2021 : an atypical vintage

The 2020 winemaking process was drawing to a close. Summer and harvest time were dry and very hot. Unlike autumn 2019, the 2020 season stayed particularly dry compared to the norm. Only December was slightly wetter, but that would not be enough to replenish the water reserves in the soil.

In terms of temperatures, the winter was fairly average except for February, which was a little milder. Spring got off to a fairly mild start (end of March/beginning of April) which spurred the vines back into growth mode. And so it was heading into the morning of April 8 and its plummeting temperatures, breaking previous records that had remained unchallenged for over 30 years. The impact on the vineyards and most crops was exceptionally severe. At dawn, cold air masses which could be likened to a heavy, thick mantle swept down off the hills and remained stationary over the valleys and the plateaux. The damage was considerable, particularly in the lowlands or steep-sided valleys. The lower part of the Gigondas appellation area was severely affected and more sporadically rising up into the hills. The latest-ripening vineyards had not yet entered the growth phase and were therefore very little affected by the freak weather event.

Our worst affected neighbours were Vacqueyras and Sablet

April and May were fairly cool with abundant precipitation. Rainfall was 40% higher than the seasonal average, but pressure from fungal disease stayed manageable.

With fairly late bud-burst, frost, cool weather and poor sunshine levels, vine growth was delayed. Delayed growth (between 10 and 15 days) would characterise the entire vine growing season.

July and August matched seasonal averages for rainfall and temperatures. By contrast, September and October notched up a large number of rainy periods, some of them very intense. Some vineyards were rapidly affected and their health deteriorated. In fact, some of the Syrah was harvested just shy of ripeness.

The two-week delay in ripening was confirmed. Rain-free spells were very short-lived. Consequently, the soils stayed cool and damp and the berries did not undergo renewed concentration, even in the last blocks to be harvested around 21 October.

In Gigondas, crop volumes were quite low but respectable compared with areas that were really affected by frost. The fruit was generally healthy, despite some tanks that needed close monitoring. Once again, sorting the grapes was of paramount importance.

One of the defining features of the vintage was primarily the size of the berries – the measured weight of 200 berries was among the highest of the past 20 years. Lovely polyphenol potential was noteworthy, despite some evident dilution. Available nitrogen content was very good. Although acidities are quite low, potassium is decent, heralding good preservation of tartaric acid. Potential alcohol is much lower than what we are accustomed to, and is easily 1% by volume lower than in the past few years.

The must, with reasonable probable alcoholic strength by volume and comfortable available nitrogen levels, fermented pretty well. Extraction was fairly slow and the wines do not show substantial concentration. Conversely, balance is good, often with fresh aromatics. As is the case every year, winemaking techniques – vatting time, extraction and fermentation temperatures – have to be adjusted to suit the fruit. For instance, it is important to single out green tannins so as to intervene accordingly and not extract vegetal aromas. One noteworthy aspect this year is the presence of horseweed flavours across the region. This aromatic flaw can be significant and cannot be treated.

Malolactic fermentation followed on seamlessly and generally speaking did not encounter any issues.

2021 is a vintage that is already balanced and satisfying, with great aromatic expression. Much lower alcoholic strength by volume compared with previous years lends the wine great palatability. As with the previous vintage, the 2021s can legitimately claim to be elegant with great balance.

 Copyright : Laurent Philis – Philis Œnologie à Gigondas

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