Article - RareWine Academy - 15. August 2021

The Harvest Of 2021 Will Be A Disaster. Or Will It?

Spring frosts and a rainy summer will probably have an impact on the 2021 wine harvest. Get the overview here...

It can be hard to predict the future – even when it comes to wine. However, there are often indications that can be used to predict the outcome of the harvest. The prospects for the 2021 vintage in France are looking rather bleak if you focus on volume. That much can we say with relative certainty. Quality, however, is another matter.

You can already start considering the 2021 vintage as a year in which French wine will be in short supply – on the other hand, the scarcity may have a positive impact on the price from an investment perspective. 

The Worst Agricultural Disaster Of The 21st Century

According to Ritzau, the latest announcement from the French Ministry of Agriculture is that we can look forward to the worst agricultural disaster of the 21st century. Overall, wine production is expected to fall by up to 30% compared to last year. And production in 2020 was not spectacular.

At RareWine, we have been in constant dialogue with European wine producers, many of which do not speak positively of the yields that Mother Earth has granted them.

The Weather In 2021 Was Full Of Challenges For The Wine Growers

The main challenges this year already started with the relatively dry winter and an early start to spring. Already in March and early April, the sun was out, and the first plants started to sprout. These first shoots had a few weeks of good, warm weather.

Then the unwanted happened. The spring frost at the end of April. The night frost destroyed a large part of the first sprouts – especially in the cool wine regions like the Loire, Burgundy, and Champagne.

After the first sprouts of the plants, the second sprouts come, which can also offer high quality grapes. However, rarely in the same quantity as the first sprouts. After a period of unwelcome spring frosts, winegrowers were now hoping for a summer that could save what could be saved.

Unfortunately, the accidents did not stop there. Lots of rain, clouds and lack of sunshine have dominated the summer of 2021. The remaining grapes in the vineyard have struggled with mildew derived from the high humidity. This has also helped to reduce the amount of good grapes on the vines – even at an early stage of the season.

Harvest Report

Overview Of The 3 Main Categories

At RareWine Invest, we are particularly concerned with Champagne, Burgundy and partly Bordeaux. So, let's highlight how they have performed despite massive challenges.

Bordeaux: The River Came To The Rescue

In Bordeaux, we spoke to a number of producers during this year's En Primeur campaign in April. Most of the leading châteaux on the Medoc peninsula came out with the same message: 'As long as we are close enough to the river, there is no danger'.

This was the case for most of the chateaux here, which is why they were not significantly affected by the frost. In Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, it was again the best situated châteaux that went free. They did this by being located a little higher and thus avoiding the frost when it reached the valley floor.

Burgundy: Challenges From The Frost

In Burgundy, there were immediately bigger challenges. Even with light, bonfires and warmth in the vineyards, several vineyards were attacked relentlessly by frost over several rounds. In Chablis, losses of up to 80% were reported in several places in the worst affected vineyards.

We had a good conversation with Christian Moreau from Chablis. He told us that they focused especially on the protection of their Grand Cru vineyards. This means that with light and heat in the vineyards during the morning hours, they have been able to reduce losses in the best vineyards.

In the Côte d'Or, with the best vineyards for Grand Cru in both red and white, the story is much the same. The best vineyards have been best protected – both by nature and by the producers. Losses were significant during the frosts and in many places up to 50% of the first sprouts.

The summer has certainly not been kind to Burgundy with cold, rain and hailstorms. Uneven ripening of grape bunches, larger parcels destroyed by frost – and last but not least – mildew spreading. Mildew in particular is hard to protect against, if you grow either organically or biodynamically, as most top producers do today.

We can probably once again look forward to a significant decrease in the volume of wine, but almost certainly an increase in the prices of the very best wines.

Champagne: Reserves Can Regulate The Market

Champagne is unique in many ways and is currently fighting a brave battle against the vagaries of nature. Fortunately, the Champagne Committee has some power to regulate the supply and demand of the more common Champagne. Most houses hold reserves with which they can regulate the market. This means that there is unlikely a direct shortage despite a harsh climate in 2021.

The investment-worthy Champagnes like Salon, Dom Pérignon and other prestige cuvées will probably not be on the market in 2021, unless their particular parcel has performed exceptionally well.

Normally, not all vintages come onto the market. Prices will therefore probably be regulated by the increasing demand we have seen for the best Champagnes in recent years.

Overall

Despite gloomy announcements from France, there are many other factors than the weather that influence investment wines. The reduced supply of the more common wines from the best areas will naturally cause the better wines to increase in price.

It is much more interesting to see how the market for the previous vintages will react. Here, there is likely to be some solid price increases in the short term - based solely on the lack of wine in this particular 2021 vintage.

We are going to see less quantity, but that does not necessarily mean anything for the quality of the best wines in France. Even if there is talk of the greatest agricultural disaster of the 21st century. The world's very best winemakers can't dictate how the weather Gods behave – but if they can work their magic in the cellar, there may be hope for the quality of wines from the 2021 vintage.

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