"Lateness is the definition of this year's wine crop in France," says Bernard Péret, owner of the Paris bistrot à vin, Le Rallye. Growers, wine merchants and other experts agree.
The grape harvest will not begin, except in a few areas, before October. In some, it may well continue into November. In spite of the delay, the French harvest as a whole will be larger (about 1.7 billion gallons) than usual and very large indeed in Champagne.
The big if, of course, is quality. Despite what seemed a miserably cold and stormy European summer, the grapes are healthy and free of rot – except in the Midi where there were heavy storms early this month. If there is enough sun until and during the harvest, the 1972 crop could well be of high quality.
But the weather bureau offers little reason for optimism. In the next few days, the temperatures are supposed to rise but there may be frequent storms until the end of the month. A cooler, highly variable and cloudy period is predicted through Oct. 6 with fine and sunny weather afterwards. If the forecasts prove accurate, the conditions will be anything but ideal for wine.
As far as quantity is concerned, Michel Budin, general manager of Perrier-Jouët in Epernay, and Jean Couvreur, a manager of G.H. Mumm and Co. in Rheims and a grower in his own right, see a very large crop in Champagne – as many as 34 million gallons, as against only 21 million last year. This would make the 1972 crop the second largest on record after the giant, nearly 40-million-gallon, harvest in 1970.
Grape prices in Champagne will rise, perhaps sharply over last year's 5.41 francs a kilo paid by champagne firms to non-producing growers. Demand is outrunning supply despite ever higher prices to the consumer.
In Burgundy, the cellarmaster of a large firm, who requested anonymity, predicts a larger than average crop of very healthy grapes. But the grapes, as elsewhere, are late in maturing – by about two weeks in Burgundy where the harvest should begin about Oct. 10.
In Beaujolais, the harvest has been fixed for Sept. 28 and should yield about 21 million gallons, according to the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine. This is equal to last year's crop and about average for the area. The Rhône Valley will produce a good crop of about 30 million gallons and Alsace should bring in about 16 million.
In Bordeaux, the harvest should begin about Oct. 10 and yield an average size crop. There will be less white wine than usual but more red. Further behind schedule is the cognac vineyard, reports the Hennessy firm. There are plenty of grapes but the harvest may not begin before Oct. 15. Even so the grapes may not then be perfectly ripe. Fortunately this wine is made only to be distilled and that takes some of the sting out of it.
The one area where the crop is small, if thoroughly healthy, is the Loire Valley, which is coming more and more to the attention of the export market because of its quality wines at still reasonable prices. Bistro owner Bernard Péret found, during a recent trip, that the growers in Pouilly-sur-Loire were quite happy with both quantity and the state of the grapes. In contrast, downstream at Chinon and Bourgueil, they fear a very small crop, according to Paris wine merchant Steven Spurrier. It may be 30 to 40 percent below average.