Will 2014 make us stronger ?
A report of the 2014 vintage as the wines are fermenting.
« What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ! »
This aphorism from Nietzsche could apply to vintage 2014 if wine wasn’t a convivial work which usually inspires pacific unifications rather than violent conflicts !
But God, this vintage was arduous and if it wasn’t a proper bloody fight, it was still one hell of a game of chess ! The least we can say is that it was fierce and complex, if not complicated !
I can’t find another way to describe such a vintage : illegible and paradoxical at the same time, starting very precociously and eventually late, one of these years full of drawers and mirrors, not stingy with surprises.
I will remember 2014, my 35th harvest, as a really special vintage, an odd vintage with a dyslexic sky and an unpredictable horizon, which was struggling to finish its sentences.
The winter was literally wiped off the map by a much too invasive spring, hiding under its spry adornment a very threatening draught which eventually left plants and land parched to the core !
As for the summer, just born it soon disappeared from our sight, drawn body and soul in an unstoppable deluge which brought, in the single month of July, as much water as the whole first semester of the year !
Yet the rain was quite welcome since vines and hillsides were so thirsty they might never have recovered from an extended draught. Nature seems to have its own conscience and knows how to balance its excesses by itself.
But Nature doesn’t give a damn about economic parameters, and the heat excess of June, 33°C in the middle of the flowering, lead to an important coulure (i.e. flower abortion). Needless to say any attempt at recovering the yields would have been totally vain !
This explains that in terms of yield 2014 has been as bad as 2013, which sadly keeps worsening the availability of wines…
And this in spite of a superb autumn which was in fact the only summer of the year, and made the pickers’ work far more enjoyable while perfecting their suntan… but then again all this was hiding a much more tricky problematic !
See, the vanished summer had delayed the ripening while favouring a small fly, unknown up to this point, a drosophila with red eyes straight out of Japan, bearing the backfiring name of Suzukii.
The drosophila, more commonly known as vinegar fly, is a scourge for grapes that it pierces to lay its eggs, and contaminates with acetic bacteria which turns the juice into vinegar. And that is, we must admit, the worst and ultimate degradation a wine can deal with !
The sudden arrival of Suzukii lead to a real wave of panic in the vineyard, and most producers rushed in theis parcels to harvest grapes that were still green and had enough acidity to clean copper pots !
From that point on the fear of losing everything was their only advisor in this collective tsunami. It was really difficult to keep a cool head and wait for the acidity to civilise itself. It is exactly what we did though, at the risk of losing part of the mummified grapes, not into a pillar of salt like the wife of Loth, but into balsamic vinegar.
Happily the Suzukii will only attack coloured fruits and somehow spares whites grapes. This might look like politically-very-incorrect ostracism but it had the huge advantage of leaving Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Riesling unaffected, which sum up for a good 2/3 of the surface of our vineyard.
The opening of the harvest was announced for the 15th september for still wines, but we waited until the 20th to pick our reds and then proceed with the whites from the 23rd september on, in order to refine the ripeness and tame the acidity.
Suzukii spared our vines thanks noticeably to repeated applications of horn silica, or 501, which strengthened the skins and prevented the perforations.
Only the Gewurztraminers, picked last and therefore exposed much longer to the flying enemy’s fire, have required to sort meticulously, reducing even more the already low crop.
But eventually our patience was rewarded thanks to this extraordinary Indian summer which literally transcended the grapes and turned this 2014 harvest in a glorious harvest.
The juices flowed from the press carved like high-level athletes with firm acidity and dry extract, robust and muscled with no alcohol in excess, in short all that is needed to make great wines !
The last vintages are here to remind us that great wines cannot exist without struggle… Great wines that can carry their liquid light much further than just the Present.
Is this the way Vintners live and their Wines follow them in the distance like revolved Suns.
André Ostertag, Vigneron
Epfig, le 1er décembre 2014