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Chateauneuf du Pape – St Marc

Every year the producers of Chateauneuf du Pape have a blind tasting of their new vintage and they vote on who has the best cuvée of the year.  This St Marc competition results in a spectacular gala dinner where people get awards all night long and I could hardly hear all the speeches and thank yous over the clinking of glasses and joyous laughter.

The Freeze of February 2012

Despite the gorgeous weather in the final days of April and the warm welcome of the winemakers, the evidence of the coldest February since 1956 were well-displayed in the Chateauneuf vineyards.

In 1956, the freeze was enough to devastate the olive trees in Provence and the Rhone.  But even that dreadful winter spared most of the vines.  This year, two weeks of 14 below freezing temperatures coupled with an unrelenting Mistral (often measured up to 100 kilometers per hour) actually caused many old vines to split open.

Here is a detail photo that shows the damage on a porteur gobelet of 50+ year old grenache in the Domaine de Marcou.  See where the wood is split open?  That’s not supposed to happen.

grenache vine damaged by freeze in february 2012

What’s more, the damage isn’t always visible.  If this happened at the extremities on occasion, it was also happening in the souche (trunk).   And so this spring, when all the plants were supposed to leap into action, many revealed that they had been done in by the cold winter.  There is debate amongst the locals, some of whom think they should replant immediately and others who think that the old vines may yet come back from the brink.  Often, it’s just one or two porteurs that are affected and some think that even vines with no buds in 2012 might be able to heal themselves for 2013 or 2014.

Anyway, this was one of the first things I saw on my arrival.  And it was hard to see so many of these old plants suffering.  But the winemakers around here are level-headed and patient.  They wait to see what should be done and focus their energy on making the most out of 2012.

The first days of sunshine bring out the St Chamonds!

There had been some light rains to soften up the soil and a couple days of sunshine after light rain inspire all the winemakers to head out with their tractors to work the soil.   A lot of the time, the older vines in Chateauneuf are planted so close together that modern equipment can’t pass through the rows, and the galets roulés that cover the ground make it very hard for enjambeurs to pass so almost everybody with old parcels uses the st chamond, a treaded tractor from the 1950’s.

There are lots of great photos and memories from the trip, so we’ll post more about that later.  Especially have to remember to post about the rabbit hidden in that last photo! ;D


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