Vintage '69: A very Good Year… But…

International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, September 30, 1969

The 1969 grape harvest is already over in the Midi, is just beginning in the Beaujolais and will start elsewhere in a few days. How does it shape up, especially after last year's water-logged crop?

To the relief of wine-lovers, not bad at all, perhaps even very well indeed. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, the wine should be very good in Champagne, Burgundy, the Beaujolais, the Jura, the Loire Valley and Alsace – that is if the weather holds until the Alsatian vintage late in October. In fact, anything less than disastrously wet weather will not change this situation now.

Unofficial sources agree. Bernard Péret, prize-winning bistro owner at 6 Rue Daguerre, claims that ever since early September winegrowers in both the Beaujolais and Pouilly-Fumé areas have been increasingly good-humored, a sure sign of good wine in the offing.

And Jean-Baptiste Chaudet, considered by many to be Paris's best wine merchant, goes even further. Reports from Meursault have the growers there "euphoric." Mr. Chaudet (whose store is at 20 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire) adds that Chablis should be very good and in Champagne it will probably be a vintage year.

There are some flies in this pleasant ointment, however. The situation in Bordeaux is not very good, with the exception of Médoc. The problem is the usual one – too much water. In one day of September two inches of rain fell, equal to the average for the whole month. Rot set in, and although recent sunny days have improved things, the prospects are still not very bright.

In fact, usually sunny southern France has generally been afflicted with excessive rainfall. The crop in the Midi, where most of the vin ordinaire comes from, was harvested in the rain, which has the harmful effect of washing the grapes clean. Harmful because it washes off the very yeasts that make fermentation possible and transform grape sugar into alcohol.

Rainfall has also been 50 percent above normal in the Rhone Valley. While the wines of Hermitage and the Côte Rotie should be all right, only those growers who have taken extremely good care of their vines are likely to have good wine in the area around Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel.

Although quality is up in most areas, so, unfortunately, is price. There are two basic reasons for this. First of all, the crop is small, about 10 percent down from last year's big, poor vintage. No one wants what's left of it, and the new crop is being bid out of sight because there may not be enough to go around.

The other reason for higher prices is labor, ever shorter in supply and ever-increasing in cost. This year's vintage is later than usual and, since the schools are opening earlier than they used to in France, there is not much cheap student labor.

Last year 70,000 Spanish workers were hired for the harvest, but this year they want a raise to cover the devaluation of the francs they take back to Spain.

On the other hand, earnings from export should rise with the devaluation. Wine accounts for only eight percent of agricultural income in France, but for 30 percent of agricultural and alimentary exports. Exports of wine to the United States have been rising especially spectacularly, up nearly 30 percent in value during the first six months of 1969 over the comparable period last year.