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This year’s climatic events have upset the work of viticulturists and winemakers in the Rhône Valley Vineyards. Frost, hail, rains did not spare the region, with dire consequences for some companies. This vintage will be remembered for being atypical, but also for resulting in qualitative, fresh, lush and tasty wines, despite the heterogeneity in volumes that is common with France’s and the world’s vineyards in 2021. 

From a general standpoint, whether for white, rosé or red wines, 2021 is a year marked by quality in the Rhône Valley Vineyards. Structured, elegant, fresh and fruity will be the main keywords for this new vintage. Quality is immensely satisfying, with good natural acidity levels and excellent balance, despite lower yields in some parts of the vineyard, due to the difficult meteorological conditions.

The 2021 harvest in the Rhône Valley Vineyards was relatively late, it spread over time and was heterogeneous, with variations between plots and areas of France’s second largest AOC vineyard. Estates and wineries started picking grapes on Monday August 30th, 10 days later than in 2020, with the harvest extending until October in order for everyone to choose the optimal time for picking.

Excellent balance in the North and remarkable white wines

Despite this year’s climatic incidents (spring frost, abundant rain, occasional hail), winemakers in the northern part of the vineyard acknowledge the good resistance of some vines, while other plots suffered from the conditions, leading to the heterogeneity of this vintage. Harvested grapes are healthy, with excellent maturity.

Michel Chapoutier is grateful for this atypical vintage, that he considers a lucky opportunity: “We get back to climatic conditions that we were used to in the 90s, with cooler temperatures, later ripening of the grapes and less-advanced maturity levels. I must point out that the vintage is a component of climate, which, associated with soil and mankind, is what defines Terroir.
This year, the appellations Hermitage and Saint-Joseph are already showing their signature peppery and spicy character, with a more restrained fruit profile. Mineral years such as 2021 reveal the specificities of the soil. This atypical vintage is a chance! It is an opportunity for consumers to understand the impact of the vintage on the climate, relatively to terroir.”

Various oenologists have noted the beautiful balance of grape musts, between potential alcohol and total acidity. In the northern part of the vineyards, the 2021 vintage is expected to be characterized by the elegance and finesse of the wines.

“Viognier is performing well, with a beautiful freshness, a lively aromatic character and good pH levels”, Christophe Pichon, co-president of the appellation Condrieu, explains. “There is a lovely maturity of the whites, with more acidity than in previous years. We may have lighter wines, less generous and sun-drenched. Maybe wines that are more in line with what consumers are looking for.”
“In Côte-Rôtie AOC, the harvest is truly qualitative, which will undoubtedly delight the market, and is due to the general mobilization of the winegrowers to bring in the harvest in time and in good sanitary conditions”, adds Philippe Guigal.
According to Yann Chave: “Within Crozes-Hermitage AOC, 2021 will be an exceptional vintage for white wines, with excellent balance and remarkable levels of acidity. In red, it will be a vintage for charming and pleasant wines, with moderate length and well-rounded tannins.”
In Saint-Péray AOC, “the sanitary status is more than satisfying, due to rainfall and excellent crop load, some higher altitude vineyards have been able to compensate for the shortages related to frost. Good weather towards the end of the growing season allowed the grapes to reach good ripeness. The vintage should be characterized by its sugar / acidity balance. A beautiful year to showcase the freshness of the wines of Saint-Péray”, reckoned Benoit Nodin, president of Saint-Péray appellation. 

Lighter wines bursting with fruit in the South 

In the southern part of the vineyards, cooler temperatures and early September rainfall were welcomed. Early tastings of the wines in vat offer nice surprises regarding white and rosé wines. The red wines are fruity, with a level of alcohol 1° lighter than in the previous years.

In Beaumes de Venise, Xavier Vignon, co-president of the appellation, comments: “With the Dentelles de Montmirail’s protective influence and the favourable thermal gradient between the lower and higher altitude vineyard plots of the Cru, Beaumes de Venise wines have been spared from frost. They are likely to be generous wines, of very good quality, concentration, depth and good acidity levels. The Muscats already burst with aromas and the red wines show great personality, even though they will have to age another winter before they are ready”. 
In Cairanne, Laurent Brusset, president of the appellation, states: “Considering the year’s climatic incidents, we were not expecting a large yield, we were rather pessimistic before harvest. But reality exceeded our expectations! Quality is there in Cairanne this vintage. Like every year, nature decided for us! It is one of the joys of our profession, to deal with a singular vintage every year.
I would say that 2021 is a vigneron’s vintage. At times we had to take harvest date decisions that were in reverse order in comparison with classic vintages; this exercise demanded a lot of experience and a practical feel.
This vintage is attractive and pleasant: it is lush, elegant, with finesse and length on the palate. The wines have excellent balance and good natural acidity. The colour is intense and stable. The wines are highly aromatic, flattering on the nose, bursting with fruity aromas! On the palate they are very elegant, the tannins are soft and silky.”
On the western bank of the Rhône, in Lirac in the Gard département, François Miquel, co-president of the appellation, adds: “It will be a very nice vintage in Lirac appellation, with fresh wines, lighter in alcohol by 1 to 1,5°. This year is truly an opportunity for the appellation, as we have undertaken a gradual and long-term process to enhance its image and value. The generous volumes of the 2021 vintage, in all 3 colours, will most certainly please the market.”

Besides Côtes du Rhône and its Crus, in the other Appellations of the Rhône Valley Vineyards (Côtes du Vivarais, Clairette de Bellegarde, Costières de Nîmes, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Luberon, Ventoux), professionals of the industry find cause to rejoice too:
“2021 is a good surprise for Clairette de Die and the wines of the Diois! September rainfall was beneficial for the grapes, allowing them to fully develop. The harvest period was dense and shortened in time. It should be a beautiful vintage, with a lovely freshness that is well-suited to sparkling wines and makes them more pleasant to drink. All parameters are in place to make well-balanced wines”, states Olivier Rey, president of Jaillance winery in the Diois.

Etienne Maffre observes that “in Costières de Nîmes appellation, there are excellent acidic balances, with lower degrees corresponding more closely to what we are looking for nowadays, it will be a great year for white wines”.

Further to the West, in Duché d’Uzès appellation, the president of the AOC Michel Souchon observes: “Despite the difficult climatic conditions, it is a lovely vintage with well-balanced wines. The whites will be slightly different, with a less-pronounced apricot aroma due to a shortage in viognier. But secondary varietals will bring complexity over time. The red wines offer silky tannins, with a lighter liquorice flavour than usual but always a pronounced fruit character (red fruits, violet)”. 

While April’s frost had raised fears of a drop in yield by 40%, a cooler-than-usual summer and September rains helped feed the vines and develop the berries.
Denis Guthmuller, president of the General Syndicate of Côtes du Rhône, adds: “rainfall also partly limited our crop losses. 2021 will be remembered as a difficult vintage. Its qualitative potential is nevertheless promising. Ripeness took a long time to achieve, but patience will be rewarded, and we are already tasting some very nice wines”.


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