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April 21, 2015

2014 Loire Valley Vintage Report

While traveling in the Loire Valley last week, Jon-David Headrick sent us a 2014 vintage report for the region. Coming on the heels of Food & Wine’s April profile on Muscadet, “Loire Valley Pilgrimage,” by Alex Halberstadt, now is a good time to start looking for the earliest arrivals of this most welcome vintage.

The idyllic setting of the Loire

The idyllic setting of the Loire

It was a long trudge in the Loire through the wet, frosty, hail-ridden vintages of 2011, 2012, and 2013.  The 2011 vintage was plagued by problems associated with grey rot.  Yields were low and the wines, with a few notable exceptions, were leaner, meaner, and greener than most consumers would like.  2012 brought not only late frosts but heavy rain during August and part of September which significantly cut yields.  Most of our growers were able to produce delicious wines in this vintage but it required extremely strong triage in the vineyard and in the winery.  In some areas of the Loire, 2013 brought devastating hail storms with some growers losing up to 70% of their crop.

By the end of this stretch of vintages you could see the stress and strain on the faces of many growers.  Many of their neighbors were going out of business.  Money was tight.  Vacations were cancelled.  Prices were raised.  The summer of their discontent, to bastardize Shakespeare, was in full swing.

And frankly, so it was even through the summer of 2014.  Growers were preparing for a devastating vintage.  July brought rain one day, sun the next, and then more rain followed by more sun.  The grapes were ripening but rot was beginning to appear everywhere due to very high humidity levels.  August was really no better.

The vineyards right before harvest, no synthetic products have ever been used in the farming at Domaine Saint Nicolas

Cabernet Franc ready to be harvested at Domaine des Roches Neuves

But then came September and it was glorious.  From the beginning of the month the Loire saw sunny day after sunny day.  Rot problems receded dramatically.  For 6 weeks the sun ripened hillsides from Muscadet to Sancerre and, effectively, turned what could have been a devastating vintage into what could be one of the best vintages in the Loire in the last decade.

Almost across the board, the 2014 vintage in the Loire is superb.  The ripe acidities remind me of the 2002 vintage, the wines of which are still singing today.  In Sancerre, 2014 reminds me of 2008 when the wines expressed intense minerality.  The reds from Chinon and Saumur are ripe and meaty with incredible balance and structure.  And in Muscadet, well, you should be buying cases to age for a decade or so.

And so ends the summer, and winter, of our discontent.  Vive la France! Vive la révolution!  Vive 2014!