3rd October. Yields were understandably less than average due to the dry and stressful conditions. There was less rosé produced too, since the berries were too dry and concentrated to consider a saignée. Despite the problems encountered during the summer, I am a great fan of Cabernet Franc from this year; the wines are ripe, but also have managed to retain freshness; I’ve come across surprisingly few examples that really are confit.

A difficult and late summer, the crop was saved by the favourable conditions in September and October when the sun and an easterly wind helped to dry out the grapes and concentrate the juice. In the end the vintage produced some good, well balanced wines.

The climate was more favourable than in any of the past three vintages. With some modest summer rain and a warm and sunny September, the harvest started in the Véron around 4th October, The weather soon deteriorated, however, and it was necessary to pick and sort quickly. Not an outstanding vintage and there are few surprises.

Heavy rain at harvest ensured this is an average quality year with wines that have not rewarded keeping.

A difficult year, with conditions described as ‘tropical’. Rain at harvest and high humidity resulted in widespread rot. This year is generally ignored, although there were a few decent wines produced.

Rain at harvest produced mostly dilute, unripe and tannic wines. The crop started to rot before it was really ripe, widely written off as another difficult year.

A vintage producing delicate, supple if short-lived wines; it was, however, considered better than both 1998 and 1999.

After 1990, this is the best vintage of the decade, producing wines with deep colour and concentration. Some problems with hydric stress blocked maturity.

A good vintage - if overshadowed by the 1996s. There was more frost also this year.

Spring frosts again. Château de Coulaine lost 80% of its potential crop.

A cloudy and rainy harvest although there were some good, supple well balanced if early drinking wines produced. Better than both 1991 and 1992, but only just.

With the vines over-compensating for the loss in crop the previous year, 1992 produced a higher than average crop of rather light, simple and early drinking wines.

Like everywhere else in the Loire (and beyond) yields were reduced to below 5hl/ha due to the devastating spring frost. These wines are now very rare, but top examples are still well worth seeking out.

The climatic conditions were very close to those of 1989. Flowering commenced on the 20th May which was considered extremely early for this period. Rain in late summer helped to relieve some of the heat and water stress in the vines (with only 171mm, this is one of the driest years ever recorded in Chinon). The harvest started around the 20th September, about two weeks ahead of what would be considered normal. In the early stages of development, commentators believed this would be the even better than 1989. After two decades there is little to choose between them. Certain growers consider their 1990 whites to be even better than their reds.

Considered the vintage of the generation and some commentators would claim it as the vintage of the century. It was certainly the best year since 1964. Flowering was perfect and what followed was a long, hot, and precocious dry summer that produced a healthy and abundant crop. The harvest started around the 20th September, about three weeks earlier than what might have been considered usual. These were well structured wines, the best examples of which even after 20+ years, are still giving great pleasure.

Older Vintages – 20th Century

1988 – Mostly better than 1987, although the wines were firm in their youth
1987 – A classic vintage producing wines for early drinking
1986 – Good, but needed time in bottle to mature
1985 – Exceptional year although a relatively small crop.
1984 – Poor to average. Low acidity and very light wines
1983 – Good, despite being a very rainy year with over 600mm recorded.
1982 – Exceptional
1981 – Good. Low yields due to problems at flowering. Only 1,192 sunlight hours
1980 – Poor to average
1979 – Good
1978 – Good
1977 – Poor. Spring frosts ensured a 50% loss. Flowering only occurred on 23rd June
1976 – Early and exceptional harvest with 1,790 hours of sunlight hours recorded
1975 – Average
1974 – Average
1973 – Average
1972 – Average
1971 – Good
1970 – Good
1969 – Good to excellent
1968 - Average
1967 – Average
1966 – Average to good. The Clos de l’Echo was excellent, however
1965 – The latest ever recoded harvest: finally starting on the 22nd October
1964 – Best year of the decade. The Clos de l’Echo from this vintage is legendary.
1963 - Average
1962 – Good
1961 – Good to exceptional
1960 – Average to good. A large harvest producing fruity, light wines
1959 – Exceptional
1958 - Average
1957 – Good to very good but less than 50% of a normal harvest declared
1956 – A good year producing fresh and delicate wines
1955 – Very good to exceptional
1954 – Fairly good. Vigourous but lighter wines to be consumed young
1953 – Good to very good. Perfumed and round. Typical
1952 – Very good. Low alcohol and good fruit. Le Clos de l’Echo as good as the 1964
1951 – Poor
1950 – Large crop, average wines
1949 – Very good - well balanced and structured but a small harvest
1948 – Very good with low acidity and finesse
1947 – Exceptional
1946 - Good
1945 – Exceptional but extremely small vintage (only 134hl declared) due to frosts
1944 - Average
1943 – Good to very good
1942 – Good
1941 – Mediocre
1940 – Mediocre
1939 – Mediocre
1938 - Mediocre
1937 – Very good. A slow maturing vintage
1936 – Poor year producing light wines
1935 - Poor
1934 – Average to good
1933 – Average year producing hard wines
1932 – Mediocre
1931 – Mediocre
1930 - Mediocre
1929 – A great year producing elegant and long-lived wines
1928 – Great vintage
1927 – Poor vintage with hardly any crop
1926 – A great vintage but the harvest was negligible
1925 – Mediocre
1924 – Fruity but low alcohol wines
1923 – Good to excellent
1922 – Average
1921 – A perfect vintage
1920 – Hard wines
1919 – Light and fruity wines produced
1918 – Average
1917 – Average
1916 – Fruity and full bodied wines produced
1915 – Practically nothing picked
1914 – Rather like 1906 (apparently)
1913 – Average
1912 – Average
1911 – Perfect and well rounded
1910 – Average quality and almost no harvest
1909 – Average
1908 – Light and fruity wines
1907 – Mediocre
1906 – Very good
1905 – A huge vintage but ordinary wines
1904 – Light and fruity
1903 – Mediocre
1902 – Average
1901 – Good
1900 – Great vintage  

Clos des Capucins viewed from the Fortress

Older Vintages – 19th Century
1893 – The earliest vintage on record
1892 – Mediocre, but notable as the first year to produce wines from grafted vines
1891 – Good
1884 – Good
1881 – Good
1870 – Great year
1848 – Very great year
1834 – Very great year
1811 – Very great year. Along with 1834 the vintage of the century


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